FEDweek

Tell me about Yourself—They Don’t Really Mean It

By Nancy Segal, Solutions for the Workplace, LLC

Most of us dread the standard “ice-breaker” question, Tell Me About Yourself. As someone who has been interviewing applicants for more than 30 years, I have rarely heard this question answered well. More times than not, applicants launch into their biography—starting with where they were born! Trust me, I (and most interviewers) don’t care. In addition, this kind of biographical response can lead you to share information that I would rather not know: how many children you have, that you have a spouse (or don’t), etc. It is illegal for me to take these things into consideration and once you tell me, it’s hard for me to forget them. So please do not share this kind of information.

Instead, I want to know who you are and what you bring to the table, in the context of the job I’m interviewing you for. Look at that last phrase again: in the context of the job I’m interviewing you for.

What I really want to hear when I ask this question is why you are qualified for the job I’m discussing with you. Think about your answer to this question in three parts: to get the interview’s attention; provide information, and then close your answer. And, when you think about preparing your response, look at the announcement and questionnaire and identify the key words from the job posting to frame your response. Finally, your response should be relatively brief. Let’s look at an example:

Interviewer: Let’s start out by you telling us something about yourself.

Response:  I am an experienced Human Resources Specialist with full knowledge of federal hiring rules and policies. [Attention getting] I have 10 years’ experience in recruiting, creating crediting plans, preparing vacancy announcements, and working with managers throughout the process. [Information] You will find that I excel at partnering with all levels of supervisors and managers to ensure the right hires are made on a timely basis. [Close]

If you look at the response carefully, you can see the key words from the job posting: federal hiring rules and policies; recruiting, creating crediting plans, preparing vacancy announcements, and working with managers; partnering with all levels of supervisors

Hearing the above response helps the interviewers understand at the start of the interview that the applicant is qualified for the job and puts the interview on the right track.

Sometimes, interviewers do not ask the “tell me about yourself” question but instead, at the end of the interview, provide the candidate with the opportunity to share additional information. You can use your opening, slightly modified:

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me; as an experienced Human Resources Specialist with full knowledge of federal hiring rules and policies and more than 10 years’ experience in recruiting, creating crediting plans, preparing vacancy announcements, and working with managers throughout the process, I am confident that I will excel in this position. I look forward to the opportunity to work with your supervisors and managers to ensure the right hires are made on a timely basis.

Don’t miss the opportunity to tell your interviewers what makes you a great candidate; “tell me about yourself” is the perfect way to do so.


Nancy Segal is a federal career and job search expert. Following her own senior-level federal HR career, she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC to provide HR management perspective to astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy is also one of our premier management and career development trainers for our online webinars.

If you have any questions for Nancy concerning your federal career or the federal job search process you can email her at fedcareer@fedweek.com.