University of Wisconsin–Madison

Answering the Dreaded "Tell Me About Yourself"

Answering the dreaded “Tell me About Yourself”

Many interviews will begin with some variation “tell me about yourself.” Few questions cause as much anxiety as this seemingly simple request. By keeping in mind the following tips, you can master the “tell me about yourself” and start all your interviews off on the right foot!

1. Think of your answer as a story that ends with why you are sitting in that particular room at that particular moment.

It is important to think of your answer not as a list of where you have been and what you have done, but as a narrative that brings to life what the interviewer already knows about you. The interviewer has seen your resume and knows where you went to school and what you are doing this summer, but your resume does not tell a story about why you did those things and what you learned about yourself and your future goals from your experiences. Consider the difference between the following answers:

List answer: My name is Joe Johnson. I was born in Appleton and went to UW-La Crosse where I majored in Chemistry. I worked at Epic for two years after I graduated and now I am at the University of Wisconsin Law School. I just finished my first year and am currently working in the Remington Center. 

Story answer: When I started undergrad, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, which is why I majored in Chemistry. As I explored the medical profession more through undergrad internships and conversations with doctors, I realized that my strengths lie in advocating for people in a different way than medicine allows. I had always considered reading, writing, and analysis strengths, so I began to talk to lawyers about the ways in which they advocate for individuals. I met with lawyers in my hometown, who have provided services for clients ranging from estate planning to adoptions. That kind of advocacy and the variety of work really appealed to me so I decided to apply to law school. Fortunately, I was able to really explore my options during the two years between undergrad and law school when I worked at Epic. I fell in love with Madison during that time and decided to stay here for law school. I hope to continue living in Madison and work in a smaller firm like yours. 

2. View your answer as your opening argument.

You are in law school now, which means, you are training to be a lawyer! View yourself as your first client. Be your own advocate. Making a case for yourself means leading with your strengths and selling yourself with confidence. It does not mean apologizing for perceived weaknesses or just bland recitations of facts. Consider the differences in the following answers:

Not treating yourself as a client: I’m really happy to have this interview. I know my grades aren’t in the cutoff that was on the job posting in Symplicity, but I hope I will do better next year. I’m not sure my undergrad major is the kind of technical degree you are looking for, but I really like IP and really want to work at your firm.

Being your own advocate: I am passionate about IP law. I learned about IP as a career path from a panel I attended while getting my mechanical engineering degree at Iowa State University. A lawyer from a firm in Des Moines spoke on the panel and discussed the skills and attributes necessary to be a successful IP lawyer. He mentioned curiosity, communication skills, and creativity. I consider those strengths of mine and thought this sounded like a great fit. Since then, I have sought experiences that have helped me build upon these skills. This past summer, I worked in the Law and Entrepreneurship clinic where I interviewed clients and helped them with a variety of business issues. I especially enjoyed learning about their new business ideas and helping them reach their goals. I am excited to help clients with their IP needs in a similar way, and hope to do just that at a large Chicago law firm like yours. 

3. Be aware of what to avoid…

After you have mastered telling a story and being your own advocate, you are going to want to make sure you steering clear of any of the following:

  • Asking “what do you want to know?” 
  • Rambling on and on and trailing off at the end with “soooo yeah.” When you are done with your answer, just stop talking. The interviewer will pick it up from there.
  • Oversharing. Stick to professional interests and goals. The one exception is sharing why you have a connection to a geographic area.
  • Starting by saying your name. Remember, the interviewer has your resume. He or she knows your name, and you have likely shaken hands and introduced yourself. Starting by saying your name wastes valuable time and makes your answer sound more like a rehearsed speech than a conversation!

With confidence and preparation, anyone can master the “tell me about yourself.” Please contact your OCPD adviser for advice and practice! 

Submitted by OCPD on October 3, 2016

This article appears in the categories: OCPD Articles