how to answer “tell me about yourself” in a job interview

It’s common for job interviews to open with a question that sounds simple on its surface but which many job seekers find difficult to answer: “Tell me about yourself.”

Job seekers often aren’t sure exactly what interviewers want to know when they ask that question. Are they requesting a full history of your life? Should you include personal details, like where you grew up and your family life, or are you supposed to focus exclusively on work? And how detailed should you get – a 30-second overview that hits the highlights, or something more involved?

But once you understand what your interview is looking for, this question gets much easier to answer. At New York Magazine today, I talk about how to do it.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. Bluebonnet*

    Thanks for posting this article! I have a second round interview this Monday so know this will help!

  2. Moonlight*

    I remember when I was 18 or so and had my first “adult” interview. I’d had jobs in high school (babysitting, cashier, waitress – I am a stunningly bad waitress for the record!) and I feel like no one really asked me to tell them about myself because it was a small town so they knew who I was, but if I did it would’ve just been like “I go to high school and I want a job to buy a car” or whatever. So skip forward, I remember massively botching this. By this point I had moved to a distant city, was in university etc told them all about how I was from this little town, my uni education, my plans to do whatever it is I wanted to do at the time when I graduated, and so on. Later, once I learned that wasn’t the point I was like “well, no wonder they didn’t hire me and my babbling cluelessness”.

    I honestly still struggle with this question because my employment history is so checkered and I struggle to connect my career goals with the job a lot. Like “oh yeah I’ve been doing X and I want to do Y and this job has a lot of Y and a bit of Z which is great cause I don’t like but could use it for Y and Z” idk I need to practice like Alison says, get a clear answer and make it something I can tailor for each job.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I think this is the kind of thing where you can answer in a bunch of different ways that all work — if the job has ties to your previous experience but not your future goals, don’t offer your goals! And vice-versa — if it’s more of a stretch looking at your background, talk more about who you are as worker/the direction you want to go in.

      1. Moonlight*

        Oh yeah! 100% – I was definitely like “I want to be a lawyer” in a job to be a waitress though cause I was just clueless about tailoring it for the job. I think if your goal was always to be a llama groomer, it can be valuable to talk about how this was your goal and how you envision this job fitting into your future.

    2. afiendishthingy*

      I had an interview for a big scholarship when I was 17. It included a study abroad stipend and they asked about what I liked to do when traveling and my answer was all about shopping. I did not get the scholarship. I am almost 40 now, I have a masters degree and a good work history (although I’ve changed careers which makes jobsearching more complicated now), but I still periodically remember this moment and shudder.

      1. Moonlight*

        What was the correct answer? I’ve never been asked a question about travel before and can only picture it in the rapport section (like just friendly chit chat where if I said I liked shopping it would be ok)

        1. YNWA*

          If I had to guess, for a study abroad scholarship/stipend, which is what this interview was for, they want to hear how you experience the local culture, such as trying new foods, learning a new language or at least a few basic/polite phrases, and learning about the history of the city and/or country. Mentioning that you like to support local craftspeople by shopping for handmade/authentic souvenirs and gifts is fine, but talking about spending days in the malls and shopping the entire trip is not what an interview for an educational experience is looking for.

            1. afiendishthingy*

              I ended up going to a different school and I did study abroad and shopping was not a huge part of the experience! And I have actually always been super interested in languages and culture… I just blanked in the interview and didn’t really see that’s what they were looking for. I also lived in a very rural area at that time so it legitimately was always exciting to see local shopping areas that we didn’t have an equivalent of!

    3. SansaStark*

      My career history also looks a little disjointed on paper, but I’ve been able to find a common thread in all my jobs that I try to keep in mind when answering this or any open-ended question like this. Even though a bunch of my jobs aren’t really linked, they are all cyclical and deadline-driven so that’s kind of the point I try to hit when talking about my career in broad terms. Maybe your positions have something similar that loosely ties them together to help frame your thinking?

    4. Michelle Smith*

      I think you’re onto it though. You know your employment history may not logically lead the interviewer to understand why you’d be interested in the job you’re applying for and why they should hire you to meet their business need. So this answer is a great opportunity for you to connect those dots for them!

    5. Cyberspace Hamster*

      I remember the first time I was asked quite vividly – it was an interview for a scholarship I was applying for. I think I sat and blinked at the interviewer for about half a minute before stammering something out like “well what specifically do you want to know?” then launching immediately into some ramble about my upbringing. Needless to say I did not get the scholarship.

      I remember taking it completely literally (I find out a few years later that I’m on the autism spectrum which might explain that) while also knowing that I cannot give these guys my whole life story in a 15 minute interview so with those two things together my brain just shut down.

  3. Peanut Hamper*

    I remember when I applied for a job when I was young and still in school. I got this question and basically launched into “I was born as a young child…”

    I did not get that job.

    Now I know it’s all about an elevator pitch. Have one, and practice it.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      I remember interviewing someone years ago who gave an incredibly long rambling personal answer. I think she talked about her divorce and I know there was a long digression about a cruise she went on.

  4. Chirpy*

    This is one of my all time nightmare questions.. .I always feel like my answer is just going to out me as a loser because of my previous jobs and lack of opportunities to show what I could have done. (Long history of bad jobs and unsupportive people…)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Maybe you can try focusing it on your professional interests instead, with a just a little job history thrown in? And it can be short. Like: “I’m really interested in X and Y*, and I’ve had some opportunities to explore that in Job 3 and Job 5, where I was able to do __. I’m really interested in this role because of __ (something that ties back to that interest).”

      * Make sure X and Y are central elements to the job you’re interviewing for.

      1. Mimmy*

        I’m not Chirpy, but I wonder if this will help me because my job history is somewhat similar. I have a lot of knowledge and some experience in many different things generally related to my career interests. However, I feel like none of it is substantial enough to get me past the first round of interviews. I’ve been at my current job for about 6 years; however, there has been little opportunity for growth.

        1. tamarack etc.*

          My feeling is that this sort of “insubstantial”, “softball” question can really help you here because it’s more about coherently talking about what *you* are about (what’s important to you, how you approach the kind of work you’re applying for, …). Especially if you know you may not end up coming across as the most solidly prepared candidate when they start probing your experience level, you can use this kind of intro question to frame what will come. In Alison’s words “… I’ve had some opportunities to explore X … and I was successful at what I did there … and I’m really interested in a role that lets me develop my expertise in X” ==> to them, once they probe you about X they won’t expect a fully formed expert! But *if* X is important to them, and *if* they are happy to take on someone who’s enthusiastic, understands what a X is about, but is only about half-trained, and train you up, then you’ve set yourself up well.

      2. rayray*

        I like this, I struggle because I would like to pivot my career and it’s hard to answer this question when you are making a shift. I think any of us in this position need to identify our transferable skills, how it relates to the job we’ve applied for, and how we can demonstrate that in this answer.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I recently transitioned careers and found this question to be a great opportunity to make those connections for them. I had done that in my cover letter to get my foot in the door and then in the interview was a great opportunity to tell the same story. Maybe reframing it in that way will help you — as an opportunity to help them see exactly why you’re an ideal candidate even though you are transitioning from a different role or field.

      3. Chirpy*

        My professional interests just look so wildly different than my actual work history that I’m afraid it’s going to look out of touch to say “I filled in doing X for a week and loved it, but my main job there was in the kitchen.”

        Like Mimmy said, I have a very wide range of interests and knowledge, but limited work experience in those things and not really enough to get past the initial screen.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Alison’s advice here is good but also I just want to be sure you know that you’re not a loser, ok?

      Navigating life is hard and so much of it boils down to a lot of things not in our control. School does not prepare people to navigate life and we’re really on our own in many ways.

      It’s never too late to take a different path and while your past doesn’t define you, if you worked than you gained skills. Just might need to change your perspective to figure out how to highlight them.

      Take care :)

      1. Chirpy*

        It’s just that, to use one particular job as an example, I got put in a food service role instead of one more aligned with my degree, so while it was an interesting place to work that theoretically could have given me some good experience in something I’m actually interested in….I basically worked in a kitchen. So while I occasionally was able to do other things there, my main job was cooking and a random week or two elsewhere on site doesn’t “count” much.

        My one “good” job ended with my position being cut because a coworker convinced the board I wasn’t needed, and I currently work retail, so it just seems like everyone looks at my work history, sees the retail and food service and my lack of experience in more professional roles despite being out of college for a while, and I just can’t escape.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          I’m so sorry that sounds really tough.

          Is temping an option for you? Going through temp agencies are a great way to get some “professional” experience with a much lower bar to entry.

          Other options may be looking at local government jobs (county in particular) and non-profits. The pay can be lower but they also have lower barrier to entry. Especially now – I know my government is struggling to hire.

          It doesn’t need to be forever, just a way to get your foot in the door.

          Don’t discount the few times you did other work. You did the work. An employer doesn’t need to know it was only a few times. Remember there’s mediocre people out there getting jobs because while they don’t lie on their resume, they don’t say things like I did this but only for a day. And I think you’re better than mediocre. Mediocre people dont tend to be self critical about their work.

          Another think to consider is jobs that offer on the job training. I’m thinking of our 911 staff – we’re desperate for people, don’t care if you have work experience and will train you. Of course not everyone is suited for the work, but its a great career that doesn’t require a degree with lots of room for internal promotion.

          1. Chirpy*

            Employers will know it wasn’t my main job if they contact my references, though.

            Financially (and anxiety-wise), temping isn’t for me. My degree is in something that is actually commonly a government job, but all the current listings I’ve seen want 10 years of experience…and weren’t hiring 10 years ago, because I was looking then, too…so it’s been hard.

    3. NeedRain47*

      Nope, you’re not going to be talking about what you haven’t done or things that have gone wrong, so that’s not gonna happen.

      1. irene adler*

        That’s the thing: you control the narrative. You choose what to say and what to omit.

        I look at these like commercials for automobiles; highlight the features and ignore the drawbacks.
        Example: sports car ads feature the looks, speed and handling of a vehicle. You’ll never hear anything about the lack of reliability. Or poor gas mileage.

        Example: Minivan ads feature how much stuff they can hold- both people and cargo. Creature comforts too (captain’s chairs!). But never anything about how it looks like a block on wheels.

        Example: economy car ads feature reliability, the high gas mileage figures and the many options that come with the base vehicle, making it a great value. Won’t mention that it sure doesn’t look or drive like a Corvette.

        1. Chirpy*

          It’s more like, my job history is a bicycle and I have to convince people that I do in fact know how to drive a car.

          1. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

            Hi Chirpy! So, you do ride your bike on the road, and you do interact safely with other vehicles, and you know the road rules, and you know where you are going to, and how to adapt your preparations for bike travel to changing conditions, yada yada – so I think your bike/car is an interesting example for thinking about your transferable skills, your knowledge of the requirements of work etc.
            Good luck!

          2. SimpleAutie*


            I’ve successfully spun, “Even in jobs that wouldn’t typically require it, I’ve found/created opportunities for x. I realized that I liked that work so much I’m now looking to do it full time. For example, in Job2, I was Y, but ended up seconded to the X department for a week and then regularly offered overflow work from X because I had both the aptitude and interest. In Job4, I was Z, and found that X was an area of opportunity. I worked with my boss to create opportunities to offer X to my company and ended up doing about 40% X by the end of my time there. Now I’m looking for full time X”

            1. Snowy*

              The hard part is, most of my jobs haven’t had any opportunities to create more – in my retail job, I was able to improve basically 2 processes over 10 years, but nearly everything I suggest gets shot down because corporate/management doesn’t want changes from store level employees, and there’s no opportunities to move up. The “good” job wasn’t a whole lot better, although I did have creative control on many projects, it was a very dysfunctional place. Unfortunately it was also a very niche job and I almost certainly won’t get another job like it.

  5. Andri*

    I think when I’m asking the question in interviews, I’m just looking for a brief overview of where they are in their career/what’s important to them, though I phrase the question a little differently. It doesn’t matter too much of they don’t go into detail because I’ll ask more targeted questions about the things we care about later on.

    It’s more of an easing in to get a candidate in the flow of the interview so they’re comfortable enough to go in depth about the more important things.

  6. Yowza*

    There’s always a part of me that thinks it would be so funny to say, ‘well, I’m an asshole.’ I would never do it and I don’t think I am.

    1. Wendy*

      Funny you should say that: I was interviewing for a job a few years back, and the interviewer (who would have been my boss) actually told me “I can be a real dick, so you should know that”. I did not get the job, and was frankly relieved. However, about 6 months later, he called to let me know the other guy didn’t work out, and did I still want the job? No thanks, dick.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Honestly, I have to give some credit to the interviewer for his transparency. I’ve worked for some dicks who did not warn me ahead of time.

  7. Watry*

    Glad to see I wasn’t too far off the mark. Honestly Alison, your ‘here’s what this question is actually asking’ information has been absolute gold for me and my neurodivergence. Takes the guesswork and the agonizing out of it, and last time I was actually able to present myself as the adult professional I am.

  8. Smithy*

    I always think of this question to be a bridge between my resume and the job I’m interviewing for. Even if the job is a fairly linear progression from my resume, just calling out that I see this job as a linear progression and why it’s a field I like.

    I’ve found this works generically, but also if I’m a Manager of X and applying to be a Director of X, I’d be articulating an interest in working on a certain scale of work and looking to progress into more seniority, responsibility, etc. For my sector, at one organization that Manager role may actually be doing more, have more autonomy, and decision making than a Director role would elsewhere.

    1. Hamster Manager*

      Agreed, it’s kinda like a verbal cover letter.

      As a longtime freelancer, I’m used to this question, it’s so common, people just want to know who they’re dealing with in a brief way. I usually say where I’m based and what time zone that is (if different than client), then launch into a short spiel about my typical offerings/experience, being specific in noting similar projects to the one we’re here to talk about, and then transition into discussing what I already know about the project, then throw back to them to begin a discussion of the details. Swap ‘project’ with ‘position’ and there you go.

  9. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    I stumbled through law school summer interviewing without a good answer to this. Ultimately it all worked out, and probably way better than me working in BigLaw would have, but I never did think of a good way to answer this question. Thank you Alison for finally giving a clear template for constructing an answer to this frustratingly vague and open-ended question!

    1. Softball*

      I used to interview 1L and 2L summer interns and now feel bad for using this question and stressing people out!

      In general we were trying to get candidates to relax and tell us about themselves in general and what they liked – we did not expect anyone to know what they really wanted to do after graduation and work history was rarely relevant at that stage.

      Now in thinking about it, it also was bad for DEI considerations as you may “click” with people who have similar experiences, traveled to exotic places, etc.

  10. Elle*

    It’s a good reminder that this is not an invitation to talk about your non work life. The question makes it sound like they are but it doesn’t have to.

  11. Lily Rowan*

    This gave me a flashback to the person who took 15+ minutes to answer my opening question in a 30 minute interview.

    1. Nom*

      I had someone ramble for 40 minutes on this question. We tried to interrupt him but it didn’t work!

  12. Qwerty*

    I usually phrase the question differently and more specifically (‘can you give me a 30sec refresher on X’) to take the guess work out of it. But what I’m looking for as an interviewer is a starting point and to make sure that I’m focus on the areas of the resume that the candidate wants to highlight. It’s really easy to be like, “you have experience in Y, yay!” and ask a bunch of questions about Y when the candidate would rather focus on Z and wants to do more Z-type work. Or I learn that they are passionate about some aspect of the company for a non-resume reason.

    Tip for interviewers: Tell the candidate about yourself, the role, and the company before asking for their 30-sec highlights. It gives the candidate time to get comfortable and they can tailor their answer more the role that exists rather than the assumptions they make from a vague job posting. It allows the rest of the interview to feel more like a conversation than an interrogation.

    1. Gracely*

      Oh gods. I once had someone answer with “well, I’m a Millennial, and Millennials [insert a bunch of stereotypes here]”. Mind you, *I* am also a Millennial, so I have nothing against them. But the pop psychology aspect of the answer (combined with none of it having anything to do with skills/traits needed to do the job being interviewed for) really left a bad taste in my mouth.

  13. ThatGirl*

    I don’t have my little spiel quite perfected, but I usually give a quick overview of my career and how I got into copywriting, the companies I’ve been at and what I’ve enjoyed. So like “I started out as a copy editor, but decided I wasn’t in journalism for the long haul, so I transitioned to marketing and copywriting. I was at Company A for about 9 years, got laid off, moved on to Company B, got laid off again, and here I am. I’ve worked on a huge variety of projects across B2B and B2C and really enjoyed working on ads and landing pages.”

  14. LemonLyman*

    One time my boss and I were interviewing an internal candidate for an open position on our team. It was an initial interview and we had 6-8 questions. Most people only needed 25-30 of the 45min we had set aside. We started with “Tell us about yourself” and he gave us a 40min rambling without a single pause. My boss let him talk because it was clear after a couple of minutes that his communication skills weren’t a fit for the position. He seemed like a very nice man but maybe could have used Allison’s help with creating a clear and concise answer. And practicing it beforehand.

  15. Jenny*

    An interviewer once hit me with this question and then said “No, what do you like to do for fun?” and asked me about hobbies, so I would also have a thirty-second canned speech prepared about your non-work interests just in case!

    1. Jane Bingley*

      Agreed! I had an interview once where I started into a usual answer and the interviewer stopped me and said “I want to hear about the REAL YOU, not your work persona!”

      I didn’t end up working for that particular boss lol

    2. irene adler*

      I had a contracts class (night school) where the instructor owned his own law practice. He would talk about the goings on at his firm. This included his theories on how to interview/hire people.

      In the interviews, he made it a point to ask about what non-work things candidates did. And the responses fell along two lines: those with interests in various hobbies (“I like cooking, surfing, raising puppies and needlepoint too.”) and those who talked only about law-related activities (i.e., read law reviews in one’s spare time, take paralegal classes, partake in professional organization activities). He felt that the former, the well-rounded person, could contribute knowledge from their real-life experiences which the latter could never do. It worked for him. He was always very happy with the folks he hired.

    3. Dinwar*

      My boss does that in interviews. The jobs are typically very outdoor oriented, and having hobbies like hunting, fishing, or hiking are good indicators the person is a good fit for the role–stuff that’s outdoors, somewhat strenuous, and shows you understand type 2 fun. He told me what pushed me over the edge when I was being interviewed was my work on my grandfather’s farm.

      Everyone who gets to the interview stage has the academic chops. We weeded everyone else out in the resume stage. The real question is, can you maintain a high level of quality after six months of ten-day shifts in every type of weather the Earth can throw at you? And still be pleasant to work around?

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Ah, the great outdoors! Or as it was put in Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall, “Random death in the life support system”.

  16. afiendishthingy*

    A bit of a digression – what about the interviewers who do ask you what you like to do for fun? Every time anyone asks me this question in any context, I immediately forget everything fun I’ve ever done except maybe smoke weed and read fanfiction, neither of which are things I like to advertise in a professional setting or to anyone I’ve just met

  17. Jessica*

    “the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap…”

    No. No, they do not.

  18. pookie87*

    When I was a mid level manager at a contract food service company we had an HR training and they explained what a bad questions this is. It can lead to people sharing personal information about protected classes and other problematic items.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, I like that Alison said she does not use this question; may others follow suit.

      Besides what you point out, I don’t like this question because it is so vague. I mean, our time here is limited, so why don’t you get to the point and ask me questions that you want specific answers to? Especially given how this one is open to a wide range of misinterpretation.

    2. NeedRain47*

      It’s bad to ask AND it’s bad to answer if you’re not careful. Every search committee I was on at previous job, the candidate used this question to talk about their personal life as well as career. This involved (Christian) religious activity a surprising amount of the time. Such a bad idea all around.

  19. StreetCred*

    The time I found this question useful was when we moved to a new state (where my spouse was from) and it was a great way to say “I actually have ties to this state and this is not some random Indeed spray of all open jobs” – but that was the first 5-7 seconds of the response, then into Allison’s advice. But they also could have asked “why are you applying for a job in a very cold state 900 miles from where you live, work, and went to school?

  20. Combinatorialist*

    I have been on a lot of interview panels recently and I think it often sets up framing for the experiences that are going to be heavily relied on for “tell me about a time you did X”. So if you have a lot of stories from job A and B but not from C it makes sense to mention them briefly in your overview. Then when you answer a later question with a story from job A, I know where it fits in your timeline.

  21. An Australian in London*

    A line I’m trying out lately in professional introductions – and will use in job interviews – is some version of:

    “The type of work / role / client I like best is […]”

    It says a lot in a short amount of time, and is just dripping with hooks to engage with. It can also be inverted to ask someone what *their* favourite type of work / role / client is. I haven’t had a moment of awkward smalltalk since!

  22. Brain the Brian*

    Alison is spot-on to point out how much you can say in a minute’s time. Friendly person-with-a-degree-in-writing-for-TV here reminding everyone that the average sentence takes ten seconds to read out loud. Six sentences, therefore, is about a minute — and you can say an awful lot in six seconds, certainly enough to satisfy this answer!

  23. Gracely*

    I don’t love the question phrased that way, but really with any question I get in an interview, what I try to remember is “I am selling who I am to this company, so I should answer in a way that shows how would be good for this role, either because of my skills/knowledge, or because of how I work/interact with others.” I’ve found that if you answer every question with that lens, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of how to answer.

    Even if an interviewer really is looking to find out more about you as a person, you don’t have to give them your whole life story (the same way you wouldn’t do that on a first date). You can just give them a few highlights–like, what’s your relationship with the area, a personal interest/connection that might somehow intersect with your job, and one delightful quirk (like you crochet hats or play Wordle every day or are learning how to play pickleball). Steer clear of info that’s possibly discriminatory (no one needs to know you just joined AARP or never miss Sunday school) or possibly divisive (no political stuff/sports rivalries/etc.). Not that you can’t talk about your deep love for the Eagles and how upset you are about the Superbowl later if you get the job, but because the interview is not the time to get into a discussion about it.

    On the flip side, when interviewing, I try to make sure every question we’re asking is going to give us the information we’re looking for without too much processing on the part of the interviewee.

  24. B*

    I just conducted an interview today and started with my version of the standard, which is, “can you tell us a little about your management style and what you’re like as a manager?”

    Is that better than “tell me about yourself”? Because it’s more specific? I would like feedback from someone on the other side of the equation.

    1. Alanna*

      Yeah, as an interviewee (and honestly an interviewer) I prefer a more specific question. Yours is good. I actually think “Why are you interested in this job?” — while nominally a totally different question — serves a similar purpose; a good answer to that will give you a quick arc of the person’s career, what they’re most interested in, etc.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For years I hired for jobs where people had to be outstanding managers and I found asking people to self-assess their own management style wasn’t that useful; people often aren’t self-aware enough to do it, especially bad managers. I had better results by asking, “How has your approach to management evolved over time? What do you do differently now or think about differently than you used to?” It got much more honest and specific and helpful answers.

  25. Alanna*

    Even if you’re not interviewing for jobs and don’t plan to, being able to tell your story succinctly is a really good thing to practice anyway.

    When a new head of my department — my boss’s boss’s boss — started, the first thing she asked me on our first introductory call was “tell me about yourself.” I hadn’t done a job interview in 7 years and I launched into a bit of biographical rambling — “uh, I’m from Oklahoma originally…” — that makes me cringe so hard in retrospect. (Thankfully we overcame it, but man, not my best foot forward.)

    1. allathian*

      That’s a good point. The last time I answered the “tell me about yourself” question was when our current manager started about two years ago. I started by mentioning my title, my tenure (I’ve been here 15 years), my typical workday, and what I value most in a manager (autonomy, positive feedback when I do well, corrective feedback when necessary, as much support as possible when upper management or internal clients set unrealistic expectations). At a guess, this took about a minute.

      She asked two supplementary questions about how I spend my leisure time and a fun fact about myself. I told her that I like spending time with my family (and friends, Covid permitting), reading (mainly sci-fi, fantasy, and crime novels), and going to the movies and concerts (Covid permitting). My fun fact is that I don’t make spelling mistakes because I have an eidetic memory for how words are spelled (typos are a separate issue).

      If I had to answer this question in a job interview, I’d probably say something about why I’m interested in the job I’m interviewing for instead.

  26. Nom*

    As an interviewer, I feel like it’s necessary to have some sort of introduction question at the beginning of the call, even if it’s not this exact question. Knowing how the candidate views themselves as a professional is necessary context for the rest of the interview.

  27. Mark*

    I think different interviewers are looking for different things with this question, so it’s hard to know what they want. When we ask this, we are listening to see if the person only talks about one aspect of their life (their family, their work history, their education, etc.) of if they give a well-rounded reply about different aspects of their life, leading us to think they are more well rounded that someone who strictly lists off a repeat of what is on the resume. As an example of a well-rounded answer, “I’m #6 of 8 kids, born and raised in this area although I’ve lived a few years up in the suburbs. I’ve got an Associates in Accounting, a Bachelors in HR, and an MBA, which meshed well with management jobs in the restaurant, hotel, and banking industries. I love animals, currently having three cats and two dogs, and I now or in the past have volunteered at three animal shelters.”

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      I don’t think it makes sense to evaluate someone’s well-roundness based on their answer to a vague-at-best question.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Yeah, I’m never volunteering personal information about my family in an interview and I would hate to think someone is holding that against me when the generally accepted answer for this question is always going to be job related. If you really need to know whether someone is well-rounded in this particular way, this is not how to do it. And it’s potentially a DEIA nightmare, given that people with children and people with disabilities may reveal protected information if you’re probing for what they do in their personal time.

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        I’m with you. And I’m not even a particularly guarded person. If someone did ask me specifically about my siblings or my pets, I’d actually probably answer. But I would not volunteer it without a fairly specific request for that information, mainly because I wouldn’t imagine anyone would care about that sort of detail from an interviewee. It feels like a “gotcha” to be expecting that type of information without asking for it.

    3. allathian*

      Why are you looking for a “well-rounded” person?

      I bet that you’re mostly hiring people from your own demographic.

    4. metadata minion*

      What if someone’s hobbies and personal life are less stereotypically innocuous than the ones you’ve listed? I generally let my weird flag fly once I’m actually at a job, and I’m in a profession where that’s usually completely ok, but I don’t want to inadvertently prejudice an interviewer who wasn’t really expecting “I do queer Talmud study and keep exotic cockroaches” as an answer to what my hobbies are.

      Your answer also contains *nothing* about why they’re applying to your hypothetical job. Are you not expecting that to be an element of their answer?

      1. Snowy*

        “I do cosplay for charity” is also something that people either think is cool, or *incredibly* weird.

  28. Suz*

    I’ve always struggled with this question. I had an interview once where they interrupted me and said they meant they wanted to know about my personal life, hobbies, etc. That really threw me off. I did not get the job.

  29. Jadzia*

    I hate this question. I once had an interview where the only questions the interviewer asked me were this question and “And?” He started with “Tell me about yourself”, so I gave a brief overview of my background, and he said: “And?” I went into some of my education, he said: “And?”

    I kept giving him more about myself and after the six or seventh “And?”, I asked him if there was any specific information he wanted to know. His reply to that: “I’ll let you know when I hear it.”

    Apparently he never heard what he wanted because I received a rejection email the next day.

    1. Not Okay*

      Worst interview ever. I bet there was already someone pre-selected. Shouldn’t waste people’s time like that.

    2. CSRoadWarrior*

      And…and…and…and WHAT? Whoever you interviewed with didn’t know how to communicate clearly or expected you to read his mind. Either way, not okay.

  30. Hamster Manager*

    THE absolute best interview ice-breaker is when the cat just needs to waltz between you and the screen during intros. I’ve found 99% of the time it’s a chuckle for everyone, I make some quip about pardoning my ‘coworker’ and we get back to business, mood lightened.

  31. Mothman*

    And then they say, “no, tell me about YOU, not your career!”

    Not often…but it happens…eek!

    I like to do a bit of a combo. I focus on the career but I also talk about the “why.” Like, “I have been working in this field for X years, after leaving my last career because it was just too heartbreaking. I had always loved X, so that brought me to Y, which led me to Z…”

    (In context, the heartbreaking thing makes sense, and I always get a knowing nod. It also heads off the question of why I pivoted.)

    My big thing? Be honest when they ask you about your hobbies unless they’re crime or something. You might find the one other person on earth who likes to have unironic Nicolas Cage movie marathons or do a whole lot of laundry. (Both me.)

    I guarantee they’re tired of everyone claiming to enjoy nothing more than reading and spending time with family, plus the weirder things can result in more human convos. Even if it’s not “their thing,” the reaction matters! I mean, would YOU want to work somewhere that scoffed at the greatness of Nicolas Cage?!

    1. allathian*

      I see your point. Trouble is when I really don’t have any interesting answers to give. My favorite activities are spending time with my family and reading, playing match-3 games on my cellphone, and watching TV. I’ll watch pretty much anything except the sort of reality TV that’s based on humiliating people in public. My favorite reality TV shows include Car SOS and Love Your Garden, where the presenters fix the car or the garden of people with an interesting story for why they can’t do it themselves.

      Obviously being truly honest in this only works if you aren’t desperate for a job, any job.

  32. ABookishDiplomat*

    As a diplomat, we interview every year, either as a candidate (every 2-3 years) or a hiring manager (every year as there is always someone in the office rotating out). This is almost always a question that’s asked to see what type of community member you will be as the embassy community is often your social circle in addition to being your colleagues. They want to know what your interests are, openness to volunteering for committees, your family situation, that type of stuff. None of it precludes you from the position you are interviewing for, it’s to get a sense of you as a person in addition to an employee. I recognize this is generally not the case, but the nature of this career.

  33. Hurricane Wakeen*

    I’m in government and have been instructed by HR not to ask this question in our interviews, because it’s too likely to lead to answers about a person’s personal life that aren’t relevant and could be used in a discriminatory way. We are supposed to say “Tell us how your work experience has prepared you for this role” instead. I find it frustrating because instead of a nice, general, softball opening, the interviewees have to start off with something pretty specific and harder to answer well.

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