Tell Me About Yourself… But Not Really

This post was written by Amy Stu­tius, Career Advisor at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Career Development.

In everyday life, if someone asks you to tell them about your­self, it’s usu­ally because they want to get to know you as a person and learn about your inter­ests, hob­bies, and pas­sions.  So if I asked you to “tell me about your­self,” what would you want to say?  Would you tell me that you grew up in Cal­i­fornia, love to surf, like cookie dough ice cream, and just came back from a family trip to Paris?  That would all be pretty inter­esting, and a good con­ver­sa­tion starter if I asked you that ques­tion while we were waiting for a tread­mill to open up at the Marino Center, or if we were taking a break from studying for finals.  But what if you were coming in to inter­view with me for a co-​​op, intern­ship, or a job that you really wanted?

You response might help me realize what a fun and unique person you are, and that maybe we’d have some­thing in common as friends, but it wouldn’t tell me any­thing about why I should hire you, and why you’d be a better fit for the job over any of the other can­di­dates I’m inter­viewing.  Remember, you’re out there trying to com­pete for, and secure, a great job and the way to do that is to market your­self, not as a ter­rific and friendly person with an inter­esting child­hood and hob­bies, but as a ter­rific and friendly person who can do this job better than any of the other can­di­dates waiting in the wings!

So how do you master your answer to this ques­tion or some vari­ance of it?  Think it through and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.  You’ll need to answer this ques­tion in some form during your inter­view, whether the inter­viewer comes out and asks you to “tell me about your­self,” or if they say “what brings you in here today.”  Even if they don’t ask you the ques­tion that directly, it’s great for you to try to weave your pro­posed answer some­where into the inter­view because the whole point of the answer is to clearly and artic­u­lately relay a bit about your back­ground and expe­ri­ence, and why that makes you a good fit for this posi­tion and this company.

back to the future posterWhen you’re thinking through your response, I like to take the “Back to the Future” approach (part 1, that is). You want to start in the present, then travel to the past, and then head back to the present and into the future.

So by starting in the present, you’re going to be talking about your cur­rent status, namely, your class year, and major, and any­thing else rel­e­vant that’s going on right now.  Next you’ll travel with your inter­viewer to the past, where you’ll share a few RELEVANT snap­shots of some expe­ri­ences you’ve had that tie in well to the job you’re inter­viewing for.  These could be co-​​ops you’ve done, aca­d­emic projects you’ve worked on, and/​or any research you’ve com­pleted.  After you dis­cuss those all-​​important RELEVANT expe­ri­ences, you want to travel with your inter­viewer back to the present and start heading into the future, meaning that you’re going to very briefly find a way to explain how, through those expe­ri­ences and your course­work, you’ve devel­oped the nec­es­sary skills to make a strong con­tri­bu­tion in this posi­tion, which espe­cially inter­ests you because….[and here’s where you fill in exactly why you’re so very inter­ested in this posi­tion at this company!]

Sound good?  So next time someone asks you to “tell me about your­self” in an inter­view, remember that they’re looking for you to tell them about your­self in a way that’s rel­e­vant to, and focused on, why you’re a great fit for the posi­tion and the com­pany.  Save any cute child­hood sto­ries and dis­cus­sion of your favorite ice cream fla­vors for some friendly banter once you get the job!

Amy Stu­tius is a Career Advisor at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity.  She prac­ticed as an attorney before tran­si­tioning to higher edu­ca­tion.  Email her at a.​stutius@​neu.​edu.

Image source: car​toon​stock​.com and mean​sheets​.com