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Tricky Interview Question Decoded

Categories: Personal Marketing, Interview Skills

I recently read a great article on Forbes.com: Ten Toughest Interview Questions, Answered.

According to the article, this question -- "Tell me about yourself" -- is likely to turn up at the beginning of a job interview; in other words, it’s a warm-up sort of question.

This query can also happen if you are seeking a new job opportunity in a new department within your existing company – whether it’s a lateral move or a promotion.

Remember, your goal in any type of employment-related interview is to come off as professional, capable, and the perfect person for the position. To accomplish that, you sometimes need to read between the lines of the questions you are asked.

“Tell me about yourself” is an open-ended question that can be tricky to answer and get you into trouble if you don’t understand what the interviewer is really looking to hear. The correct question really should be, “Tell me about yourself as it pertains to this position,” but it isn’t asked that way.

The interviewer or HR rep is not looking for your hobbies, your weekend activities, your dating status, or your dreams. He or she is not trying to chat you up, make you feel comfortable, or “get to know who you really are.” The interviewer is not looking for charming or witty anecdotes -- save those for Match.com or your blog.

Unless the job is lifeguarding, the fact that you spent every summer at your uncle’s beach house on Cape Cod is meaningless.

Unless the job is some kind of historical research, the fact that you engage in Civil War reenactments is meaningless.

Unless the job is door-to-door sales, the fact that you sold the most Girl Scout Cookies for your daughter’s troop in 2012 is meaningless.

Remember to be meaningful in your answers to every question.

There’s nothing wrong with pausing for a moment to collect your thoughts, but even better is to anticipate the most common interview questions and have an appropriate and impressive answer ready and waiting.

In this case, with "Tell me about yourself," the interviewer is asking about your career, even though he or she doesn’t specifically mention that word. Appropriate answers could start with your education, any honors, special degrees, or scholastic awards received, and the high points of your work history.

Remember -- no one wants to listen to a dull listing of every job you ever worked: “And then I went to work for my cousin’s HVAC business when I was downsized from IBM in 2008...” NO! (Unless, of course, you are interviewing at an HVAC business)

Focus on your most recent and most relevant career experience, and keep your answer to the “Tell me more about yourself” question pretty short. One or two minutes is perfectly fine; it breaks the ice, tells the interviewer some important and hopefully impressive things about you, and leads to more detailed questions.

Looking for more information on how to advance your career? Career Builder.com also has great articles to help those looking for a change of job scenery … or that first great career move.

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