Tell Me About Yourself

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This topic contains 18 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Robert Eckhardt 7 years, 3 months ago.

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  • #137346


    I hate interviewing but love having interviewed! I’ve always disliked the question, “Tell me about yourself.” Like most of us, I’ve been on both sides of the desk or the conference table. What was your best or worst interview experience and why? As an applicant, what types of tough questions were you asked? As an employer, what’s the most memorable interview you conducted and why?

  • #137382

    Robert Eckhardt

    I’m pretty opposed to any interview question that encourages dishonesty. Examples are ” What are your biggest weaknesses?” or “Tell us how such and such idea we are implementing is unflawed?” (please work to look through the hyperbole)

    The answer to the first question is what the interviewer ought to be sussing out of the interview, nobody is going to respond that they are slightly abrasive and like to be left alone while completing a task unless they seek out direction (me). Or that they, when presented with a problem, they attack it like a pit-bull until it is solved and should, therefore, not be exposed to issues unless there are finances and willingness to fix them (again me).

    The latter question is interesting because the attempt is to determine whether or not the interviewee philosophically meshes with the company. This is a good thing but I’ve seen this type of thing create a culture of one dimensional thinkers.

    As far as the types of interviews I like:

    I like being given real world problems and told to brain storm solutions along with a list of pros and cons for each. The job I have now had a large data integration component to it, I think that my personality was well exposed in the types of questions I identified as needing answers. Furthermore they got a good impression of how I thought an enterprise data integration project ought to be run while allowing me the opportunity to speak to other solutions that might not be my first choice but might me very valid.

  • #137380


    @Robert, I’ve never liked any question that asked me to tell on myself. Questions such “what are your greatest weaknesses?” drive me over the cliff mentally. I answer them but, like you, I am concerned about real world issues.

  • #137378

    Jenyfer Johnson

    The weirdest interview I ever had came after I had been laid off (they called it “right-sizing” in the late 1980s) and got called back by my base for an interview. I had come out of the Engineering office and the job openings were in the Environmental office. They were offering to train us in the Environmental field but were looking for individuals that knew the base already.

    I sat across from the man who would later become my supervisor, and he asked a few experience related questions. Then he pushed a folded paper across the table to me. The paper had “10 to the -3 power” written in numbers; he asked me to solve it in a decimal form. It took a second for my brain to change gears but I did. Then he flipped the paper over and there was a basic algebra equation and he asked me to solve it for “X” (which I did). That was all, I was thanked and sent on my way. I was called by the end of the week and offered a job. Come to find out later that 13 people who had been laid off were interviewed and given the same questions to solve; only 2 of us got both questions correct and we were both hired. WEIRD but it worked out great for me career-wise!!

  • #137376


    @Jenyfer, That interviewer certainly threw a curve ball when he gave a test. You certainly showed how well and fast you can think on your feet. Employers like that.

  • #137374

    Herman N. Cohen

    My most memorable interview as an employer was when I was hiring an administrative assistant – the candidate was a former playboy bunny and lingerie model – who brought along her portfolio to show me at the interview. Why she thought it was relevant to the job was beyond me.

    My favorite question to ask as an interviewer is “What did you do to prepare for this interview?” It helps me gauge how much the candidate really wants the job.

  • #137372

    Alicia Mazzara

    I hate the “Tell me about yourself” question as well. I never really know what to say, so I tend to regurgitate my resume since it feels unnatural to get more personal than that. I also don’t like behavioral interview questions, like, “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor”, etc. Like the biggest weakness question, everyone is going to try to paint themselves in the best light possible, so it doesn’t tell you all that much.

    My worst interviewing experience was when I was in college and was interviewing for an entry-level position with a large publishing house in New York. The woman was eerily similar to Meryl Streep’s character in the “The Devil Wears Prada”. She didn’t look at me the entire interview, kept snapping her gum loudly, and sighed dramatically when she disliked my answer. We went through my entire resume in painstaking detail, and then at the end of the interview, she says, “So… wait. You’ve never worked in publishing before?” I thought I was going to explode.

  • #137370

    Peter Sperry

    My most interesting interview question occured on a telephone interview. I was working for a marketing company in Virginia and my boss had submitted my resume to lead a project for a client in San Francisco. The client and I covered a lot of ground on the phone but at the end, he asked if I could meet with him in his office at 9:00 am. Being in a client pleasing mood, I replied “of course”. It was already after 3:00 pm Virginia time and I had not cleared this with my boss. I called him immediately and asked what to do. He replied “hang up and get your ass to the airport”. I made the last flight out of Dullus and we landed the account the next day; but I may be a tad more cautious with my snap responses in the future.

  • #137368

    Mark Hammer

    Read Kruger and Dunning’s now-classic 1999 paper “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments”, and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that asking people to judge their own strengths and weaknesses can often be a very poor source of information.

    Our own surveys of managers here indicates that they place a great deal of emphasis on a) being able to get along with people or have new hires “fit” in with the work unit, and b) they place considerable faith in what they witness with their own eyes during selection (or a reasonable proxy, such as a recommendation from someone they trust a lot).

    So, from the perspective of academic or scientific interest, I’m curious about what sorts of queries managers turn to in order to convince themselves that they’ve found “the one”, and why they place confidence in that sort of question and resulting candidate response.

  • #137366


    @Herman, That is hysterical about the portfolio. It makes one wonder what goes through peoples’ minds.

  • #137364


    @alicia, You showed great restraint with that woman. I hate interviewers, and I have met many, who act like they have done you a favor just to talk to you.

  • #137362


    @Peter, Great story. I can see you sprinting through the airport!

  • #137360


    @Mark, Thank you for the paper. I will locate it and read it. Hiring is a total crap shoot. Every employer seems to look for that special feature he or she cannot describe. I don’t know that there is any formula for me to know if I’ve found “the one”. I tend to go with my gut. As I am a federal government manager, I have a lot of constraints. Sometimes, I’ve had to hire people I really was not 100 per cent keen on, so that I would not lose the position. Someday, I will write a paper about my experiences.

  • #137358

    Ed Albetski

    During my time in the IT department at DOC I would teach new employees our in-house computer languages, so I took a “Training the trainer” course. They sat us all in a circle and made us tell the class something about ourselves. After listening to several dull answers about their careers and qualifications, when it got to me I held up my hands with my thumbs bent the wrong way and said: “I’m double-jointed. I can do this!” I was the ice-breaker and the answers got more interesting after that…

    It’s been far too long for me to remember any of my interviews, but the question I usually asked applicants was why they wanted THIS job. I got less self-serving crap and usually more thoughtful answers on why they would be a good fit.

  • #137356

    Ed Albetski

    Herman, the question is, did you hire her?

  • #137354


    @Ed, I always ask applicants why they want the job. All I want to know is why they think they would be a good fit. Pretty simple but people really stumble over it sometimes.

  • #137352

    Mark Hammer

    I should probably qualify what I said.

    Asking people to describe their strengths and weaknesses CAN be a source of useful information… just isn’t an accurate means of gathering info about the strengths and weaknesses they describe. So, if I go on and on and on about things I have a hard time with, or things I believe I am God’s gift to the world in, then obviously you ARE learning something about me (and maybe something I didn’t intend for you to learn). But you aren’t learning anything useful about those particular skills.

    Still, I understand why managers ask it. It’s a lot more straightforward and much less anxiety-provoking than “Tell me why I should hire you”. And, as you yourself note, it is difficult for managers to identify “that special feature he or she cannot describe”. If they could enumerate or dimensionalize it in some manner, then maybe there could be a validated tool for assessing it, but if you can’t even say what it is you want to measure, then you’re obviously not going to have a test for it, so managers turn to the interview.

    Folks in the selection business would probably say that managers place far too much faith and emphasis on interviews, because they don’t understand tests, or because they haven’t done the sort of serious job analysis that would let them determine what tools to use. Often, managers will conduct “selection” the same way that young single men take whatever is in the cupboard or fridge, fry it, and call it “cooking”. In fairness, people get management or supervisory positions for reasons other than having training in evaluation and assessment, and not every organization has staff on hand who are, so I’ll cut them some slack. But suffice to say that the most bizarre interview questions are frequently a reflection of the lack of clarity about what the job needs. (Much like “famous” bizarre thesis defense questions are often a reflection of how little time the committee member spent reading the thesis!)

    What I have not seen any discussion or research about is mistakes in hiring, how they come to be recognized, how readily managers admit them, how long it takes to recognize one as a function of selection procedures, and all of that. As you note, people DO make mistakes in hiring. The hire can be a nutbar and disruptive to the office, or much less capable than they seemed or described, or simply someone who had loftier aspirations than your measly work unit, and left after 6 months for a “better” job (and I’m a firm believer than good selection involves hiring people who stay). This area strikes me a as a rich one for research mining. There is mountains of work on how good a predictor of job success/performance tests are, but no research examing the other side: what are the circumstances that predict failures in selection?

    Some “mistakes” happen for reasons managers can’t avoid. Our public service has been experimenting more these days with pools, often obliging managers to pick from existing pools rather than run their own staffing process. And what I hear from managers from time to time is that they ended up with someone from a pool who was clearly skilled and bright, but a poor fit to the work-unit, and left for another job shortly thereafter. Could an interview, even an offbeat one, have remedied that? I don’t know.

    I may have mentioned, but I’m the fellow in our central agency who has to read through the thousands and thousands of anonymous survey comments that hiring managers and candidates have written to us (over 40,000 at this point), some mercifully brief (“Nice short survey. Thanks.”) and some that someone has obviously taken the afternoon off to write and go on for pages. You learn a lot about the managerial and candidate mind that way. Both fascinating beasts.

  • #137350


    @Mark, Thank you for the thoughtful response. Hiring is such a gamble on many fronts. People can surprise you either way. Some job applicants can stay below the radar and then seem to turn psychotic on you. Even if one is able to check references, that is no guarantee. Some employers will lie and give good recommendations to get rid of problematic employees. I wish I had a formula to use when I hire employees. For now, I have to rely on my intuition and experience.

  • #137348

    Herman N. Cohen

    Actually, I did – and she was a great employee, eventually promoted to a job a “spokeperson” for the organization.

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