The Job Interview: “Tell Me About Yourself.”

We can virtually guarantee that the first question you will be asked in a job interview will be some variation of “Tell me about yourself.”  If handled skillfully, this can provide an opportunity for you to lead the conversation and make a great first impression. However, since this question is so open-ended, many people find themselves drawing a blank when trying to answer it. Here are some tips for polishing your answer:

mistake #1

“Ok, yeah, sure! Well, my name is Lynnette, I’m 36 years old, and I’m married to a wonderful man named Caleb. We don’t have any kids yet, and we don’t have any pets because we’re allergic. So it’s just the two of us, and we have a great time together. We spend most of our time playing videogames together, or watching sci-fi, or talking about what books we’re reading. Except on Tuesdays, when I go to my crafting group to work on my cross-stitch. I just completed a great project, wanna see it?”

How this hurts you: This answer focuses on personal things, which the employer is probably not interested in learning about you. This is an understandable mistake – after all, if you met someone at a party and were asked “Tell me about yourself,” you would probably include details like your family life, hobbies, and interests. But a job interview is not a social setting; it’s a professional one. Therefore, your answer should focus on who you are as a professional only. Your hobbies and interests should not be mentioned unless they are directly relevant to the job. And there are certain facts about yourself – such as your age, marital status, religion, number of children, etc. – which you should NEVER mention in a job interview. These details could open you up to discrimination, which is why it’s illegal for the employer to ask.

mistake #2

“Okay, well. . .my name is Lynnette. . .but I guess you already know that. . .. well, honestly, I’m not really sure what to say, I mean, everything was already in the application, and you’ve got my resume in front of you, so there’s not much for me to add.”

How this hurts you: If you know that you’re not supposed to talk about your personal life, you may struggle to know what you can say, and something like the answer above may slip out of your mouth. But this sounds both unenthusiastic and uncooperative. And if it were true – if hiring managers really could make a decision based on your resume alone – then why would they bother asking you to interview? (That is, assuming that the person interviewing you actually read your resume, which is not guaranteed.) They called you in for a reason. They want to hear you discuss, in your own words, how your background and skills have prepared you to excel in this job, why you’re interested in the job, and why they should hire you.

so how do you answer this question?

Well before the interview, you need to brainstorm to figure out your main talking points. You don’t want to simply regurgitate everything that’s on your resume, but do give a good idea of what your area of expertise is and what you have to offer. (An ideal answer to this question is probably an expanded version of your elevator pitch.) How exactly you answer this question will vary depending on your individual situation and the type of job you’re applying for. Some of the most common aspects to consider including are:

  • An opening statement that catches their attention and sums up, in a few words, who you are as a professional.
  • A brief overview of your work history, including where you currently work, how long you’ve been there, and what sorts of work you do there. That may be enough, or you may decide to mention some of your past jobs to showcase more experience. For every job you talk about, focus on the tasks you do and skills you use which most directly translate to the new job you’re applying for.
  • Degrees and certifications you’ve earned, only if they’re relevant.
  • An explanation of how your skills, education, experience, personal traits, etc., match the job requirements and would be of benefit to the new employer.
  • A statement about why you’re interested in the job and excited for this opportunity.

If you’ve done it right, this question will set the tone for the entire interview. In answer to later questions, you will probably find yourself referring back to, and elaborating on, things you mentioned in your opening statement.

winning example

“As you can see from my resume, most of my career has been in customer service, beginning with my position at JC Penney, where I won an award for customer service. I’m currently at Chase Bank, for five years now, where I began as a teller and was then promoted to the loan department. Most of the work I do involves assisting customers face-to-face, organizing paperwork for loan officers, and processing documents electronically. That’s why I was so interested when I saw your administrative assistant position, because I think it’s a great fit for my skills with computer applications, organization, and customer service. I also recently received an associate degree in Office Administration, and I’m excited for the opportunity to put these skills to use.”

If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee

August 2023 YouTube Roundup

Summer is ending, but our job-search assistance never will! Check out these new offerings from our YouTube channel:

Job Search Mastery PLAYLIST

How the ADA Can Protect You in Your Job Search

Jobseekers who have disabilities may face extra obstacles in their job search. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to help level the playing field. In this video, Career Specialist Kathryn Cusimano discusses who is covered under the ADA, as well as some of the different ways the ADA can protect you from discrimination during the application, testing, and interviewing process.

Resume Before & After PLAYLIST

Resume Quick Tips: What NOT to Include

This video is part of our Resumes Before and After series, which showcases common resume mistakes and our recommended solutions. When it comes to the resume, keep this mantra in mind: “When in doubt, leave it out!” Any information which is not specifically useful needs to be removed from your resume. In this video, Certified Resume Writer Anne Nowak demonstrates how to cut through the clutter.

From the Vaults: This Month’s Golden Oldies Spotlight

Resumes & Cover Letters PLAYLIST

Introduction to Cover Letters

Certified Resume Writer Lynnette Lee discusses the basics of cover letters, including when you need a cover letter, how to structure one, and how to avoid common mistakes. She also discusses the ways it might benefit you to include a cover letter with your resume. . .even if it’s not specifically required.

Written by Lynnette Lee

The Functional Resume, Part B: The Single Track Career

Resume and question marks

One of the most crucial parts of writing an effective resume is choosing the right format. We usually distinguish between chronological, functional, and hybrid formats, with each having distinct pros and cons. To that end, we will be discussing different resume formats and which ones work for which job seekers. Today, we’ll look at the functional resume format.

What is it?

The functional resume format is the opposite of the chronological format which we discussed previously. Whereas the chronological format was all about where you worked and when, the functional format minimizes your chronological work history. Instead, the functional format focuses on your skills, key competencies, accomplishments, and highlights of experience – basically, what makes you special and uniquely qualified.

In another post, we discussed how the functional resume can benefit job seekers with nontraditional career paths. Today, we’ll look at the other type of job seeker for whom the functional template is a good choice.

The Advantages

The functional resume format works well for people who have a long history working in a single career at multiple locations. For people with this sort of “single-track” career, the functional template can prevent redundancy. For example, if you’ve worked as a nurse at five different locations over the past twenty years, doing pretty much the exact same job at each location, you may not want to write out the exact same duties and skills five times on your resume. Instead, you can use a functional template to describe all of your job skills and experience without being repetitive.

This can be especially advantageous for older job seekers whose best work accomplishments may have been many years ago. The functional template allows you to put your best achievements at the top of your resume, regardless of when they occurred.

The Disadvantages

The primary disadvantage of the functional resume is that it can be hard to write. Since you have an extensive work history in the same field, you will not be able to put everything you’ve ever done on a resume. You will have to focus on the most valuable and relevant information. This means that you will need to search your memory and determine your best skills and accomplishments, even stretching back over decades. The process of writing a functional resume is time-consuming and complex. However, in most cases, the extra work is worth it, because a functional resume will prevent you from having a lengthy resume which repeats the same phrases over and over.

Components of a Resume

Contact Information: Your name, physical address (optional), phone number with area code, email address, and LinkedIn URL (optional).

Personalized Sections:  This is the largest section of the functional resume, and the least rigidly structured. This is where you get to be creative. No two functional resumes look exactly alike – you need to find the best way to present your skills and qualifications. You may start with a summary of qualifications, a short paragraph of keywords describing your best skills, and then move to a “highlights of experience” section, where you detail some of your relevant experience. Or, you may start with a large, bullet-point-filled skills section, then have a key accomplishments section where you brag about the best stuff you’ve done. Or, you may divide it up into several sections of key competencies. Look at our example for inspiration. This resume is for a seasoned employee who’s trying to condense an extensive career into a succinct document, while drawing attention away from how old some of his best experience is. He begins with a detailed list of his most relevant skills as an office manager and bookkeeper, then highlights a few of his greatest accomplishments from throughout his career. If you’re still not sure how to format your functional resume, check for examples online and in resume books.

Work History: This section will be brief and near the bottom of the resume. Each entry in this section will consist of your job title, company name, city and state, and dates worked. Nothing else is needed, because all the details are included in your personalized sections.

Education: This would be the place to include academic degrees (Bachelor of Science, Associate’s Degree, etc.), vocational certifications (teaching license, LPN, etc.), and industry credentials (CPR, TWIC, OSHA, ServSafe, etc.). Remember to include the name and type of diploma earned, the name of the school, and the city and state.

References: Your references should not be part of your resume. References should be on a separate document, one which you only provide when it is asked for. You may include a line on your resume that says, “References available upon request.”

In addition to these tips, you can come by the Career Center in person anytime during business hours for one-on-one help with your resume.

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Note: This article was originally published in 2017 and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.

July 2023 YouTube Roundup

Summer is ending, but our job-search assistance never will! Check out these new offerings from our YouTube channel:

common job applications PLAYLIST

how to apply for a job at chili’s

In this video, Career Specialist Karla Stewart walks you step by step through the process of applying online for a job with restaurant chain Chili’s.

job interview questions PLAYLIST

HOW TO Answer, “What motivates you?”

Learning about what motivates you – what drives you to succeed or inspires you to happiness – can tell a hiring manager a lot about what type of employee you’ll be. In this video, Certified Career Coach Anne Nowak and Career Specialist Lynnette Lee demonstrate an answer that aligns with the needs of the position and the company culture.

Resume Before & After PLAYLIST

Resume Quick Tips: Outgrown Resume Formats

This video is part of our Resumes Before and After series, which showcases common resume mistakes and our recommended solutions. In this video, Certified Professional Resume Writer Lynnette Lee demonstrates why the resume format you’ve been using since the beginning of your career may not be the best fit now that you’re an experienced professional.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Get a Federal Job: The Schedule A Hiring Process for Individuals with Disabilities

Getting a federal job is usually a lengthy and complicated process. But for workers with disabilities, there is a program which may allow you to cut through some of the red tape and get assistance and accommodation with the application process.

what is it?

  • Schedule A is “a special hiring authority that provides federal agencies an optional, and potentially quicker, way to hire individuals with disabilities.”
  • This process is a non-competitive hiring process, meaning that it is not open to the public or current employees unless they have a disability.
  • Schedule A positions do come with a probationary period that can last up to two years before being converted into a competitive position.
  • You can identify the positions that have a specific hiring path for those with disabilities by seeing this icon:  

how to qualify for schedule A

You are able to apply to positions under Schedule A if you “have an intellectual, severe physical, or psychiatric disability” and it affects one or more major life activities.

You do have to submit proof in the form of a disability letter that states that you have a disability. This letter can be obtained from:

  • Your doctor
  • A licensed medical professional
  • A licensed vocational rehabilitation specialist, or
  • Any federal, state or local agency that provides disability benefits.

This letter does not require:

  • Details about your disability
  • Detailed medical history or records
  • Information about necessary accommodations

This letter does not have any expiration date or date of renewal once it has been submitted and accepted. You do not have to obtain a new letter for a change in position or location. You will still need to obtain and submit this letter even if you currently qualify for disability benefits; however, the agency providing you the benefits can supply that letter for you.

other requirements

You are required to be qualified for the position that you are applying to, as well as the pay grade required for the position. You must provide the standard documentation about your qualifications including, but not limited to:

  • Resume
  • Cover letter
  • Writing sample
  • Transcripts
  • Professional certifications or licenses

Applications that do not include everything required in the job listing will be labeled as “incomplete” and will be rejected.

how to apply

You will find all government positions available on USAjobs. This website will also be where you upload required documentation and Schedule A proof of disability documentation. You are also able to list your resume as searchable to those looking for Schedule A applicants.

You can apply online through the USAJobs website using Schedule A if the listing indicates that there is a hiring path for those with disabilities or it specifically states, “Schedule A”. Alternately, most federal agencies have a Disability Program Manager (DPM) or Selective Placement Program Coordinator (SPPC) whose role is to help the agency recruit workers with disabilities. You can reach out to that person directly, and they will provide guidance on the best way to apply.

The general recommendation is to apply through the competitive, or regular, application process and then either submit your resume to a specific federal agency’s resume bank (such as with the IRS) or contact the DPM/SPPM for that agency to determine the best way to apply under Schedule A. Another option is to reach out to the HR professional within the agency and explain that you are looking to apply under Schedule A for persons with disabilities.

keep in mind

It is also important to keep deadlines or cutoff dates in mind when applying, as the exact time can vary depending on your time zone. There are also some long-lasting openings, such as 6 months or more, where hiring can be done on a rolling basis. Generally, it is best to apply as early as possible because the entire process can take several months.

There can be seasonal or telework only positions, depending on the agency. Seasonal positions are full time, but you do not work the entire 12 months. Telework can be temporary until you move or can be permanent. You will likely have a distance requirement from the location in order to come into the office occasionally.

Hiring Process

Once the application has been submitted, you will typically see its status change to “referred”. This means that the application and resume are being reviewed to determine whether they match the required qualifications for the position. If there are any required assessments, that information will be provided after you have applied. You can request accommodations for these assessments.

The next step would be interviews; however, sometimes this step can be skipped depending on the agency, position, and hiring manager. The interview will be followed by the tentative job offer and then background checks along with fingerprinting. Once the agency has decided to hire you, they will give you a firm job offer with all of the information necessary to proceed to the next step. Then it’s time for onboarding or orientation along with whatever training is necessary for the position.

This entire hiring process can take anywhere from 2 to 6 months depending on the agency and the position. Accommodations work much like they do anywhere else, and you can get further information about accommodations in our previous blog post.

Written by Kathryn Cusimano