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How to Answer Vague Questions in a Job Interview

Interviewers often start with one vague, agony-inducing question or statement in job interviews, such as "Tell me a little about yourself." Practice answering vague questions specifically so that you'll be better prepared. This type of question often happens early in the interview — when an interviewer is forming an initial impression of you.

When you start to tell about yourself, focus on aspects of your life that illustrate your value as a candidate for the position you seek. In addition to knowing you have competencies, skills, and experience related to the potential work, employers want to feel confident that you’re the sort of person who can do the job, will do the job, and gets along with others while doing the job.

Specifically, employers want to know the following:

  • How well you accept management direction

  • Whether you have a history of slacking off as you get too comfortable on a job

  • Whether you will jump ship at an inconvenient time if another employer dangles more money before your eyes

Always be honest about the wonderful parts of you. But don’t blurt out anything that could make you look like a poor hiring choice. Neither should you wildly exaggerate your best traits to the extent that your performance bears no relationship to your promise.

Focus your answer carefully

A careful questioner not only hears your content in response to the self-defining question, but also notices what you choose to emphasize:

  • Do you focus on your competencies and skills, your education and training as they relate to the job? The interviewer is likely to conclude — hooray! — that you’re work-oriented.

  • Do you focus on your hobbies? The interviewer may decide that you’re more interested in your leisure hours, working only because you don’t want to starve to death.

  • Do you focus on your present job? The employer may think that you’re still attached to your current job and not ready to move on. Or that you’ll cynically use a job offer merely to leverage a counteroffer from your boss.

Narrow the question

You can jump right in and answer the "Tell me about yourself" statement, or you can ask for prompts:

I can tell you about experience and accomplishments in this industry, or the education and training that qualify me for this position, or about my personal history. Where shall I start?

Employers typically answer that they want to hear about both your work and relevant background — or a little bit of everything.

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