When an Interviewer Asks, “Tell Me about Yourself,” What Are They Really Looking for in an Answer?

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Allison Wottawa
Question:

When an interviewer says “Tell me about yourself,” what are they really looking for in an answer?



Answer:

This question is generally used as an ice breaker at the beginning of an interview. An interviewer could just as easily skip this step and move right into “hard” questions. However, if the interviewer gives you the opportunity to use your time in such an open-ended way, you should definitely take advantage of it.
 
How should you answer the “tell me about yourself” interview question? Find out in this article.

Essentially, this is a terrific opportunity to make a human connection. While firms will be interested in your skill set, your work history, and your relevant experience – firms hire people they like. Partners and associates are thinking, “Is this someone I can spend nine hours a day with? Is this someone with which I can build a rapport and trust? Do I like this person?” These questions can only be answers with a human connection.
 
The interviewer has your resume in front of them. They don’t need to you to answer this question by walking through your resume (i.e., first I went to law school, then I took a clerkship, then I joined a firm doing litigation work in products liability). They will most definitely ask you about your practice and the details of your experience later in the interview.

When asked this question, do not answer with an amalgamation of a response to all of the questions you anticipate from them (your qualifications, why you’re leaving your firm, why you’re interested in them, etc.). Take the interview in stride. Again, let them ask those questions.

When an interviewer starts off by saying, “Tell me about yourself,” this is a gift! You have the opportunity to make an impression on them on an intangible way, to let them get to know you as a person. So, start off with something personal – where you’re from is a nice start (especially if the interviewer has some connection there). Another direction to take is why you went to law school. The more passion and enthusiasm you can show about your profession and love for the law, the better. Firms hire attorneys that love what they do!

A tactic that is typically successful is talking about an interest or a hobby that you have – that you are highly enthusiastic about – something that involves problem solving, tenacity, creativity, endurance, productivity, efficiency, strategic thinking, leadership skills, competition, or the love for overcoming challenges. Then, bring the conversation back to the law. Show the interviewers how the qualities utilized or developed in this interest make you a terrific attorney and how they contribute to your practice. You are talking about yourself in a way that shows the firm you have qualities they desire, qualities that they will not see from looking at a resume.

An interest, hobby, or event in your life that developed these intangible qualities also helps the interviewing attorneys see you as a person (hopefully, someone they like). It has the potential to create a human connection and a stepping stone from which to build a relationship.

Summary: The “tell me about yourself” question is generally used as an ice breaker at the beginning of an interview. Learn how to answer it in this article.



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