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Submitted by tcomeau on


This is a rather long post, prompted by the "Tell Me About Yourself" lesson of the Interview Series. If you've gone through the interview series you've heard Mark's answer, which includes the personal review that is very much "typical American family."

The Brief Personal Review is the part I'm struggling with. Once I get to my second "real job" I have a story that emerges naturally, and without stretching the truth (but being selective) I can make college fit that story. Before that, I'm not sure what to leave in, and what to leave out. I'd welcome some help with this, and I'd love to see other examples of "off nominal" answers.

Part of my struggle, I think, is that I didn't have the typical middle-class American experience. Instead, I'm something of an American success story: I've overcome challenges with substantial help along the way to become very comfortably middle class.

This is how my answer starts:

I was born a poor black child.... (quote from [i]The Jerk[/i]) edited out. See a later post.

I'd like to know what people think of this answer, particularly what I could cut out (my whole answer is currently at just over six minutes, so I need to cut something) and if I need to explain more about my life before college.

For example, some drafts of this answer have included the fact that my high school and college were Jesuit schools, but this version doesn't. I've found that people assume I'm Catholic (I'm not) when they see Jesuit. Similarly, some drafts I've explained why we were poor, but while it shaped my character, it didn't shape my professional choices, so I've left it out.

I'd appreciate really any comments people have about how to shape this answer, and particularly any suggestions about what to cut.



bflynn's picture

I don't want to be hard because I can see that you've put a lot of thought and work into it. But in my opinion this is not a very good answer.

I'm not going to try to rewrite it - but let me suggest refocusing your answer. As you know "Tell me about yourself" isn't about you at all. The real question being asked is "Tell me how you can help me."

In that light, while reading your answer, I started mentally saying "and then...?" I was waiting for something that I really, really care about to come up. Its an interesting story, but by the time I was halfway through it, you had pretty much lost your chance to impress me.

Remember - at this point, you are a stranger. I really can't muster any feelings of sympathy. I want to know - how does your experience in your past translate into something that I care about today. And don't make me do the translation, you have to do it for me.

For example, you said "I had the chance to brief senior managers, including the president...". Good material - did you have a chance once, or was it a regular occurrence? Then, don't leave it there, follow up with something like "and I'm now very comfortable working with senior executives. Also, I've gained a good skill at translating technical information into a less technical form for higher managers to understand." This presumes that you are and you did. I hope it illustrates my point.

So, starting from the standpoint of what the interviewer cares about, start asking questions. What job are you interviewing for? What characteristics will be important for that job? How does your past translate into those characteristics?

Now retell your story in terms of how your past means you can do the job you want.


tcomeau's picture
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Brian and Hugh, thank you. I agree that it's helpful to think in terms of what the interviewer has to wade through to get to the point, which is understanding how my background will be helpful to their firm.

I think I got too hung up on the [u]formula[/u] of "what was your goal, and how did you achieve it" that M&M suggest, and I need to focus more on shaping that for my audience.

I also want to publicly thank the people who PMed me with comments. I could say I was surprised by the help I got, but I'm not: The people who contribute to the forums have always been generous with their thoughts and insights. I'm not surprised, and I do appreciate it.



mjpeterson's picture

Another thing to think about is what you actually said. “ what the interviewer has to wade through to get to the point”. Instead use BLUF and start the first paragraph this way.

“I am independent and very good at resolving conflicts. I developed these skills growing up as the oldest of five kids of a "working poor" family....”

Breaking up the “goal and how you achieved it” with some “skills or behaviour and how you developed it” may add some variety to the story. Hopefully these statements can also lead to questions about examples of these skills, which you will have at the ready.

tcomeau's picture
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Thanks again to all those who replied or PMed me. I've come down to this, which is under a minute when I deliver it, and I'm pretty happy with it. I'm sure I'll fiddle with it some more when the actual opportunity to interview comes up.

I’m the oldest of five kids, and I had a challenging childhood. When both of my parents were working it was pretty good. When either was unemployed it was more difficult. Neither had an education beyond high school, so that was fairly often. As a result, I learned to be self-reliant and I learned the value of education.

I went to a private high school with help from my grandfather, and my goal was getting into a good four-year college, and I did. I went to a liberal arts college because I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with my life. My goal was to get a degree to assure I didn’t end up poor like my parents, and I settled on Computer Science. I funded college myself, so I picked a school I could manage to pay for, rather than the best I could get in to.

At the end of my sophomore year I got a summer job with a networking company. My goals were to get some practical experience, and to prove to myself and to employers that I could make technical contributions. I had a great supervisor who taught me a lot, and I did very well, so well that at the end of the summer they asked me to stay on part-time. They needed the inexpensive labor, and I needed to pay for school.

At the end of my junior year I was approached by the manager of the network control group about going to work full time, and school part time. Since my goals hadn’t changed - I was still learning about software development and improving my skills, and the company would help with tuition in addition to the salary - I jumped at the offer.

I stayed with that company for several years, taking every opportunity to get more technical responsibility while still working on my degree. I did get my degree, and I might still be with them, but the company made some strategic errors and our parent company basically shut us down by merging with another network company based in Virginia.

This version gets down to the "what's my goal, what did I achieve" approach, and still gives you the American success story -- with help from a bunch of people, I grew from humble beginnings to substantial contributions.

As I mentioned, I'm still fiddling with it, so I'm still interested in more comments.

Thanks again,