Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've been asked this in a few interviews. And it always catches me off guard.My professional and academic background are already in the resumé, which the interviewer has obviously looked at. What more to tell him/her? Should I start with my hobbies? I like gardening, or looking at NSFW pictures on reddit in my free time?

What and how do you answer to this specific question? Do you have a prepared answer for it? Am I wrong if I think this question is a bit silly?

UPDATE There have been a lot of great answers to this question. I'm in pickle which to choose as the 'correct' answer, because most of them are very insightful. I found a great writing on this subject matter. It's a bit crazy for my taste, but it's interesting:

How To Introduce Yourself… I Mean Practically

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by World Engineer Apr 28 '13 at 1:25

Questions on Programmers Stack Exchange are expected to relate to software development within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

7  
I often ask a variant of this when I am the interviewer - tell me about your technical background. It usually ends up revealing a lot about how well the candidate can summarize, highlighting the relevant points and what he or she considers important enough to highlight. –  talonx Oct 7 '10 at 11:24
2  
This question makes it sound like the interviewer is grasping at straws. It's like "well, I have no idea what I'm gonna do with you, so you just start talking and maybe I'll figure out what to ask you about." "Tell me about your technical background" sounds much better. –  EpsilonVector Oct 11 '10 at 15:35
2  
I always thought this was supposed to be the softball question to break the ice and get you to relax. There isn't really a right answer, but I'd keep it mostly focused on your professional background. –  Tim Goodman Oct 11 '10 at 20:23
1  
I read an interviewing book that explained that this is the ultimate underhand pitch, the one where you're supposed to knock it out of the park by singing your own praises. You are NOT supposed to be caught off guard. You're supposed to have a canned answer that paints you in the best possible light. Ever since reading that I've had a fairly standard answer that gives my school and work history and contains some details are are probably completely unique to my personal career. –  Kevin Jun 1 '11 at 14:59
2  
The question can be asked as much for the interviewee's benefit as for the interviewer's. People are often nervous at the beginning of an interview, and asking them to talk first about the thing they know best (themselves) can be a good way to get the ball rolling. Believe it or not, many people like to talk about themselves. –  Caleb Dec 20 '11 at 17:05
show 3 more comments

12 Answers 12

Don't assume the interviewer knows your resumé inside out. Often, they'll be interviewing several people for the position and may have just had a cursory glance over your resumé before starting the interview.

With that in mind, and assuming this question comes early on in the interview, use this question as an opportunity to give a brief history of your career and why you are applying for the job, as well as what your stand-out skills or attributes are.

Your answer can effectively steer the course of the interview, giving the interviewer some "jumping off" points that could change what questions you get asked next. Focusing on your strengths with this answer means that it will be more natural to talk about what makes you great in answers to subsequent questions and not as something you have to try to shoehorn in to some other answer.

share|improve this answer
    
I remember this one time, I was giving a brief summary of my career history. And the interviewer cut me off and said "That stuff is already in your resumé, tell me about your interests." I thought his manner was a bit rude. –  rubayeet Sep 10 '10 at 8:33
    
Yep, you should never assume that the interviewer has read your resume. They have probably read your name and phone number. They MAY have read other parts. But don't assume that. –  Stephen Gross Jan 27 '12 at 19:54
    
It could be a bad sign if the main interviewer really hasn't read your resume. Maybe you don't want the job. Could be they will always be rushed and won't read your requirements docs, emails... –  MarkJ Jan 28 '12 at 8:52
    
@MarkJ - that's a good point. However, depending on the size of the organization, that person might not be directly working with you. I completely agree that if that is going to be a close team member / someone you would be reporting to, that would be something to bear in mind. –  Paddyslacker Jan 29 '12 at 19:06
add comment

It isn't a silly question. I've been on both sides of the interview table and I think it is just another way of saying "Give me an executive summary of your resume and work experience."

You shouldn't dread this question. It is so open-ended that you can use it as a launching off point to direct the conversation directly to your strengths and give your pre-prepared elevator speech. You did prepare one, right? =)

share|improve this answer
    
Its more of an ice breaker. Its a very nice way to start a conversation. More over this question is intended to understand how you look at your career and what you expect from this job. This also shows how clear your thoughts are. I understand most of it is in your resume, but whats on your resume might not come out of you mouth instantaneously. I have almost always faced this question in all interviews. I normally answer it by giving a brief idea about my academics, my current job and imp projects I am working on. –  ViSu Jan 27 '12 at 15:37
add comment

You say "My professional and academic background are already in the resumé, which the interviewer has obviously looked at." Yes, that's true, but don't think that the interviewer is trying to get facts out of you.

You need to understand why the interviewer is asking this question, and what the role of it is.

The question “Tell me about yourself” serves at least five purposes.

  • It gives the candidate a chance to give her elevator speech, to tell about herself and what value she'll bring to the organization, and set the interview off in a given direction.
  • It lets the manager see how well prepared the candidate is for the interview.
  • It lets the candidate show how well-spoken she is.
  • It lets the manager get an idea of the candidate's attitude and personality.
  • It lets the manager compare what you tell him with what’s on the resume, to see if there are any discrepancies.

More at my blog post that this inspired: http://techworklove.com/2010/10/the-job-interview-is-not-about-collecting-factual-information/

share|improve this answer
5  
It is also part of the ritual script of interviews along with "so you had no trouble finding us then?" and "how about this rain/snow/heat eh?" and so serves to anchor the participants and reassure both parties that you are, in fact, holding a job interview. –  Kate Gregory Oct 11 '10 at 15:25
add comment

Here's how I answered on career overflow:

This question is a chance to summarize your resume and point out the things you think are important. "I'm a ..." what noun phrase would you put there? "... with ... " what attributes or background are important to you? "... who has been ... " how would you describe what you've been doing lately, for better or worse? "... and wants to ... " what do you want, anyway? Done right you tell them why you are a great hire, why you are changing jobs, and what questions to ask next all in a few sentences.

So,

  • "I'm a new Computer Science grad who's managed to get 3 years of paid software development experience while earning this degree, and has seen enough different kinds of companies to know that I want to work at a place like this, that uses [technology or methodology] and [something else important like is making the world a better place or is impressive to my friends or is financially stable.]"
  • "I'm a 30+ year veteran of this industry who has run my own life for many years. I'm ready to join a big team so that I can take on work that solo practioners don't get. I'm looking forward to [specific tasks] and I believe I can get that here."
  • "I'm a published author, experienced speaker, amazing trainer and quick learner who needs some new challenges. I want to learn [technology] and I believe joining a firm like this one will give me those opportunities. I know my [specific skills and abilities] can make a real contribution here and I want to demonstrate that fit to you."
  • "I'm a new graduate who stands out from the rest of the class because I [have/did something amazing] and I want [something other than a paycheque]."

Thirty seconds. If I want the details of your two year sailing trip around the world, or why you are leaving your old job, I'll drill in.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Talk about you, your studies, your hobbies, your ambitions, your past projects...

Sometimes it's hard to talk about yourself, but don't worry!
We're all humans so it doesn't have to be completely strict, privacy has died, just don't show you're a fool.

share|improve this answer
add comment

People can see what's on your resume - but you need to fit the company in more than one way. If you're a great coder but have zero social skills and nothing else going on, I dunno if you're the best fit.

Remember you're working on projects with other people and team interaction is important. So just take a deep breath and relax.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I start with

# mcotton --version

if that isn't enough I use

# more mcotton

And if they continue to look interested

# tail -f /dev/random_thoughts
share|improve this answer
1  
Amusing, but not a helpful answer. –  Anna Lear Oct 11 '10 at 15:11
    
I really wish the world shared your geek humor @mcotton! –  rubayeet Oct 11 '10 at 19:11
    
I guess it wouldn't work so well in an interview, but I have used that reply in an online job application. –  mcotton Oct 14 '10 at 20:06
2  
Why does mcotton require running as root? That right there is a warning sign. –  dotancohen Feb 12 '12 at 9:26
add comment

I usually tell them what I have done in the past years, and why I am applying for a job.

Remember to make it short.

share|improve this answer
add comment

This is the classic underhand softball pitch question for you to sell yourself and hit it out of the park. It's similar in spirit to "why should we hire you", which people also tend to fear if they don't know it's an easy question. You should be prepared for it and have a prepared answer. It should restate some of what's on your resume while also hopefully telling something unique about you. For example I have two undergrad degrees, one liberal arts and the other computer science. Explaining how that happened entails me saying at some point that I realized I love to write code and I was willing to go back to school and redo my degree while working full time to make it happen. It turns out that hiring managers like to hear that kind of thing. So tell them what's unique about you that will make them want to hire you. That's what the question is about.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I usually will respond asking for parameters on an answer, mainly with time and focus being key points. Does the interviewer want just 30 seconds or do I have 15 minutes to answer the question? Does the interviewer want to know about my qualifications, the story of my life, or something else? There are more than a few different ways I could see wanting to approach to answer this question and thus I'd get clarification before jumping off and shooting off my foot which is quite probable.

If you consider the question to be a test of dealing with ambiguity then you may understand how the question isn't silly at all. For example, would you describe your dreams at this point or do you stick to your history? Do you focus on current skills or desired skills? There are more than a few different ways to answer the question and whichever is chosen there may be various inferences made. For example, do you stick to business here or do you give a story from left field that could be seen as rather irrelevant here? Just to give an example here, I could state that I'm quite emotionally sensitive as an answer that may get an eyebrow raise or worse as this isn't what the interviewer really wanted to know yet I believe it is a valid concern to raise at some point.

share|improve this answer
add comment

It happened to me to. Basically it depends on whom you are talking to. There are two main kinds of interviewers:

1) Technical one. My experience here is just that he wants to know your stuff in less formal and more personal way. I like this because I can focus on my professional path while talking.

2) HR person. This gives me creeps. He doesn't care much about your skills: he is just trying to predict if you are ambitious enough, if you are talkative enough, if you are good enough in a social way. This wouldn't be so bad if there was a scientific method to evaluate a person as a whole (skill+social) instead of just a bunch of questionable methods which practically lead to choose a person on a pure personal preference basis.

With interviewer #1 a bit of surprise before answering is fine. With #2 that little gap could cost your job ("are you hesitating? Hell you are not social cool enough!"). Geez HRs need really to find a real job...

share|improve this answer
add comment

I'll tell them about myself!

Details like: where am I from, when I studied, my likes/dislikes.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.