How do you respond to people who say that taking 3-4 minutes to answer the "Tell Me About Yourself" interview question is too long?  

Personally, having listened to the Interview Series guidance on this, I'm 100% on board with the idea Mark & Mike give about taking 3-4 mins to deliver a comprehensive, effective response that actually tells the recruiter something meaningtful about your career trajectory they can't already extract from your CV.  

The other day, I got into a rather spirited debate with someone who calls herself a career coach, and challenged this idea that you should take 3-4 mins to respond to this question. She said you would lose someone's interest after the first minute. She advises her clients to respond in 15-30 seconds, which I found baffling.  I can't IMAGINE how a candidate could deliver an effective response to this question in <1 min, let along <30 seconds. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I've never seen it done, either as a candidate or hiring manager myself. 

We agreed to disagree that day, but as luck would have it, I'm crossing paths with her again this Friday. We didn't get to finish our discussion, but I'd like to be as prepared as possible during Round 2 ;)  I'd welcome any rationale or data (anectdotal is fine) you can share on this to help me defend the Career-Tools approach, which I believe is correct. Here's my initial rationale list: 

  • <1 min is simply not enough time to explain your key goals & accomplishments in each role
  • If you provide structure up-front on how you plan to approach the 3 min response, 3 mins will not feel "too long" from the listener's POV
  • You can always sense check your approach by asking, after your intro, "I'm now going to take 2-3 mins to give you a high level summary of my goals, key accomplishments, and transitions, then explain what brings me here today. Does that work for you?" (BTW, I can't imagine them saying, "No, just tell me in 15 seconds.")
  • If you agree with the presumption the recruiter actually DOES want to understand how you perceive your trajectory--your key decisions and rationale for taking roles, you need a solid 3-4 mins to do more than superficially regurgitate your roles & companies


pucciot's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

I've been dong interviews this week.

I'm not a recruiter, just a manager who needs to hire a replacement.

If a 3-4 min response to "tell me about yourself" is structured and answered correctly 3-4 min is not that long. 

It is insulting to think that a hiring manager can't pay attention for 3-4 min.

If done right a 3-4 min response would preemptively answer a few of my other questions ... ending up saving us interview time. And showing how well prepared a candidate is.

I think your friend doesn't know what the MT format for the answer to that question is.  She probably thinks it is the standard meandering answer.  Not a well prepared biographic response with lots of value to the org peppered in.

I actually wish my candidates gave a better answer.  They always focus on the job at hand and talk about some recent job they have had.  Some times they talk just about a work history and a few work related goals they have - like getting another academic degree. They don't tell me a thing about where they grew up or where they got their values etc.  I really don't find out much about them as a person.

No, I think your friend misses the point about the reason for the question and why so many interviewees get the answer wrong.

- I don't think is is a good idea to tell the listener that the response will take 3-4 min - that sounds unnatural.  If the answer is engaging enough the time will fly by.

- I think the answer does need to be a little more personal than just a run down of job and business positions.  The whys and wherefore's and what they liked about various jobs they have had.  Yes - and a little background - Where did you grow up - what are some of your early influences in your work ethic and interest in this business field etc...   

Yes, even a related hobby, maybe.

The hiring manager needs to feel like they did get to know the candidate.  That they would be easy to work with and be able to have some good one-on-ones with them in the future.  This is the kind of person that knows how to build relationship and stay focused on performance.

And again the key word for MT style is "prepared".  That the candidate sounds prepared for this answer.

Good Luck


Kevin1's picture

After the introductory pleasantries, this is pretty much always the first major question asked.  How you answer it sets the interview up for potential success or almost certain failure.  

Even a superb <30 sec response can only be superficial.

A 3-4 minute answer has the potential to show you as 

  1. being able to prepare
  2. being able to structure an answer
  3. being capable of speaking clearly and articulately.

In addition, if you have practiced this answer enough, it would get you off to a confident start.

A <30 second answer would have me (as a hiring manager) thinking 'really? that's all you got?' and you would need to be batting 1000 for the rest of the interview to recover from that.

Kind regards


jtegwen's picture

That said, I'll give my anecdotal story about this from another perspective. 

I found that most hiring managers wanted me to start with my relevent experience. I've changed careers a lot. (Didn't' finish college right away, switched majors 3 times, couldn't stay in jobs that were in my major because I got sick and had to take "whatever" work to get by). Is there good stuff there? Yeah! It's just not a great start to the interview. 

I have the same issue with starting my resume from the beginning. No one wants to hear or read about my entry level jobs in chemistry or my "just getting by" jobs because I was sick. There's a 5 year gap between my college degree in another field and the first job on my resume. It seems pretty obvious why I don't list those jobs. 

I had a hiring manager interupt me because he wanted to have a conversation with me. 

Recruiters were harder to read. They seemed to prefer a walk through of my resume. Maybe they're not good recruiters? That's the market I'm in though. So.... *shrugs*

Maybe it doesn't work well because I didn't really want to start off the interview with the story of "It took me 15 years to get my act together to get a real job." I also had been unemployeed for several months (laid off and took a sabatical) so I had to answer for that. I was also switching to a different role with related but not direct experience in the role and had to talk to how I could do that. I was able to do all of that. It seems that uphill might have been a little steep with all of that. 

I start with my relevent (junior) experience in my field talking about how I taught myself and discovered my passion for this work. It's a more compelling story. I take closer to a minute and a half. 

Also, it's one thing to talk to a hiring manager or recuriter and another thing to talk to a potential peer. They certainly don't want the long version. 

Maybe I'm part of the 20% this 20% of the time. Whenever I got the first interview I went to the 2nd round. 

Angel Shell's picture

While the hiring manager does want to get to know you, at this point they are only focused on figuring out if you're the right person for the job.
Part 1: Start with a condensed version of your career history. Try and keep it as concise as possible, Freeman suggests.
Part 2: Next, give a brief summary of a specific achievement to capture the interviewer's interest.
Part 3: Conclude with a few definitive sentences about what you hope to accomplish next in your career

check :


williamelledgepe's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

I agree with 90% of what was said above, but one part of your original question - how to convince the other party they are wrong - is interesting.  On some level you can provide your justification.  On another level - if someone wants to disagree, no facts will change their opinion.  After a point or two, I tend to drop the disagreement and search for common ground.  If the career coach does it their way - and you do it yours - so be it.  

I realize this is too late based on your original post.

How did it go with the career coach?