We interview many undergraduates for a variety of programs, all in the hope that we can gain insight into a student’s personality. There is a gentle phrase employed to break through the awkwardness between strangers. It seems innocent enough…”So, tell us little about yourself.”
I am astounded at the degree of trepidation in the responses we receive:
“Well, what do you want to know?”
“Um, like what?”
”What should I say?”
“Personally? Academically? Socially?”
Each of these responses is as off-putting to interviewers as the next, as what seemed like an innocuous questions transforms the interviewer in the role of interrogator. A good tip is stick to four principles: introduction, origin, occupation, and aspiration.
The purpose of the simplistic nature of the question is to allow the interviewees the latitude to express what is important to them and to guide the next series of questions based upon the response. And, quite frankly, to see what they will say.
The interviewers typically have a prescribed list of questions that they will ask. As this one typically comes first, it is imperative to start off on the right foot.
A good tip is stick to four principles: introduction, origin, occupation, and aspiration. These, if kept in context of the interview, can allow you to provide an answer of the appropriate information and length.
Interviewer: “So, tell us a little about yourself.”
You: “Good morning, my name is Nick Valentino. I am from Rochester, NY, I’m a sophomore English major, and I intend to get my PhD in Magical Realism.”
Interviewer: “That is the greatest answer I have ever heard.”
Your interviewer is struck by your proper presentation, gets a sense of where you are coming from, identifies you as an academic professional with high aims and goals.
“Good morning, my name is Nick Valentino (introduction: keep it formal, some in the room may not have your information). I am from Rochester, NY (origin: you want them to say ‘hey, me too’), I’m a sophomore English major (occupation: a scholar! He fits our criteria), and I intend to get my PhD in Magical Realism (aspiration: wow, ambitious, but he’s in the right place).”
The length of the answer is also a key factor to consider. Too short conveys a lack of confidence and too long creates the evolution from annoyance to disdain on the part of the interviewer; they have other questions they want to ask you, so do not tell your whole life story answering the first question.
Most importantly, this is an opportunity to be yourself and to make another person feel good about you—like most things that are important, practice makes perfect. This is one interview question that can be predicted.