Tell me about yourself
April 25, 2011 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Following from this question, how do you approach and answer the classic interview questions? I am looking for specific examples / tactics around questions like: Tell me about yourself? How do you deal with ambiguity? How did you manage a difficult personality? How do you deal with competing priorities? How do you influence people? Any of the examples in the aforementioned thread are fair game. I am interested in both your specific answers but also your general approach / goal in answering the question. Personal anecdotes a plus!
posted by jasondigitized to Work & Money (8 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I've recently been through a lot of interviewing, and I've been on the other side of the table quite a bit. Some general advice:
- Keep your answers brief! If you give a 2-3 minute answer and the interviewer wants more detail, they can ask for it. Long, rambling answers are not impressive.
- Tell stories; don't talk philosophically. It's more interesting and also more relevant to the interviewer.
- Think about your "brand" -- what is it that makes you unique? For me, in my recent round of interviews, it was being a "business-savvy engineering manager". Then, you can select stories that reinforce your brand. For instance, I could answer a question about "difficult personalities" by talking about an engineer I managed. But, I could also answer it by talking about managing a difficult cross-functional team situation or a difficult customer situation.

In the "tell me about yourself" part of the interview, I try to briefly cover my experience with a focus on what seems important to this job. Often, this would be the first question I was asked, so I just tried to give a general impression.

Hope this helps!
posted by elmay at 7:31 AM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Last time I feel like I aced an interview, I was subjected to three (!) separate talks with three separate people over the course of about 2 hours. Each of them started with "tell me about yourself." I looked for cues from each of them to craft three different answers.
One guy was wearing a sort of hippy-ish necklace, so I talked to him about being a home-body who likes to hang out with family. One of them was dressed like a hipster, so I complimented his sneakers and talked to him about how I was a birdwatcher and how it was a nerdy obsession to notice details and categorize.
One question that threw me a little was "how do you react under stress?" My reply: "I put my head down."
posted by Gilbert at 8:58 AM on April 25, 2011

One of the most difficult interviews for me began with: "Hi. You are ABC. Good. Now, sell yourself a job."

I panicked, which was obviously what they were looking for, but when I saw the smug look on the interviewer's face, I was a bit angered and that saved me. I took a minute to compose my response and launched into a 7-minute 'lecture', where I talked about the core job responsibilities as I saw it, my qualification for the job (not my education, but experience) and then rounded off with two challenges the role usually has and how I had solved it previously.

While they were impressed, some of the other questions clearly showed me that I would not fit into this company's culture (only numbers mattered, you had to agree to work weekends and nights, you had to cut short your vacations when needed, no work from home even if kids are sick!!!, etc). I gave up and answered as tersely as possible, just to end it quickly. I got the offer, but declined.

One of the questions that still stumps me is "What is your biggest weakness?"; every answer seems trivial, cliched or damaging.
posted by theobserver at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2011

For "tell me about yourself," I come prepared with a narrative that explains what brought me to the table at that point in my life. Briefly.

For me, it's "Well, I was trained in Blah and so worked with a Blah Industries for three years. I loved the work, but with layoffs all around me and the economy tanking, I decided to take my skills and apply them to solving the problems we were only observers of at Blah Industries. So I joined AmeriCorps, where I did X Y and Z. Now my term is up and I've realized that despite -- maybe because of -- my Blah background, nonprofits are a great fit for me because of A B C."

I guess I view it as a way to sell them on your trajectory matching theirs -- I'm not there just because I'm applying for every job within 50 miles.
posted by blandcamp at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2011

I'm going through the process myself (looking for work, not hiring), and friends who are hiring/HR pros had the following advice for me:

General questions from such people, especially in phone or 1st-round interviews, tend to be more about checking out your communication skills and "fit" with the company's social atmosphere, than actually sifting for technical qualifications. After all, that's what the job manager will be best equipped to do.

Thus, when you get questions like "How do you deal with competing priorities?", they are really asking, "Can you prioritize your thoughts on the go, under fire? Are you an organized thinker?"

At the advice of one of my hiring pro friends, I'm building a list of such questions from websites and personal experience. After each question, I'm writing out my answers, referencing specific events from my professional life, and then rereading them to make sure I put a positive spin on all of them.

Obviously, anything that sounds like a "canned response" is a bad thing, but if I have readied myself with the sort of answers I want to give, I can sound more sure of myself.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2011

One question that threw me a little was "how do you react under stress?" My reply: "I put my head down."

Gilbert: you mean, "I force myself to take a moment to regroup and prioritize, so I can plan my response strategy, instead of just reacting"?
posted by IAmBroom at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2011

BTW, one place in the past where I've done this "build a list of responses" was in preparation for the inevitable "What was your last salary?" question.

I now come prepared with a ready excuse for why I can't answer that one directly... differing challenges, cost-of-living indices, stock options...
posted by IAmBroom at 2:51 PM on April 25, 2011

IAmBroom, actually, what I meant at the time was "I concentrate on work, and nothing else." Not sure if that was what my interviewer got, but that was my intent.
posted by Gilbert at 12:25 AM on June 21, 2011

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