"Tell me about yourself!"

Posted: March 9, 2009

During the past couple of weeks, students applying to join Texnikoi [the engineering activities honorary] have been coming to my office in a steady stream because my signature is one of half a dozen required on the application form.

Most seemed surprised that I wanted to talk with them, instead of quickly signing the form. But I wanted to meet them - to learn a little about each person, to find out about their current and future plans, and to hear how their job searches were coming along.

My first question was one typically asked by interviewers: “Tell me about yourself.” Surprisingly, most students seemed taken aback by the question and stumbled in their answers. Do they do the same in interviews, I wonder?

A few had ready answers. Here are a couple of examples. “I’m from a small town in NW Ohio, and currently I’m a junior, majoring in Civil Engineering. Last summer, I interned with [company name], and I enjoyed it, but I want to try a new industry. I’ve had a few interviews this quarter and I’m looking forward to an interview next week with [another company name] for a summer internship. I don’t have time for too many campus activities, but I’ve been a Habitat volunteer, an active member of ---, and this year I’m an officer in ---.”

“I’m a senior planning to go to medical school. I’ve had two co-op terms with ‘company A] and two internships with [company B and Company C], and I’ve worked on the --- project team. But after having the opportunity to do research for one of my professors in a research lab on campus, I realized that what I really want to do with my life is to make a difference by being a medical researcher.”

Each mini-biography is about the same length; each provides a great opportunity to learn a little about the student and equally important, each provides a basis for asking more questions.

How about you? What do you say when someone asks, “Tell me about yourself?” If it’s in an interview, be sure to mention those experiences, qualities and interests that match that job and industry, and you’ll set the agenda for a successful conversation and a productive interview.

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."

Authored by Rosemary Hill.