When recruiters ask the popular question, “Tell me about yourself,” they don’t really want you to tell them about yourself. Recruiters don’t care to know where you’re born or why you selected that college or how you got your first and subsequent jobs. They may ask and nod appropriately but they don’t really want to know.
Instead, they only want to know about you in relation to them. If where you grew up means that you have an affinity to a geography that’s pertinent to an open position or their searches in general, then they care where you grew up. If your first job is a direct parallel to a role they may have for you, then they want to hear about that. The items of interest aren’t about you, but rather the link between you and the position. Therefore, your primary objective isn’t to talk about yourself but rather to make that link between you and the position.
To this extent, your answer to “Tell me about yourself” can and should be different depending on who is asking you. There are many facts about yourself so you can still be truthful while being selective. Select those facts that highlight and strengthen the link between you and the person with whom you are speaking. This of course implies that you know something about the interviewer and the position (remember to do this critical research!). Then you can pick specific stories and examples that parallel the skills and experience you are expected to have. You can highlight the interests that confirm you are motivated for the right reasons. You don’t just tell them about yourself, but instead you reveal the myriad reasons why you are exactly what they need.
Remember, tell me about yourself = tell me why I should hire you.
Your interests = your desire for the job
Your background = your relevance to the job
Everything you say must promote and further your candidacy. There is no line of questioning in the interview that is separate from the job.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine helps people find fulfilling jobs and careers, as the co-founder of SixFigureStart®, career coaching by former Fortune 500 recruiters. Caroline has recruited for leading companies in financial services, consulting, media, pharmaceutical/ healthcare, and technology. She is the co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the best-selling “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” 2010; Two Harbors Press. Caroline is a 2010 grant recipient of the Jones New York Empowerment Fund.