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Liz Ryan Contributor

I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. full bio →

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com

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Leadership 598,991 views

How To Answer The Question 'Tell Me About Yourself!'

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Here’s how we coach Human Workplace clients to handle “Tell me about yourself.” You’ll start your story with a very short answer we call an Answerette. Then, you’ll switch gears and get to the meat of the matter – the reason you’re there at the interview in the first place.

You are there to learn about the Business Pain lurking behind the job ad. We call this technique Spinning the Table. The interviewer asks you a question (“Tell me about yourself”) and you’re going to turn it around to begin asking questions of him or her, instead.

You have a mission! You aren’t asking questions just for fun. You want to find out what the job is really about — beyond the basic blah blah blah described in the job ad. You want to find out where the pain is, because once you’ve got the hiring manager talking about his or her pain, the conversation can go to a completely different place.

Once you’re talking like humans about real Business Pain and solutions, you’re in a consulting conversation. At that point you’re as different from the typical Sheepie Job Seeker as could  be. You’re going to make an impression on a hiring manager then, and just as importantly, you’re going to see whether this person is someone you could work for, or not.

Will the hiring manager be comfortable with you Spinning the Table? That remains to be seen. If you use the technique I’m about to describe and the hiring manager doesn’t like it, you can back off and go back to answering his or her questions. Or, you can conclude “This is not the job for me” and politely excuse yourself to go find a nice gelato.

Only the people that get you, deserve you!

Here’s how Spinning the Table works. The interviewer will ask you the “Tell me about yourself” question. You’ll begin to answer with a brief Answerette and then pause. You’ll ask the interviewer if it’s okay for you to ask a question about the open position. You’ll have a Pain Hypothesis ready — don’t ever go to a job interview without a Pain Hypothesis! You’ve got to have an idea of what’s keeping this manager up at night.

JIM, A MANAGER: So, Lynda, please tell me about yourself!

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