How to Answer the Most Common Interview Question?

How many of you have answered the question “tell me a little bit about yourself” with a synopsis of your resume? It wasn’t until I had a mock interview with my Acting class professor at Carnegie Mellon University that I realized how pathetically uninspired my answer might seem. Interestingly, most of the people I have interviewed answer this question in exactly the same manner. Here is how I introduced myself.

“I am Ketaki Desai and I am originally from India. Before coming to the United States several years ago, I completed a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University. Because I was interested in biomechanics, I designed an artificial knee and ankle joint for my final year project and then applied for a Masters in Bioengineering at …”

At this point I was abruptly cut off by my professor. She looked at my resume and then back at me. Then she said something I will always remember.

“You are not your list of degrees and achievements. If that is all I wanted to know, I would have read your resume. I want to know the person that you are, what defines your values, what makes you tick, how I can encourage you to be the best employee you can be. And I want to know all this not just because I need the right fit for my job description, but because I believe you need to feel the same way too. And for that, we need to get to know each other.”

She asked me a few personal questions, and based on my answers, gave me a very different version of how I could describe myself. Here is what she came up with:

“I am Ketaki Desai, and I have been fortunate to live a third of my life, each, in a predominately Hindu, Muslim and Christian country. This has played a significant role in how I work with diverse teams, as well as my understanding of global cultures and customs. I love learning, which is evident from all my years of being in school, but I believe that practical application of this knowledge is key. To that effect, I participated in several competitions, including a million dollar global competition, where I could apply the theory I learned in class to real-world problems. I even won this global competition and started my own venture to bridge the gap between education and technology in American classrooms. I am very passionate about reading, and whenever I get a chance, I will pick up a book. I am currently reading The Shiva Trilogy, which is a modern day interpretation of Indian mythology.”

Her answer made me seem like an interesting person even to myself! An interviewer’s job is to glean as much insight into the core values and beliefs of the candidate, so she can pick someone who is aligned well with the culture of the team and organization. When a person dares to step out of their comfort zone of repeating tried and tested information from their resume, not only does it show innovation and enthusiasm, but it also makes the candidate memorable. An honest, passionate answer reveals more about a person than a canned response, because the body language mimics what is being said. When interviewing by the hundreds and getting similar responses, it is the interesting answers that stick.

Does your introduction really highlight the real you? How would you modify your “tell me about yourself” answer to make it more interesting and memorable? Here is how you can test it: the next time you are at a party introduce yourself differently, and go back to someone you just met after a few hours. Did that person remember at least a part of your conversation?

I would love to hear your feedback.

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Image credit: Ludovic Bertron / Flickr

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