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Answering "Tell Me About Yourself"

Q: Is the "tell me about yourself" interview opener a make-or-break question, or more of a 5 minute warm-up where I can share where I was born, my story, and what I am interested in?

Well, first off, you should never spend 5 minutes answering any question. You should practice answering questions in short, concise statements that last no longer than 1 to 2 minutes.

With regard to the "tell me about yourself" question, many interviewers like to start out with a general question like this to allow you to steer the conversation in a direction that you want. You should take advantage of this, and highlight some key points from your background that accentuate your strengths and invite your interviewer to ask follow-up questions.

However, make sure you answer the question as it is asked. If your interviewer asks you to summarize your resume in a couple of minutes, make sure you answer the general question as you move from strength to strength.

It is not a "make-or-break" question. It is a "break the ice" question, and an opportunity for you to get comfortable with the interview process. Learn to use it to your advantage.

By the way, I am assuming you are kidding about going back to when you were born, but just to be clear, you should focus on relevant experiences that will show your interviewer that you will perform well in the job at hand. A little bit of local color is fine, but don't expand the question to too much detail, or you will lose the interviewer's attention and turn an advantage into a disadvantage.

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  1. Louie

    I am already in my late 20s and up to now, I still feel uneasy about answering the question "tell me something about yourself". I dread answering this question because I might say something that might lead to more questions that could put me on the spot. It is quite difficult to begin answering the question, equally difficult is knowing when to stop.

  1. Louie,
    This question is one of the most common, yet also one of the most difficult!

    However, since you can expect it, you can take the time to prepare a concise but not over-rehearsed answer.

  1. Anonymous

    On a related note, I also am quite hesitant to answer interview questions like salary expectations. I am afraid I might give a quote that is way too high or way too low. Now I just give a range of salary expectation. I also do some initial research about the general salary scale of jobs which I am applying for.

  1. Great point,
    A "confidence interval" is generally a more helpful answer, and this applies to salaries too!

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