What To Say When Someone Says, 'Tell Me About Yourself' In A Job Interview

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How To Answer The 'Tell Me About Yourself' Job Interview Question
Self

Imagine you are sitting in the lobby of a highly respected company in your field.

You are excited, a little nervous, dressed in your most professional outfit. You arrived five minutes early for a job interview. You have the right credentials and prerequisites, and you really want the position.

The recruitment officer invites you in. You sit down, and are surprised when they say, "Tell me about yourself."

You thought they would ask about your work experience and never imagined they would simply ask you to describe yourself!

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It may feel like it's a trick question. To a degree, it is.

It's a bit like the Rorschach Inkblot Test, a projective psychological test used to determine people's personality traits by analyzing their free associations to inkblots. There are no right or wrong answers, but certain ways of responding can reveal desirable, as well as undesirable, personality traits, characteristics and emotional functioning.

What you tell the interviewer about yourself can reveal both positive and negative things about you. It can either destroy your chances or be an opportunity to land your dream job.

Here are three major pitfalls to avoid and easy steps you can take to prepare yourself and turn the dreaded "Tell me about yourself" job interview question into your lucky break.

Pitfalls To Avoid

1. Getting too personal

Remember where you are, as your response to this request would vary depending on where you were.

If you were at a party at your friend John's home, you might say, "I love baseball and have been friends with John since we met in little league."

At a singles gathering, you might try to be witty and say, "I'm the kind of guy your mother would want you to date."

When you are in a job interview, even if the interviewer seems to be asking about you personally, unless you're trying to get a job for a baseball team, they don't care whether or not you like baseball. Similarly, unless you are auditioning to be a stand up comic, witty responses may seem off base.

Stay focused on your professional persona.

2. Talking in clichés

Another common mistake is using clichés like, "I think outside the box," "I never quit," or "I try to be the best at whatever I do."

Although these are all positive traits, the interviewer has heard things like this before and it does not help the interviewer feel they're getting to know you. It may also come across as bragging and disingenuous.

Therefore, a cliché will not make you stand out in a positive way.

3. Trying too hard

A third possible error in responding to this question, similar to the use of clichés, is trying to impress the interviewer with what you have read about their company.

Saying, "I'd be a good fit in your company since I read you are looking for team players and I'm a team player," could backfire.

This response may make you seem like a know-it-all. Having read about the company doesn't make you an expert on whether you would fit in there. In addition, most people don't like know-it-alls and prefer to work with people they like. It could also turn them off if they assume you are simply saying what you think they want to hear.

It's their job to decide whether you fit their requirements, not yours.

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So, how can you turn this question into an opportunity?

Regardless of what you answer, you must be honest and true to who you are, but you can take these steps to prepare for this kind of question.

Proactive Steps To Take

1. Do your research

The third example of a potential error starts on the right track by doing some research, but how you use that knowledge can make or break the way you will be perceived.

As soon as you schedule an interview, start researching the company. Learn everything you can about their mission, work environment and values.

Do they have a top down management style or are they more inclusive? Do they foster team work or individual initiatives?

You can do research on their website. If you know someone who works for the organization, talk to them about what they like best about working there. It's also helpful to ask what they find challenging.

2. Make a list of personality traits and values that fit the company's objectives

If the company promotes creativity and that is on of your strengths, put it on your list.

If you work better on teams and they use that approach, add it as well.

Do they promote volunteer work or contribute to nonprofit causes? If you have been volunteering add it to your list.

Put as many matching values/strengths as you can on your list.

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3. Add a personal story to three or four of the matching items from your list

For at least three or four of the personality traits, strengths and values you share with the company, add a personal story that shows how you have used that strength in past work experiences.

For instance, if you like working in teams and built a prototype for a product working with a team, explain what you contributed to the team and what the outcome was. If you won an award, you will have opened the door to report your success without it feeling like boasting, as well. If the company promotes community volunteerism among it'd employees and you helped organize a fundraiser for cancer research as part of your duties in a previous job, prepare that story.

Once you have three or four stories in your head, you won't have trouble choosing one to answer the, "Tell me something about you," request.

Start with the one that you think illustrates your strongest strength/match with the company's mission and professional environment.

In this way, you will lead the interviewer to learn what you want them to know about you, and that will help them see you as a good fit for the job.

Good luck in your job search!

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Dr. Barbara Lavi, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist, founder of ACTNowPsychotherapy and author of the bestselling book "The Wake Up and Dream Challenge", which helps people reach for and accomplish their dreams. She sees clients in Weston, CT and online.