“Tell Me about Yourself” Is not the dumbest question, but it is the dullest

I warned you I might do this.

In the long list of career advice articles, this one is not the worst topic but it does miss a great opportunity to treat the subject properly.  While interviewers do frequently break the ice with the standard “tell me about yourself” opening gambit there are better ways to tackle this grade-1 move.  I generally dislike the whole “how to prepare for common interview questions” theme anyway, because common interview questions are bad to begin with.  Why reinforce bad hiring techniques when you can fix them yourself on the fly and improve your prospects? 

Oh, right, because that’s hard and requires a more thoughtful response than:

Here is a simple five bullet chronological (which makes it easier to remember) elevator speech that you can use the next time you encounter a “Tell me about yourself” request:

Yeah, and I’ve got 1 weird trick for you, too.

How about this response, instead:

Like what?

Now you only have to remember two words, not a complete elevator pitch and you’ve forced the interviewer to get more specific about what he/she is trying to glean from the conversation, making this an actual exchange of information.  This in turn allows you to go much deeper into (you hope) subjects of real relevance to the business and how you will help the company’s bottom line.  If the interviewer comes back with a blank stare or opens the door to whatever you’d like to discuss you can drill right into how you will deliver for the bottom line.

This requires you to have completed your homework beforehand, of course.  But then you knew that.

The side benefit is that this response flushes out the dopes and prevents the devious interviewer from mining you for irrelevant or illegal to ask for personal data.  You can deal with those specific requests head on and redirect the conversation to the matter at hand: the business and how hiring you=profit.

As a hiring manager I will admit to conducting a 7am interview or two and lazily opening with this question because the coffee cup was still half full.  The best candidates have always pressed me for specifics and I appreciated that.  The candidates were demanding my attention, just as you should, and that made them all memorable.

Sure, go for the canned speech if you want.  Just don’t hang around the phone waiting for a call back.

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