Career satisfaction,  EQ,  Personal Brand

“Tell Me About Yourself” – Why It Is Hard and What To Do About It

Those frequent flyers in the job market already know how this apparently easy question could become quite daunting at times. During an interview coaching, I ask the clients to answer it first. Interesting enough even the expert interviewers have a hard time talking about themselves. Some of the common patterns are:

Pattern 1 – They walk through the resume chronologically.

Example: “ I received my BS degree from University if Kentucky, then I joined x company, worked there for until 2002 as a junior software engineer then I moved to y company and worked there until 2007, got promoted to a supervisor position. After that …” (At this point my brain starts hurting )

Pattern 2 – They are quite succinct and deliver it with very little enthusiasm.

Example: “I have a BS degree from the University of Kentucky, then I work at the x company and then at the y company. I have relevant experience for this job and I am very passionate to work in x area”

When I ask them to evaluate their response I usually get, “I was nervous”, “didn’t know what to say about myself”, “it felt awkward”.

So what would be a better way to answer this question?

It’s not a matter of giving them a perfect cheat sheet to memorize and practice. We need to take a deeper look at the underlying cause before working on the words.

Address The Underlying Issues

What are the limiting beliefs about your own competencies and experiences? How much do you believe in yourself? If you don’t see yourself as a strong candidate it leads to the “imposter syndrome”. I was coaching a young woman who thinks her diverse work experience is negative and that was enough to drive other self-sabotaging behavior even during our mock interview session. Another one I coached was feeling like a victim as she had to move for her husband’s job.

When I first came into coaching and I was practicing my elevator pitch with my own coach. She noticed my voice energy was very low when I said: “I am a coach”. Her feedback helped me realize the root cause was that deep inside I didn’t believe that I was a coach.

A good coach can address such issues by helping the client genuinely see the value of his/her background. It’s a development opportunity, may take time over multiple sessions and definitely some internal work from the client’s side.

The truth is, life happens and very few of us has a “perfect” career story. If we focus on the imperfection, we make it far worse than it actually is!

Organize Your Delivery

So, what is the purpose of this “Tell me about yourself” question? Basically, the interviewer wants to get a feel of how your experience can add value to their team. Make it easier for them to answer it for themselves. They are already busy with their own work, don’t assume they have read and/or memorized your resume already. The purpose of your answer is to make them curious to learn more.

Treat this question as a short essay about yourself. Give them a teaser to get curious but don’t bore them with too much details.

Here is a template:

  1. Introduction – Give a 10,000 ft overview of yourself

I have a BS from the University of Kentucky, I have 3 years of experience in the development sector as a field worker performing xyz at Care International, followed by 2 years as a program director and supervisor at We Rise Together managing grants and budgets.

2.Body – Pick 2-3 points that are listed in the job description. Elaborate them with your experience.

Throughout my career, I have gains broad experience including

  • Understanding different phases of a Project – As a program director, I had the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of all the different phases, the stakeholders and the complexities that can arise. I successfully delivered a project of $5M involving x and managed 5 field workers.
  • Skill/strength/experience 2 – Elaborate on what role or project you experienced this
  • <add any relevant awards/recognition>

3. Conclusion – Say something about why you are passionate about this job, and how your background helps you and them to be successful. 1-2 sentences.

I am very passionate about the development sector as it makes a difference in the life of the less fortunate. I believe this position of program coordinator at your organization would be a great fit for me as I will be able to utilize my prior experience and also will get an opportunity to stretch and grow.

For each position make sure to tailor it. As a preparation, write down, refine and practice until you can say it naturally. When you practice you may record it on your phone and then listen and refine. You may also have a friend listen and give you feedback. Lengthwise it shouldn’t take more than two minutes with normal pauses.

An interview is a time when you and the interviewer are having a conversation. When you prepare authentically you are doing a service to both to you and to the interviewer. And if it don’t work out in the end, that’s ok. Eat some chocolate, do some self-care, recover and then move on. Good Luck!


If this resonates with you, let’s have a chat. Contact me or email sbanu <at>greenleafcoach <dot>com

Image by Sue Styles from Pixabay

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