Tell Me About Yourself

Some interviewers like to ask open-ended questions, such “Tell me about yourself.” If you ask questions like that, I hope you reconsider; the question is too open-ended for candidates to answer effectively. Instead, first think about what you want to investigate in your conversation: the candidate's background, problem solving skills, reliability, initiative, debugging, logging, or whatever else you care about. Then you can ask questions like these:

  • For initiative and problem-solving: “Tell me about a time you noticed a problem at work and decided to do something about it.”
  • For reliability: “Have you ever been late on a deliverable?” (pause, and wait for the yes answer.) “What did you do to let people know?”
  • For learning from past problems: “Tell me about a problem you saw in your work.” (Wait for the description.) “Did you change how you approached that on the next project?” I use this question with project managers, “Tell me about a project that wasn't so successful. What did you learn from it?” Follow up with, “How did you change your behaviors to incorporate the learnings?”

Candidates, if you hear a question like this, first set the context with the interviewer, “Oh, do you mean my educational background?” If the interviewer says yes, discuss your background. If the interviewer seems stumped by your question, discuss your most recent job first, and the things you learned you can apply to the job you're interviewing for. If the interviewer wants to know if you're married, ask how that's related to the job. Remember, interviewers aren't supposed to ask you questions unless the question relates to the job.

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