“Tell Me About Yourself”
The 25 Toughest Interview Questions (and Tips on How to Answer Them!)
We originally wrote this post in April 2006, when we discovered a very useful list of the 25 toughest interview questions.
We’ve updated it several times since then, because it has proven very popular, mostly with people searching for advice on how to answer the interview question “tell me about yourself.”
That list (linked below) and other materials we refer to here are handy references for job search interview advice, whether you’re an interviewer or a job candidate.
From the standpoint of an employer trying to effectively select among qualified candidates, these may not be the best job interview questions. But if you’ve arrived at this page because you’re a job seeker looking for job interview advice about tough interview questions, you must be prepared to answer them effectively.
These Are Some of the 25 Toughest Interview Questions
“Tell me about yourself.”
Keep your answer brief, as “tell me about yourself” is usually just a warm-up question.
- Answer carefully, though, because it can set the tone for the rest of the interview — for better or worse.
- You can very briefly recap a few high points in your life story (like in a sentence or two), but the question is about more than just “let’s get acquainted.” It’s more like “tell me what about yourself relates to why I ought to hire you for this job.”
- Your education and prior work history may be worth brief mention, depending on relevance, but this should be on your resume and job application and thus need not be given in full detail.
- The greatest emphasis should normally be on your recent career experience and how it qualifies you for the job in question.
- If that’s a stretch — such as because you’re relatively young and inexperienced or looking to make somewhat of a career change — focus on the general qualifications and personal attributes you feel make you qualified.
- Rehearse your answer to the “tell me about yourself” question. … You know it’s probably coming, you don’t want to ramble, and you want your answer to come across as a quick, concise, and effective sales pitch to get the interviewer’s attention and show him or her that you are well prepared, articulate, and a “good fit.”
“Why do you want to work for us?”
Although the wording of this second tough interview question invites you to focus on yourself, the answer shouldn’t sound like “it’s all about me.”
- Employers don’t ask this just to hear all about your needs and wants. (After all, how often is the true answer these days, “because I really, really need a job, my money’s run out, I’ve been looking for a job for x months, and I’ll do just about anything for a buck at this point”?)
- Instead, tell the interviewer why you’re interested in a way that allows you to continue selling yourself. What they really want to hear is how your career goals and ideas about the type of place you want to work match up with the kind of person they’re looking for.
- To do this, you really need to have done your homework about the job and the organization. That way, you can emphasize what you like about the organization, and how your goals are similar, or how it will allow you to utilize your talents.
- Be honest. If you need to concoct a reason why you’d want to work for them, then you probably shouldn’t bother interviewing.
“How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our firm?”
This one’s a tough interview question because you don’t want to seem overconfident, but you need to show you’re well qualified to hit the ground running.
- Be realistic in your answer. In most cases, there will be some significant contributions you will be making virtually from day one, but others that may require more training and experience, perhaps even a promotion. Answering this way shows you aren’t a know-it-all, are eager to learn, and intend to stick around for a while if hired.
- Again, knowledge of the employer and job, from having done your homework, will help you frame this answer.
- This is also one that could stand some clarification (what amounts to “a meaningful contribution?”). There’s nothing wrong with maintaining some back-and-forth in an interview if you’re uncertain about the intent of a question or whether you’ve fully answered it. So after a brief response highlighting what you’re most confident you can do right away, you could certainly ask if that’s what the interviewer had in mind or if they were looking for you to discuss some other kind of contribution.
“What important trends do you see in our industry?”
This is a tough interview question if you haven’t done your homework about the employer’s business and/or are looking to make somewhat of a career change.
- But if you’re an expert simply making a lateral move, it should be relatively easy — because you know the industry well. This is your chance to shine. The toughest part will be keeping your answer concise and avoiding rambling — because you know so much.
- Be prepared with two or three trends — technological challenges or opportunities, economic conditions, or even regulatory demands — to illustrate how well you understand your industry and the direction in which it’s heading.
- If you’ve had recent professional training or been to any conferences, seminars, or conventions that provided you with information on current trends, this question would provide a great opportunity to mention these activities. Even if you haven’t, you could mention journals, magazines, blogs, etc. that you use to stay on top of professional developments.
Books to Help Prepare for Interviews
- More Interview Books from Our Employment Bookstore
- Job Search Books from Our Employment Bookstore
- All Career & Job Search Books from Our Employment Bookstore (use navigation at left to drill down)
- Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers
- WikiAnswers: How do you answer ‘Please tell us about yourself’ in a job interview?
- CareerOwl Featured Career Article: Tell Me About Yourself
- Fifty Standard Interview Questions
Photo credit: Bright Tal via flickr