Answering the Dreaded "Tell Me About Yourself" Question

Dear Liz,

I hate it when the first question at a job interview is: "Tell me about yourself?" As soon as I start talking, I can feel the interviewer's attention drifting. I don't know if I'm talking anything they care about. Any suggestions?



Dear Deena,

The interview question "Tell me about yourself" is a trap, a trick question.
What could we say that would be sure to hit the bulls-eye? We can
guess, but we can't know, from all of the elements in the job description, which
ones are important to the hiring manager or how s/he experiences the pain behind
the job ad.

Apart from that, before we can suggest solutions -- that is, how we can solve
the employer's pain -- we need to truly hear what that pain is, from the hiring
manager's perspective. That person needs to speak the pain. It isn't enough for
us to deduce it. Think about how we feel in our non-work lives when people
suggest solutions to us, before we've even articulated our problem!

We can launch into a story about ourselves or highlight certain accomplishments
on our resumes, but anything we say puts us into the very spot we want to avoid
in a job interview.

That bad spot is the "evaluate me" position. We don't go to a job interview to
be lined up and compared to the other candidates. We go to a job interview to
change the frame for the discussion entirely, to begin an authentic conversation
about the real pain behind the job ad and to shift the hiring manager's focus
from "So Jane, are you good enough for our company?" to "Wow Jane, I can see
that you really understand what I'm living through. Do you think you can help

That's why we won't launch into an answer when the "Tell me about yourself"
question pops out. We'll ask another question. Here are some possibilities:

  • "Okay! I don't want to keep you here for hours, though. May I ask you a quick question or two in order to tailor my remarks?"

  • "Well, I'm a Marketing person of course. I've been focused on online marketing strategy for the past half-decade or so. Let me ask: should we focus on online marketing for starters, or traditional marketing?"
  • "For sure. I was born in Texas and went to school there, before moving to this area three years ago, and -- to make my story more relevant, may I ask you a couple of questions about the situation here at XYZ Foods?"
  • The biggest shift between our Pain Interviewing approach and the traditional
    approach is that we don't go to an interview to win a gold star or impress
    anyone. We go to get a better understanding of the client's (employer's)
    situation, to create rapport and build confidence in the hiring manager that we
    understand his or her life and challenges. Ironically, we won't inspire trust
    and confidence when we talk about ourselves. We'll do it by asking thoughtful

    Most of us have drunk gallons of Kool-Aid over the years that says that
    interviewing is a matter of being the best, having the right skills, or showing
    how badly we want the job. It is hard to give up those old frames. It is

    Here in our group we are shifting that viewpoint. Please post your questions
    about Pain Interviewing (along with Human-Voiced Resumes, Pain Letters, and the
    Career Altitude philosophy in general) as a comment, below this story.