A week ago, I released an article titled, “The 4 Worst Job Interview Questions.” I won’t keep you in suspense. The “Tell me about yourself” question took the blue ribbon. I still cringe every time I write those four words in a row.
That article was aimed at helping employers gain a better understanding of how to alter some of the most ineffective job interview questions to help elicit more valuable information from their job candidates. What’s a candidate to do when he or she receives this question?
Before we get to that, I’d like to go on a mini-soap-box. The job interviewer has two basic responsibilities—sell and screen the job candidate.
If you, as an employer, are recruiting top talent, you will need to sell the candidates on your company. You can do this throughout the interview, but should especially shine during the portion of the discussion when the job candidate asks questions.
Regarding the screening, it is your duty to gain the most relevant information from the candidate so that your company can make a sound hiring decision whether to hire the person.
As is often the case, starting the interview with “Tell me about yourself,” not only turns control of the interview over to the candidate, but also puts the job interviewer into hope mode. You can now get down on your knees and pray to whatever god you worship that the candidate provides you with something useful.
Even worse, you have within the first few minutes of the interview managed to show this rather smart candidate that you are likely lazy, unprepared, and ineffective at conducting interviewers. Whether you are is irrelevant. You’ve sent this message by opening with this “question.” You’ve also put yourself in a position to potentially waste ten or so valuable minutes by not directing the job candidate to specifically what you need to know to make a good hiring decision.
As the job candidate, you can help the interviewer—and yourself—by responding with a question. While I’m not a fan of answering questions with questions, I’d rather you not waste your opening remarks providing irrelevant information.
Simply respond to the interviewer, “That’s a fairly broad question. So that I can provide you with the most relevant information for you to make a good decision regarding whether to hire me, can you point me to the area within my background that would be most helpful for me to share?”
This is a completely fair statement (eh, question). It’s even more critical for those with many years of work experience because they have a greater likelihood of sharing something irrelevant simply because they have more to share.
You have now asked the interviewer to direct you to what is most important for him or her to know. This helps with the most important point a job candidate must understand regarding his or her ability to attain the job. It is based on the candidate’s ability to accurately articulate his or her fit and qualifications as they relate to what the employer needs.
Oftentimes, candidates share their wonderful traits without regard for how those traits satisfy what the employer needs. While this usually occurs because the interviewer did an ineffective job of asking the right questions (or asking the questions the right way), the job candidate is penalized for not being a mind reader.
If you are interested in more information regarding what I consider to be the 14 most effective job interview questions, the rationales behind why they’re asked, and the most effective responses, see Interview Intervention: Communication That Gets You Hired. I provide a complimentary eBook to anyone who signs up for the milewalk email distribution list from the front page of the website.