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Tell Me About Yourself — A Different Approach

interview tips Dec 08, 2020

Why in the name of all things holy would you read another article on this question? Because every other article I have read assumes a static, never changing job environment where everything is as it appears. In my ten years as a Recruiter, I can tell you that often times the priorities and needs of a position change, but the job post remains the same. To navigate this unknown, you simply need to have a dialogue with your interviewer.

This is how I would respond to the tell me about yourself question “Sue, I am excited to be here today because in researching your company and the position, I feel confident that my core strengths (A, B, C) align really well with the role. But I also know that priorities and needs in an organization are always changing. So I am happy to talk more in depth about A, B, and C, but is there one strength you would like me to focus on based on your current company needs and or what you are seeing from other candidates? I never want to assume that I know what is most important to your team, the organization, etc., so I am happy to discuss all three or focus on one, what do you prefer?”

Does that answer sound ridiculous, maybe a little, but let’s talk about why I answer the question this way and why this approach works. First, the tell me about yourself question and all these types of questions (why do you want to work here, where do you see yourself in five years, etc.) want you to demonstrate how your strengths align with the open position. If an interviewer says, “I would really like you to walk me through your resume and tell me about each position.” Good news, your interviewer has no clue what they are doing and you should dominate the interview (if you read my other articles). Second, yes, the most likely response to this question is, I would like to hear more about how all of your strengths align well with the role. Great, have a brief, positive, prepared, and practiced example to back up each strength that aligns/demonstrates what you believe the position needs. Third, and this will happen about a third of the time (two thirds do make a right), the interviewer will like your approach and say “based on our current needs or based on what I am seeing from other candidates in the interview process, let’s focus on B.” Wow, so many positive items are happening for you as a candidate. You have an engaged interviewer that understands your approach and wants to hire the right person for the job!

And this also sets the tone for the rest of your interview. Tell me about yourself is typically the first question asked (if asked at all) and because they responded in this manner, I would repeat a similar methodology throughout the interview. I would continually present options and ask them what area/s to focus. When you focus specifically on what your interviewer wants to hear, the uptick in your success rate is crazy! It also allows you a great opportunity to learn more about the company and their needs, and determine if this is a place you want to work.

One more item to think about is your interviewer, remember they have bad days, they are tired, they are busy, they are unprepared, untrained, etc. Answering the question in this way can pull them out of their funk and let them know, you came to play and not regurgitate a boring practiced answer (even though you will have prepared and practiced). This strategy is different, and I understand it is not for everyone, but if the interviewer understands your approach and goes along with it, you are likely going to be their top candidate.

Lastly, if you don’t like my approach, take the approach that has 11,447,244 views on YouTube with this proposed answer, “for example you can say uh well I grew up in France, and I studied accounting, I also worked for an accounting firm for about 8 months, and uh I really enjoy numbers so maybe that is exactly the reason I love to solve them, like solving them is so much fun, and in my spare time I really like reading and also go out jogging only if the weather allows me to.”

Good luck!


Jeff H. Sipe

Jeff has interviewed over 1000 people in his career and previously spent five years working at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. You likely found Jeff through YouTube and you will find the same level of dedication in his one on one practice interview sessions.

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