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The Question Doctor...
The Cure for the Common Question

Tell me a little about yourself

Job Hunting for Dummies* includes this as one of the “Interview Questions You’ll Hear Over and Over.” Because it is such a common questions, candidates enter the interview room with well though out and well rehearsed answers.

Does this mean you should not ask this question? No necessarily, but don’t expect to learn a great deal from the responses. Candidates will seize this opportunity to review information they have already supplied on the resume, perhaps highlighting what they think is important.

The expectation that you will receive a recital of information that you already have should not discourage you from asking the question. This is familiar territory for the candidate, which is what makes the question work. It is easy to answer. This increases the candidate’s confidence in the interview situation. His stress is reduced. He becomes more comfortable and may drop his guard. He is more likely to open up and hold nothing back as he responds to the remainder of your job focused questions.

There are two problems associated with this question that may be mitigated by changing how you ask the question:

  • the candidate takes this as a request to hear his life story, beginning with his birth. To avoid this, ask a Better Question: Tell us about your work history. What were some of the highlights?

  • the candidate wants you to hear every detail of his work experience, no matter how long it takes. To avoid this, ask an Even Better Question: Take two or three minutes to describe the highlights of your career. (Caution: Be prepared to stop candidates who exceed your time limit.)

* by Max Messmer. Published by IDG Books, 1995. ISBN 1-56884-388-7

During his Interview Right to Hire Right seminar, Nelson Scott works with participants to develop and ask questions that will yield the high quality information needed to make the right hiring decisions.


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A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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