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'Tell Me About Yourself' — An Interview Question Fraught with Pitfalls

Monday September 8, 2008
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No one feels 100% comfortable during a job interview. You have to be on your best behavior and don't want to blow your chance to "get it right" the first time around. When it comes to responding to recruiters' queries, a little know-how and preparation can ease your way up the steps to employment.

What's in a question?

Some recruiters and nurse managers set the interview stage with open-ended questions. They want to get a bigger picture of the candidates as people to determine their values and general lifestyles, but they don't want the history of their lives, says Julie Brooks, CHRC, employment coordinator, Manatee Memorial Hospital, Bradenton, Fla.

"When they say, 'Tell me about yourself,' recruiters are seeking information about nurses' professional lives."

Brooks, president of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment, says job candidates' responses can tell recruiters a lot. Candidates should mention their goals for the future and how they will meet them, their professional plan, and what they see themselves doing in five years. She believes candidates stand out when they provide positives about themselves — that they like to learn or care for patients, for example. Students can relate a specific area they enjoyed in nursing school and why, Brooks says.

Be prepared, but …

"Job candidates should expect to hear, 'Tell me about yourself' and be prepared," says Michael Impollonia, RN, MSN, NE-BC, director of nursing services, Calvary Hospital, Bronx, N.Y. "Practice in front of a mirror, with friends or a family member, or with whomever else you're comfortable," he advises.

Recruiters often begin with this question, so it might sound informal and innocuous, catching candidates off guard and causing them to ramble, Impollonia says.

In two to three minutes, candidates should provide a snapshot of themselves and why they are the best candidate for the job. Impollonia suggests candidates start out by saying they have the three most important qualities a recruiter would be looking for in a candidate for that position and then describe the qualities.

From school to interview

By the time they've completed their BSN at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Ann Arbor, students have had multiple opportunities to prepare their responses to recruiters who ask them to provide details about themselves, says Judith Lynch-Sauer, RN, PhD, professor and past director of the Office of Student Affairs.

As freshmen, students launch their portfolios and gradually build up their résumés with summer internships, work experience, and health-related travel abroad.

"We encourage students to talk about themselves experientially in terms of their work — things that expand on their experience with patients," says Lynch-Sauer.

When students are interviewed, they can recount their four-year journey and tell where they were at the beginning, where they are now, and what they are ready to do, says Lynch-Sauer.

Two-way street

"Interviewing is a two-way street," says Brooks. Candidates find out whether the job is right for them by asking the right questions. Impollonia suggests once they've described the abilities that make them desirable for the position, candidates should ask recruiters whether they would like more details. This opens the door for further elaboration.

"The interview should be a give and take, not a monologue," Impollonia says.

Brooks appreciates candidates who ask her questions about the organization. "I'm looking for nurses who ask me whether we're a Magnet facility, what type of equipment we have, our nurse-to-patient ratio, and about the dynamics of the unit they're considering for employment," Brooks says. These questions show they've prepared for the interview, she says.

Candidates should be prepared to hear, "Tell me about yourself." And when it's the first question asked, it's a key opportunity to immediately engage the recruiter.

"First impressions take one minute to make but a lifetime to break," reminds Impollonia.

Lorraine Steefel, RN, MSN, CTN, is a senior staff writer for Nursing Spectrum/ NurseWeek. To comment, e-mail editorNTL@gannetthg.com.