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Interview Time: How Would You Describe Yourself?

August 21st, 2020

At some point during your job interview—likely at the beginning—your interviewer may simply hand the conversation over to you by asking an open-ended question with no wrong answer, something like “Tell me about yourself.” If you’re asked to describe yourself, how should you answer?

Here are a few tips that can help.

Stay relevant.

Instead of telling your life story (“I was born in the town of X and my parents worked at X and X…”), simply relay the events of your career that brought you to this particular interview at this particular time. “Tell me about yourself” really just means “Tell me what you’re looking for from your professional life right now, and why you think this job and company may be your next destination.” You can explain your long and short-term goals, your proudest skill sets, and what your current or last job couldn’t quite do for you. Not only does this provide an answer to the real question, but it also provides a jumping-off point for the rest of the conversation.

If asked for more, share something personal.

If you reach the end of your answer and your interviewer still wants you to hold the spotlight and say more, you can share your hobbies and interests and maybe a few of the broad strokes that summarize your personality. For example, “I’m an active person who loves the outdoors. I like to go camping up in the local mountains and I like to ski.” Of course, you both know that skiing won’t be required at this job, but this simple statement can offer some information about what it might be like to work with you.

Never talk about your family, religion, ethnic background, or health status.

These are protected categories of information, and your employer has neither the need—nor the right—to know about them. Avoid the temptation to share your marital status or whether you do or don’t have children. And even if it seems harmless, share nothing about any disabilities (even allergies), and don’t offer a word about any area that may subject you to bias. These things may come up naturally later on, but they should not be discussed or revealed at this stage of the relationship.

Read the room as you speak.

You know you’ve said enough when the interviewer starts to get restless and look away, and you know you’ve answered the question satisfactorily if the interviewer breaks in and asks for specifics or answers on a different subject. Listen as you speak. You’ll know which parts of your story spark interest and which parts spark boredom or concern. Use this information as you move forward with the interview. For more on how to make a strong impression and land the job you need, turn to the team at Merritt.

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