Tell Me About Yourself

The most common interview question is often the interviewers opening line, so it almost seems like an ice-breaker instead of a serious interview question.  While “Tell me about yourself,” sounds simple enough on the surface, the way you answer this seemingly innocuous question can make or break the rest of the interview---and possibly your chances of admission altogether.

What I often tell clients above all else about interviews, is to make sure they capture and hold the interviewers interest.  To achieve this, you should always err on the side of brevity, leaving the option for the interviewer to follow up.  There’s no better opportunity to do this than when you’re answering the introductory question. I always recommend keeping your response under two minutes.  Think of it time-wise the same way you think of the classic elevator pitch, only in this case, you will definitely have time to follow up, so there’s not nearly as much pressure.

“Tell me about yourself,” is not just an invitation to highlight the interesting things about your life, it’s a test of your values, what is meaningful to you on a personal level. 

A common mistake interviewers often make when answering this question, however, is to dive too quickly into professional achievements.  Remember, they have your resume, so rehashing any information they might already know about you is just wasting time and risking boring them.  Tell them the things they are not allowed by law to ask you, and when you leave, they will feel like they know you more deeply----this is the goal.

I generally like to hear interviewees approach the question chronologically, so naturally, a good place to start is where you were born. 

Telling someone where you were born is not on your resume, and can be a powerful statement about who you are, especially given the broad and varied cultural environments of the diverse regions of the US and the world.  Feel free to highlight any unique cultural influences which helped shape who you are.  Next, I would tell them about your family, which again, will be more information they will not find on your resume. Family details can be very informative about how you work in teams, a critical component of business school.

Instead of talking about where you went to college, talk about why you went there and why you liked or didn’t like your major studies. 

The “why” will fill in all the gaps on the resume, which mostly detail the “what.”  While the “tell me about yourself” question is often replaced with “walk me through your resume,” there is a broader invitation in the former to be personal, so don’t worry too much about providing detail---rest assured they will be asking you plenty about your professional background.  In the end, you can’t go wrong by keeping this answer personal and chronological, and aiming to end with “…and that’s what’s brought me here,”  is a fitting  way to set up a thoughtful conclusion to this important introductory question.

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