The most frequently asked interview question

Our recent survey of 32 active job seekers discovered a number of fascinating things but one of the most interesting was that in 70% of all interviews attended (91) the candidates had been asked this one question or at least some derivative of it. The question, is

Tell me about yourself

What is it that makes this question so popular? To investigate this further we asked 10 recruiters why they thought this question, or at least some derivative of it, was worthwhile and the overwhelming response had something to do with “allowing the candidate to express themselves unhindered by direction and process” thereby uncovering some hidden quality not easily revealed by a more structured questioning technique.

I believe the real truth is that recruiters ask a series of interview questions that sometimes they don’t have a specific reason for. What they are really doing is trying to get a feel for the person, how they interact and from this hope to make a judgement about their suitability for an organisation. How this is achieved and how accurate it is really depends on the skills of the interviewer, but because of this, the way a person answers questions and structures their answers is as important as the content.

Here are some more statistics. 60% of the recruiters we spoke with couldn’t describe what a good answer would be. 20% said they didn’t like the question but those same people said they often asked it at interview. 80% of recruiters surveyed said the answer given to this question was not in itself crucial but the answer was often used to identify areas for further investigation.

So, with that in mind, how does an interviewee ensure they answer this question properly?

This question is a “gimme” because it’s open ended and is therefore an opportunity to structure your own answer. Because the interviewer is unlikely to have a specific reason for this question, other than conversation, the decision about content is yours. The only proviso here is that because the structure of the question is left to an individual, there is a threat that whilst it’s an opportunity to spruik positive qualities, you could say something that could be detrimental. In other words, “you could put your foot well and truly in it”. Knowing all of this of course makes it easy to get it right.



Peter Giannas – Project Human Resources

Peter has over 20 years in the delivery of Outplacement, Career Transition, Psychometric Testing and Recruitment Services. He has multiple post graduate qualifications in psychology including organisational and education psychology and has successfully owned and operated his own businesses for more than 10 years.