Tell Me About Yourself


Most interviews start with this rather general, open-ended question: “Tell me a bit about yourself?”

Many applicants freak out…”Don’t they have my resume/list of activities/application/essay/list of publications?” “Am I in the right office?” “What exactly do you mean?”

The interviewer uses this common question as an “ice-breaker.” I started Making Conversation because the teens I had interviewed for admission to UPenn were increasingly startled by this “stumper” question. I was surprised by their reaction. What did they think we’d be talking about? Apparently, they had not considered their message ahead of time. Your response to that initial question directs the flow of the conversation. Being prepared shows respect for the interviewer and gives you the ability to influence the outcome of the interview.

Take advantage of the interview opportunity. Anticipate this question. Prepare a “preview” of your accomplishments, achievements, interests and strengths, your “talking points”, the foundation for your campaign to get the offer. The interviewer, who may not have reviewed, remembered or even had access to your application material, wants to find discussion topics which will reveal how you are a “fit” for them. Think about yourself from their perspective. What is relevant to them? What might they be looking for in an applicant?

Applicants sometimes add in an obscure “what most people don’t know about me is….” in order to make themselves “memorable.” To me, adding that errant personal factoid is a risky proposition unless it is something (a) you truly have in common with the interviewer (did you Google your interviewer or do you see that prized autographed baseball in his office?) or (b) relevant to an applicable quality, e.g. “my hobby is making model ships”, then emphasize your attention to detail and patient persistence.

In summary, view the “tell me about yourself” question as an opportunity to shine. If you have done your homework, you know what would be convincing to them. Provide sufficient detail to entice them to ask more, but don’t recount all your best stories or start a long monologue. Respect the concept of the interview as a conversation, a “give and take,” where each person feels respected. Once they indicate which delicacy might be of interest to them from your hors d’oeuvres tray, be prepared to demonstrate in detail through clear, concise, effective and persuasive stories and examples, showing off your accomplishments, achievements, interests, qualities and strengths. Once you have provided your intriguing amuse-bouches and don’t skimp on the main course!

Article by Peggy Wallace, founder, Making Conversation

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