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How to Answer the Question: What Can You Tell Me About Yourself?


One of the questions that you can almost always expect to be asked is: “What can you tell me about yourself?” It’s an icebreaker, but it will also differentiate you from the other candidates based upon how you answer it. It’s tougher to answer than it may appear. There are many other questions that are very commonly asked. They are considered among the most challenging. You will undoubtedly hear them repeatedly throughout your job search. They include, but are not limited to the following:

Interviewing Secrets Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Interviewing Secrets What are your strengths?
Interviewing Secrets What are your weaknesses?
Interviewing Secrets How would your supervisor describe you?
Interviewing Secrets Why should I hire you?
Interviewing Secrets Why haven’t you found a job yet?
Interviewing Secrets Do you have any questions?





These are all great questions that will help the hiring manager make a decision. However, the first most important question is: “What can you tell me about yourself?” You need to be ready for it. Even though candidates expect this question, many don’t do a good job of answering it. And like the other questions you will be asked, it is a way to eliminate candidates. It’s an open-ended question, which means that you cannot answer it with a “yes” or “no.” You must explain your answer, which is what gets some candidates in trouble. Here are some tips for answering a seemingly innocent question, but one that can have dire consequences if you are not prepared. Plan ahead

As with all of the questions listed above, you need to think through what you plan to say before you leave for the interview. This means preparing a day in advance, not a few minutes before you walk out the door. How do you think you should answer this question? Here are some suggestions: Interviewing Secrets Find out as much as you can about the job and the company. Conduct your research via the Internet, look at the company’s web site and talk to anyone you know who either works there, has worked there or knows someone who works there and who might be willing to answer a few of your questions. The more you know about the company, the more likely you are to communicate what they want to hear. Don’t wait until you get to the interview to find out exactly what they do or you will be at a disadvantage.

Interviewing Secrets Think about what you have to offer in terms of specific skills and work experience. What have you done in your present or most recent job that directly relates to what the interviewer is looking for? Identify these things and write them down.

Interviewing Secrets Identify your strengths in relationship to the job for which you are applying. Strengths may include attention to detail ability to work well with cross-functional teams, or analytical skills. Identify six to eight of your major strengths. We all have strengths. If you can’t think of any or you can only come up with one or two, ask someone who knows you and your work well to help you.

Interviewing Secrets Identify your five or six recent major accomplishments. For example, if you are a drafter and you have completed a yearlong drafting project that came in under budget because of your work, that’s a major accomplishment. All employers are looking for people with your dedication and know-how. In another example: If you are a chemical engineer and you developed a method for doing something that has never been tried before, that’s a major accomplishment. Challenge yourself and make a list of your accomplishments. Then think in terms of how they would apply to the position for which you are being considered. Remember that employers want to know what you can do for them. Your job is to translate what you’ve done in the past into what you are capable of doing for the potential new employer in the future. Everyone is looking for problem-solvers so if you have an accomplishment or two or three that prove that you are a good problem-solver, write it down.

Interviewing Secrets Once you have completed a written assessment of what you have to offer, decide how you will communicate this information when asked: “What can you tell me about yourself?”

Interviewing Secrets Write a script of what you plan to say. You do not want to “wing it.” Because this question is typically the first question asked, it will set the stage for everything else you say.


During the interview

You’ve been asked, “The Question.” Now what? You are prepared, remember? You’ve written an answer to this important question and you have practiced until you have committed it to memory, but it doesn’t sound forced or unnatural. Focus on what you are going to say. NEVER start with something that sounds like this: “I was born in New York City in 1966 to immigrant parents who worked hard to support our family. They still don’t speak English very well, but they are both decent people. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of toys or extras, but we still had fun. I have two brothers and a sister, all of whom are younger than I am. My sister has cerebral palsy. I graduated from high school in 1984. I graduated from college in 1988 with a degree in civil engineering. My hobbies are playing games on my computer and watching television. I collect old bicycles and fix ‘em up to sell.”

This is not only too much information, but it has very little to do with the job for which he is applying. And some of what he shared is none of the interviewer’s business, i.e., that his parents were immigrants as well as the dates he graduated from high school and college. Any or all of this information could be used against him. You only have a limited amount of time to answer this question so don’t waste it talking about your early and/or personal history.

The bottom line is that you need to follow your plan. Here’s a hypothetical example of what could be said: “I have been working in the field of civil engineering for the past 6 years. My most recent experience has been with an engineering consulting firm where I’ve worked for the last 2 years. I enjoy my job because it’s challenging and I like interacting with a variety of people. In my most recent assignment I was on a project that lasted nine months. I made a significant contribution to the project because of my expertise in sanitary engineering. One of my strengths is my attention to detail. I am known for being extremely thorough and meeting or exceeding deadlines and goals. My boss knows that I work well under minimal supervision, that I am very conscientious and that the job will be done right the first time. I’m looking for a new opportunity where I can contribute to the growth of the company by helping educate customers on the benefits of using our consulting services.”

In this example, the candidate gets right to the point. He doesn’t talk around the question, but answers it directly and without hesitation because he’s prepared. He also kept his answer to less than two minutes. He concentrated on sharing his work-related accomplishments and strengths in relationship to the key job requirements. He gave a brief career summary. At the end of the interview he was prepared to ask several insightful questions, which was another indicator that he was prepared. And because he researched the company before the interview, he was able to do all of this and make a great first impression.

In conclusion, there are many questions that you can anticipate during job interviews, but none is more revealing than: “What can you tell me about yourself?” Your answer gives the interviewer an overview of who you are and what you would bring to the job. Take time to prepare for this question as well as the others and you will find that you are a strong contender for the position.

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