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“Tell Me About Yourself”: What Does this Actually Mean?

December 28th, 2015

Some interviewers like to divide and parse the session into a tight series of highly specific, highly scripted questions with obvious right and wrong answers. But don’t be surprised if you walk into the office on the day of your interview and encounter the exact opposite: aAn interviewer who asks very few questions that are open ended and loosely scripted. In other words, an interviewer who simply sits back and allows you—the candidate—to direct the session.

If and when this happens, your interviewer may ask any of the following questions. All of these are designed to let you take the floor and speak in a general way about whatever comes to mind:

“What’s your story?”

“Why don’t you fill me in on your background?”

“Tell me about yourself.”

If you’re faced with any of these unstructured prompts, here are a few moves to keep in mind as you formulate your response.

There’s only one wrong answer.

The only wrong answer to this question is no answer at all. Whatever you do, don’t sit there staring blankly at your interviewer like a deer in the headlights, and don’t squirm in your chair or declare that you “don’t like talking about yourself.”. It’s also unwise to turn the question back on your interview by demanding specifics (as in: “What would you like to know?”) Instead, have courage and trust yourself. Just speak from the heart.

Have a statement in mind beforehand.

Since you know that you may be pushed into the spotlight with no specific instructions, be ready. Prepare an “elevator pitch” that can be delivered in a time frame between 30 seconds and two full minutes. Use your pitch to list your most important credentials and make an argument that explains why you should be hired for this job instead of someone else. Practice in the mirror—or on a friend—at least once or twice before your session.

Start at the beginning.

If you’d rather skip the prepared pitch and speak off the cuff, that’s fine. But know where you plan to start. You can begin by explaining the general arc of your career, starting with the moment you first developed a passion for this type of work. You can also start by describing how you heard about this company and this open position, and why you decided to apply. As a third option, you can describe your last position and explain why you’re searching for something new.

Tell your story.

No matter how you decide to dive in, try to answer the question by telling a story. When we provide information in the form of a narrative, people tend to show more interest and retain the details for the longer period of time.

For more on how to control the tone and outcome of your interview session, contact the job search experts at Merritt Staffing.

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