Photo by Van Tey Media, Free to use under the Unsplash License

I know this is kind of click-bait; there are many interview questions that could rise to the level of "worst." But this one really irks me. The worst interview question comes at the very beginning and is excruciatingly common.

"Tell me about yourself."

Now, purists will complain that this isn't even a question, that it's a command. I'd argue it's a question in the form of a statement. But that's trivial. It's not what bugs me. When I'm asked this, I usually respond with some polite variation of

"You have my résumé. What do you want to know?"

Do you see? Why ask that first, broad, unfocused question? From the interviewer's point of view, I think many would say, "It shows me how you present yourself."

No, it doesn't. Not accurately.

Photo by Laurence Kleinheider, Free to use under the Unsplash License

What it tells me as a candidate is you didn't do your research. You at best glanced at my résumé, and now you want me to summarize a document I've already spent hours over years honing. But it's worse than that. Because if I start telling you about my job experience, I'm assuming that's what you want to know. I'm not even telling you what's important to me (even though you might think otherwise). I'm telling you what I'm guessing is important to you.

Don't play games. Don't be lazy. Prepare for the interview.

  1. Most companies' first interview is a screening. So, what's the barrier to being considered for stage two? Ask those questions. "Our software improves animal research efficiency. Do you have ethical concerns about animal testing?"
  2. Tell the candidate more about the specific role, or about the company. Provide context for the questions you're going to ask. "We're invested in pair programming. Not everyone likes that, which we understand. What do you think about pair programming?"
  3. Ask questions based on their résumé. "I see you did some finance work, which is also part of our business. What did you specifically do on that team?"
  4. Certainly ask open-ended questions, but still keep them relevant. "What do you enjoy doing outside of the job?" matters if the company or team cares about home-job balance.
  5. Have a conversation. This is harder than "First we ask you questions for 25 minutes. Then you get 5 minutes to ask us questions." But, look, it's an interview, not an interrogation. Assume the interviewing goes both ways. In fact, invite that.

"Tell me about yourself" isn't friendly or useful. It makes the candidate uncomfortable, trying to please, and off-balances them out of the gate. Or, they practice a standard, formal answer that only tells you they can memorize a pitch.

Your interviews reflect your company's values. Want better matching employees? Ask thoughtful questions that matter.

Photo by Cody Engel, Free to use under the Unsplash License