Tell Me About Yourself? Why Is This Question Asked In An Interview?

This is so often the first question asked in an interview. It may not be worded exactly like this, but in one form or another, many if not most interviews start this way.

Knowing this question is coming, why do most candidates get so frustrated answering this question?

It is, for the most part, a break the ice question. It gets the candidate talking, gives time for everyone to relax, is wide open, and generally a meaningless question. However, just because it is meaningless, doesn’t mean you can ignore it. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity for you to engage the interviewer.

You have a golden opportunity to hit the salient points in your background, open a discussion around what defines success in this role, and to get the interviewer excited about this interview.

In our opinion this should be a short 2 minute, so well rehearsed answer, that is doesn’t appear to be rehearsed. This is not the time to give your autobiography, go over every position in your background or bore the interviewer with a long winded answer.

In most cases, the interviewer is using this to simply start the conversation. They aren’t looking for a complex or even complete answer. They just want a quick overview. That is it.

We recommend starting with your most relevant position and hit the accomplishments that closely relate to the position. It is even acceptable to outline some of your current responsibilities, organization, relevant company information, products or services, and basic duties. The goal is to give the interviewer the information they need to better understand how your company, industry, experiences and organization aligns with theirs.

This is not the time to give a lot of information that doesn’t align with the company. For example, if the company is a small entrepreneurial company, it would be a fatal mistake to highlight your experience in a large Fortune 500 company, that you managed a staff of 30 people, and your department budget was bigger than the company’s sales last year.

A better answer would be to highlight a past company similar in size that you enjoyed working at, felt more fulfilled by the impact you made, preferred the ability to be hands-on and what you did to contribute to the growth of the company. This better aligns with the interviewer’s needs.

You should have a number of canned, well rehearsed, thoughtful answers to this question. This is your opportunity to start the interview on the best footing for you.

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We encourage your comments and feedback.

Brad Remillard


About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By Kathy Condon, October 2, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

    Interesting, I take quite a different approach. It has been my experience over and over again that giving a brief overview of where you born and lived is a great way to begin to answer the question. Often the interviewer will chime in and share his experience. Example, I was born on a ranch in Montana.

    He said “You know I just had the best vacation in Billings last summer. We rented a cabin…..

    Kathy Condon, Speaker, Trainer and Award-winning author.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, October 3, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Candidates often do this. However, this really isn’t moving the ball forward for a job. It is good conversation but since it doesn’t relate to the position I believe you are missing a great opportunity to sell yourself, establish your qualifications and separate you from the others.
    The fact that you are from Montana and he just visited a ranch is nice, but I don’t see how this helps you get the job. I doubt this will contribute to the hiring managers decision to hire you.

  • By Karen Siwak, October 4, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    A strategy that I recommend to my clients when this question is asked is to respond “Where would you like me to begin?” The interviewer’s reply to this question will provide you with clue to their interest in you, and allow you to tailor your answer to their information needs.

  • By Greg Davis, October 6, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    I believe the reason employers ask this question is 1) They think they are supposed to and 2)They want to see if you have an answer prepared. Telling them where you were born, or asking them “where do you want me to start”? doesn’t do that. They already know about you from your resume. I find that question being asked less frequently because people are realizing it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. Everyone should certainly have a prepared answer: keep it simple, short and one that highlights one of your accomplishments.

  • By Barry Hotchkies, October 7, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    I think it is not a bad question to ask. I may ask it with different wording (eg walk me through your career/background/resume). Why ask? It is open ended so the candidate can take it where they want. The response shows how organized they are – do they have a 2-minute elevator speech. If not, they should. Can they hit the highlights of their career and accomplishments, particularly as it relates to the hiring company and job spec – have they done their homework? It is nice to see an answer focused on career/accomplishments but with a few (very few) personal details to provide a human face and, hopefully, a connection between the interviewee and interviewer. This initial discussion should help a candidate relax since this is their home field and provide for a transition into the drill downs.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Hiring Manager Interview Training: Interview Mistakes and Errors — October 3, 2009 @ 10:19 am

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