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A Little Bit Can Say a Lot

An interviewer’s broad request for personal info shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here’s how to set the stage for success in the rest of your presentation.

By Valerie Hayes

One of the topics I’m asked about most often is how to respond to the request, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” For some reason, this seems to stump both the novice and experienced interview student alike, for it often seems vague, without direction, and meaningless. You’re not sure “what the judge or interviewer is looking for,” and for a moment you stare blankly ahead like a glamorous deer in the headlights.

There are several reasons interviewers might begin in this manner. They might be using it as an icebreaker to get the interview started and help you feel comfortable and relaxed, or they might be looking to see what you feel is important and what aspects of your background you’re prepared to discuss. Or, they may simply be trying to buy some time while they scan your biography or résumé to find a more interesting question to ask you.

While this may seem like a simple “throwaway” opportunity without a lot of value to your interview, it’s really your chance to take hold of the wheel and steer the interview in a direction that is to your advantage. A good response to a “tell me about yourself” request will do three things: 1. grab the interest of the interviewer or judge, 2. mention aspects of your background that you feel make you a good selection for the job or crown, and 3. set up a natural situation for the interviewer to ask follow-up questions about topics that you want to highlight.

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