Perhaps the most common interview starter is the request to “tell me about yourself.” It is also one of the most confusing parts of the interview for many job seekers.
My favorite corny comment about “tell me about yourself” is that the interviewer really does not care who your third grade teacher was. My point is that the interviewer is not looking for your life history. One of my colleagues has said that a good way to start is to mention your hometown - where you are from. My opinion is that this is still missing the point of the request.
Some of the best advice I have heard or read on this topic came from a column in the Kansas City Star newspaper a few years ago. The gist of the column was that your response should focus on the job. The point of the interview is, of course, to help you and the employer make a decision about whether you are a fit for the job.
With that in mind, I believe the best approach is to speak briefly, and I emphasize the brevity, about some things that make you the right fit. While the employer may ask for more detail later or may have questions on the list that you answer with your initial “about yourself” response, this is an excellent opportunity for you to provide a preview. In this situation, the candidate has more control over the content than at any other time until the end of the interview, so take the opportunity to make a sales pitch.
If you can’t talk about your third grade teacher, what should you cover? I think a very effective approach is to begin with information about your degree. Is there anything unique about your program? Have there been particular highlights? Mention any specific workshops or other training you have had outside the classroom.
Talk about your experience. Include your student teaching or internship, any relevant work highlights.
Preview what your strengths are, with brief examples. Many employers will ask more about your strengths later, but this is a great time to give an overview.
Talk about your passion for the position and for education as a profession. Show the employer that you are interested not just in the job, but in the particular employer as well - tell why.
Because we know that many interviews begin this way, you have the opportunity to rehearse your response. Take the opportunity. Know what you want to say and how you want to end without the “tailing off” (usually ending with a halfhearted “so...”) or repetition I hear so often.
This sounds like a lot to talk about in just a minute or two, but an autobiography is longer and less relevant. “Tell me about yourself” really means “give me a preview of why this is going to be a great interview and why I want you for this position.”
Director of Career Services,
Washburn University on behalf of AAEE
The opinions expressed in Career Corner are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.