In the run-up to an interview, one of the questions that we all prepare for is “tell me something about yourself”. This is one of the questions that we deliberate on the most. Should I sound prepared? Should I sound casual? Should I focus on personal or professional? Should I brag or should I be understated?
And, believe me, it’s easier to respond to this question on a date than in an interview.
There are, of course, other variations like:
- Tell me something about yourself.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Tell something about yourself.
- Say something about yourself.
- How would you describe yourself in five words?
- What would you like me to know about you?
- Tell me something about yourself that I don’t know.
How should you respond to this question? The response is difficult because we are unaware of the intent of the question. Despite all the prep, in that split second, the trail of thoughts can be mind-boggling.
- Do they really want to know more about me?
- Wasn’t my resume detailed enough?
- Are they looking for personal details?
- Are they looking for professional details?
- Are they looking for a reason to reject me?
An ideal response is one that satisfies the motive. DigiNekt reached out to some HR honchos and asked them the motive behind this question.
We received a variety of responses. Some of them are:
- We use this question to make the candidate comfortable
- We use this to assess the candidate’s response to unconventional questions
- We want to know their language skills
- We want to know how they can overcome professional challenges with their skills
- We want to genuinely know if the candidate will fit into our organization culture
Mukesh Tharali, Head HR at Zedo said, “My perspective on the question “Tell me something about yourself” is slightly different. It’s important to understand the motive behind asking this question to a candidate.
The question itself is so ambiguous and open-ended that to expect a predictable answer to it is tricky. I do ask this question to get the candidate talking and more to judge his language skills. The story is secondary.”
Shreya Parikh, HR Manager at Aditadv Digital Pvt. Ltd. responded with, “I believe that “Tell me something about yourself” is a combination of personal and professional thing. Yes, it is quite disappointing when candidates respond with personal things and leave professional experience behind.
I would suggest rather than asking “Tell me something about yourself”, modify it to “Tell me something about yourself that we don’t know”.
Nayab Shaikh, Assistant Manager Human Resources at Rayadcom said, “For me, a candidate should be engaging when telling about themselves and even if it’s personal they are sharing, it should be related to the post they are applying as to how that thing has changed them, but a mixture of both is important to understand a candidate”
One thing was clear. Guys and gals, they are interested in your IPL club only if it helps the company and, overcoming your domestic issues do not interest them. They are looking for professional highlights of your career. They are looking for skills that go with your role.
To put it concisely, they are not looking for your life stories. They are looking for your job stories.
Here are a few real examples of good responses*:
Start with your experience and success
“As you know from my resume, I have been working on communications and customer care for several years. In my last job, my role was gathering feedback and organizing it into reports with possible actions and improvements on skills. I really enjoyed that role because it gave me insight into customer issues and how to resolve them.“
“As you know, I currently work as a digital marketing executive. I handle varied accounts from B2B, ecommerce, and accounts of professionals like doctors and lawyers. What I like best about my job is the variety which sustains my interest and keeps my creativity high.”
Then move on to your strengths
“I realized that most customer complaints could be handled effectively if we are proactive, so I took this issue to my manager with a plan that was detail oriented and doable. Through this plan, we managed to effectively raise the reputation of the company.”
“The responsibility of handling so many varied accounts has made me aware of what campaign works the best for each type of client profile and how to deliver the best results in a limited time and budget. To make effective decisions, I avoid working on guess or hypothesis and depend heavily on interpreting Google Analytics data.”
And finally why you think this company is good for your skills
“Your company has a strong focus on customer care. You have a good team. I want to be a part of the team so that my insights can make the customer experience better and reputation management easier.”
“I am looking for a company that will allow me the flexibility to work with different accounts specializing in different channels of digital marketing. I feel that with my skills, I would fit into that profile and contribute to the growth of each account.”
Here are a few real examples of not so good responses:
‘I am happily married and my husband just relocated to this city. We have settled and I am now looking for a job……’
This was a wrong pitch to start because now the interviewer started thinking…
- “She moves with her husband, she may move again…”
- “She is not professional enough to start looking for a job before relocating…”
‘I am a Manchester United Fan and an avid IPL follower. I never miss a match..’
The above statement is an innocent response to a slippery question. It can get your interviewer thinking…
- “Will he be focused enough on work during the seasons?”
- “Will he distract the team?”
‘I am very ambitious and self-driven.’
It may be a wrong skill to showcase if the company that you have applied to puts team culture above everything.
- “He says he is ambitious, will he move on too soon?
- “Will he fit in with the team?”
Remember: They are looking for your professional self, not personal self.
Silky Bhushan, CEO at DMIOA has a different take. She says, “The type of people I hire matters in my company, so I use this question to assess the interests and personality of the candidate.”
And, she was not alone. Below is a graphical representation of how HR Managers, business owners, and management responded.
Around 12% of respondents believed that in the modern time, this question was irrelevant. Sunil Seth, Head HR Business Partner at Dentsu Aegis Network leads the league. As he very eloquently yet forcefully said, “I think it is the most commonly used question people probably use to create comfort at the start of the interview. However, I hate and avoid such question. In today’s DNA age where candidates are making their resumes in the most presentable and unique format, it can create an adverse impression for the interviewer, and in turn, the organisation.
Has the interviewer not studied my profile? What more should I have written in the CV to describe my self?
I think it is time the interviewing techniques benchmark are raised and questions assessing capabilities, the strength of the person, and mindset should be brought up. We should not forget that it is the most important engagement element for a prospective employee and one should make it count with lasting positive impression on the candidate.
Until we do challenge our own status quo, we will keep hearing such questions and quest to answer such questions will only keep continuing.”
We agree with his views. Such questions can only lead to the subjective hypothesis of the candidate. Interviews should be objective.
We had set out to clarify what exactly is the intent behind the question ‘tell me something about yourself.’ An overwhelming number, around 67% want you to stick to professional stories. 19% believe that it can be a combination of both professional and personal as long as they highlight professional skills required for the job. Quite a few, around 12% think this question is irrelevant and 2% are okay with personal stories. To conclude, since the majority want you to stick to professional stories, you should continue to so.
Do you agree with this perspective? We would love to know.
*At GMR Web Team office
Sangeeta has over 8 years of experience in IT and 6 years of experience as a digital marketer. She has hands-on experience in most digital channels including SEO, Social, PPC and Email marketing. Her job profile as an internet marketer required her to handle and train teams for deliverables. She has trained and pushed team members to learn digital marketing concepts which are novel yet beneficiary for businesses.