RANT: Can we please retire “Tell me about yourself…”?

I hopped on a panel yesterday with the fine folks over at Recruiting Blogs and Lever where we covered the ‘ins and outs’ of improving interviewing internally through training, resource development and measuring the candidate experience. One of the topics the team covered was good vs. bad interview questions, where I had a bone to pick with “Tell me about yourself…”

“Tell me about yourself…” is an objectively terrible interview question.

Regardless of the amount of prep put in, the interviewee is always immediately paralyzed when asked to just talk. They freeze, try to recall the perfect mix of personal anecdotes and professional accomplishments they prepared, and always end up rambling.

To me, this question signals that the hiring manager didn’t do their homework before I walked in their door. Which is not fair. You have my resume and LinkedIn profile, you should generally know “about me.” Candidates are expected to have performed research about the company and the team they’ll be joining prior to their interview and I feel interviewers should be held to the same standard.

An interview should not be a question and answer session. It should be a two-way dialogue to determine fit – both from a skills and culture perspective – and both the candidate and hiring manger should put in their leg work to ensure a two-way conversation takes place.

Additionally, lack of prep can make the candidate feel dismissed or as if their time is not valued. This negative perception is then either going to be amplified by word of mouth interactions with their network, or possibly result in a negative Glassdoor interview review. While one interview hiccup isn’t going to impact your employment brand, consistently poor experiences certainly will.

Ten Options to Use Instead:

  1. Describe the work environment in which you will most effectively be able to contribute.
  2. Tell me what motivates you.
  3. How do you make decisions?
  4. What do you do to relax?
  5. How do you stay relevant in your field? (Hat tip to FOT’s Kris Dunn.)
  6. What is your work style?
  7. On the whiteboard behind you, sketch your idea to approach solving ______.
  8. How do you build relationships?
  9. Tell me about a time you screwed up.
  10. What questions do you have for me?

Hump day rant over.

What questions do you love and which questions do you feel should be put out to pasture?

FOT Background Check

Holland Dombeck McCue
Holland Dombeck McCue is the former the Editor turned blogger here at Fistful of Talent. She joined the group in August of 2011 and launched FOT's podcast, The CYA Report, and monthly webinar series. Now she gets to participate in all the HR/talent pundit fun. Check her out on Twitter via @Holland_Dombeck.

9 Comments

  1. John McCoy says:

    I loved the question because it gave me a chance to take charge of the interview by answering with a question: What do you mean? Do you want to know my professional history, my psychological profile, or my family life?

    Reply
    • HD says:

      Flipping the script. I like it.

      Reply
      • Johnie says:

        Gee whiz, and I thgouht this would be hard to find out.

        Reply
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  2. DM says:

    This rant cracks me up because of the contradiction. First, they say that the question freezes them and catches them off guard, but then they say that the conversation should be a dialogue not just a bunch of questions. I can see the frustration with that initial question if it is a job where you are not having to build relationships or interact with people. But for a position requiring strong communication skills, it should be a piece of cake allowing for open dialogue and your “elevator pitch”. Obviously, the interviewer “did their homework” by looking over your resume & experience – otherwise, you would not have been contacted for the interview. However, to expect that written part to speak for itself instead of taking the opportunity to verbally express how the position relates to your career direction, passion and ultimately sets you apart from all other candidates…is just plain lazy.

    Reply
  3. I can see the frustration with that initial question if it is a job where you are not having to build relationships or interact with people.

    Reply

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