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Tell me something about yourself. Random questions!

Jan de Boer
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Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 473
    
    1
Tell me something about yourself. :-)

I had a job interview on Friday. I was invited by the HR woman. But I also had the job interview only with her. She told me she did not know anything about technology, and then asked me: "tell me something about yourself?".

Apart from that I had to walk about 20 minutes from the bus stop, in the pouring rain. I was dripping on the carpet, I was cold. So there I sat in front of her, dripping, with a blanc mind. Could not tell her about my technical experiences, she does not care. What can I say now? What?

I told her I am a single dad, I am an athletic coach, I did not like my present job. (Yes, I know you should not say that, but it is still better than a screaming silence.) I told her I was talked into a job I did not like by the recruiter, who kept on phoning whether or not I had already signed the contract. That I am analytic like any engineer, but that I relatively also quite good in languages, and writing documentation.

Did you ever had such a random question? What can you tell?

I think I did not do bad. If she sympathizes with engineers who are also involved in parenthood, and other things, I might have a chance. The interview did not go very 'fluent' though.
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
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Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11480
    
  16

I've been asked this before. I think that part of it is due to the (possibly not unjustified) belief that programmers lack communication skills. Questions like this are possible to determine how you can express your ideas to a non-programmer.

just my 2-cents at this ridiculously early hour...


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Jan de Boer
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 473
    
    1
Ah, okay. So the worse thing I could have done is talking about my technical experiences? Maybe I have done a reasonable good thing... Too early to tell though. Thanks for the input.
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Bartender

Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11480
    
  16

I obviously can't speak for this person, but I would say yes. Part of being a good speaker is adjusting to your audience's needs. She told you she knows nothing about technology, so going into the advantages of a quicksort over a heapsort would NOT have been a good move.

My problem is that I always talk too much. I get on a topic I'm passionate about (adoption, kids, cancer...) and I will talk until I'm blue in the face.
Kyle Jones
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Joined: Jan 22, 2014
Posts: 32
I have yet to work in a commercial software job (hopefully soon!) but I have had lots of interviews over the last few months and I can say this:

With any of these type of questions, the question itself is irrelevant.. they just want to see how you answer..

From a question tell me about yourself, you can literally go on any tangent you like..

You should have set things that you want to say in every interview ready, & hopefully be able to say most of these (usually not all) .. these should be things you are proud of/make you look good/stand out from the crowd

In an interview you should not hold back on getting as much positive stuff about yourself said, obviously not overdo it where you look cocky

Thats my 2 cents, not sure if you should follow it tho as I've yet to land a job!

Jayesh A Lalwani
Bartender

Joined: Jan 17, 2008
Posts: 2435
    
  28

I would talk all about my soft skills. About how I took leadership roles, and how I overcome business and personal challenges
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30960
    
158

In the future, I think you should stick to information relevant to the job. If the HR person asks you about yourself, you can talk about past jobs. Even if it is just repeating what is on the resume. It doesn't have to involve technology. "I worked at Company X for 2 years as a Java developer. I liked the problems we got to solve there. Technology is fun because it keeps changing." Then pause. You've said something. Now, like in any conversation, it is the other person's turn. The HR person will ask a follow up question. Probably a more specific one.

The danger is mentioning you are a single dad is that the employer will worry you are not focused on the job. Or that you've put them in an uncomfortable position by giving them information they aren't supposed to have. And by all means, don't complain about your present job.

Jan de Boer wrote:That I am analytic like any engineer, but that I relatively also quite good in languages, and writing documentation.

This part is good. You could have even said that and stopped.


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Jan Cumps
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Joined: Dec 20, 2006
Posts: 2510
    
  10

Questions like this from an interviewer give me a confidence boost.
I might not be fit for the job, but he/she will never know by asking these questions Waffle time ;)


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Ulf Dittmer
Marshal

Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 42641
    
  65
I like open-ended questions like that, for both sides. The candidate can talk about whatever he thinks might be of interest to the company, maybe stuff that hasn't come up in the technical interviews. And the interviewer can assess whether a candidate can speak freely and coherently about topics other than the tech stuff (with the caveat that candidates are often nervous - so if they don't make a good impression at this, that's not necessarily proof that they can't).

I probably wouldn't get into personal topics, but then, my CV is long enough that I can talk about something non-technical that relates to the company in just about every situation :-) Someone just starting out does not have that luxury. Topics an HR person might be interested in could be "you left your previous company, why would you stick around here?", "what are you looking for in a company (as opposed to in a job)?", "what do you bring to the table that might be of interest to us that we presently lack?" etc. - it can be an entirely non-technical discussion.


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Jan de Boer
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Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 473
    
    1
Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:In the future, I think you should stick to information relevant to the job. If the HR person asks you about yourself, you can talk about past jobs.


Yes, normally I do that, and it kind of is a routine that goes well. But this time, I took an other turn after hearing she did not know anything about technology. Yes I know I should not talk negative about my present job. I did. On the other hand I am leaving after less than two years, and then she must know this is not because I want a new challenge. But I am getting a little tired of it. I am not eager to perform some rehearsed act. I am not willing to lie. Furthermore my daughter is 23, so presently I am not currently occupied with heavy parenthood. The worse thing though, is that I did not exactly remember the job description at some point. But it was my first interview since a long time. Last year the first interview went extremely bad too, and the second directly got me a job. (Which I do not like but nevertheless.)

Another thing, I am not sure if that is good or bad but, I wont stop after such a short explanation like "That I am analytic like any engineer, but that I relatively also quite good in languages, and writing documentation." I want the job, if they give me initiative, I have to take it, and present myself. Everything better than silence. I think mostly those people look at how you talk, how fluent you can express yourself, not at the exact content of your speech. So better explain with some flair how much you hate your present job, than an obviously rehearsed act repeating something that is known they want to hear, what is known to be the right thing in those internet job preparation guides.

But maybe I am wrong and too honest in these interviews.
Ulf Dittmer
Marshal

Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 42641
    
  65
I think honesty is good. People spend too much time at work not to care about a healthy atmosphere - and that includes both sides knowing what the other side wants. Having said that, "how much you hate your present job" - be careful with negativity, it's easy to overdo. Obviously there's something not so good about it -or you wouldn't be interviewing elsewhere- and that can be talked about. But refrain from maligning your coworkers, your bosses, and your company.

About the 2 years - companies change, and it's possible that this particular company (or the team environment) changed in a way that's not appealing to you. That would be a good point to talk about - it shows that you know what you want and what you don't want (and it is different for each person, so the HR person can't guess what it would be for you). So one or two 2 year stints on a CV are OK. Several of them, and I start to question your judgement in selecting companies (and the likelihood you'd stick around in my company).

Extrapolating from a 23 year old kid, you'd be 50+, so you should have a long work history, having seen and done a lot, so a chat with a non-technical person should have a lot of ground you could cover. And since ageism is an issue in our industry, one of the topics might be how you keep up with new trends, and what you do to broaden your skillset.
Jan de Boer
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Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 473
    
    1
Ulf Dittmer wrote:I probably wouldn't get into personal topics


Actually now I remember she brought up the subject herself. She wanted to know my home situation. Exact question even, tell me about your home situation. I did not mind, but getting back on it, I am not sure if this is even acceptable. You could say you are gay or Muslim and get rejected for that, for example. I love to talk about my little girl though. :-)
Campbell Ritchie
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 13, 2005
Posts: 39882
    
  28
Some of those questions may simply be to get you talking and give you a few moments to relax. They probably ignore what you actually said.
Maneesh Godbole
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jul 26, 2007
Posts: 10523
    
    9

Campbell Ritchie wrote:Some of those questions may simply be to get you talking and give you a few moments to relax. They probably ignore what you actually said.

Or they may simply be asked to hide the fact that the interviewer did not bother to go through your resume before the interview.


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Jan de Boer
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Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 473
    
    1
Maneesh Godbole wrote:
Campbell Ritchie wrote:Some of those questions may simply be to get you talking and give you a few moments to relax. They probably ignore what you actually said.

Or they may simply be asked to hide the fact that the interviewer did not bother to go through your resume before the interview.


Ah good.., then she will forgive me not properly reading the job description?

She actually said she admired me for taking my responsibility, so I think my single parenthood is marked as a plus here.
Campbell Ritchie
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 13, 2005
Posts: 39882
    
  28
If it is the HR person, they may simply be checking you don't have two heads, leaving the rest of the interview to somebody else.
Chris Barrett
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Joined: Dec 05, 2013
Posts: 231
    
  12

Jan de Boer wrote:I did not mind, but getting back on it, I am not sure if this is even acceptable. You could say you are gay or Muslim and get rejected for that, for example.

Yep, I would say that's really on the border of legal. You could say you are a single father and get rejected for not being able to work overtime, or be on call to respond in the middle of the night, due to assumed parenting obligations.

What she should have asked was something like: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel? Are you able to work with our required schedule?

"Tell me something about yourself" requires the same answer as "Tell me your strengths". Actually, all of them are. "Tell me your weaknesses", "Tell me a challenge you overcame", etc...

My favourite: "You are in the elevator with the CEO. You have 5 floors to convince him you deserve the job. GO!" As soon as they yell "GO!", your mind goes blank if you haven't prepared.

Cheers!
Chris
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Bartender

Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11480
    
  16

Jan de Boer wrote:Exact question even, tell me about your home situation.

I believe in the U.S. this would be illegal. They can ask "Would you have any issues with working overtime as needed" or "Do you have a reliable means of transportation", but they cannot ask if you have kids, or how old your car is.
Ulf Dittmer
Marshal

Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 42641
    
  65
fred rosenberger wrote:I believe in the U.S. this would be illegal.

Yes, I think so, too. But it would be legal in many countries in the EU. It is still illegal to discriminate based on various factors, but the mere fact of asking about the facts is not (and can not by itself be construed to indicate discrimination).
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30960
    
158

fred rosenberger wrote:or how old your car is.

What's this car thing you talk about? Seriously though, I don't know if you can ask about people's cars. It doesn't come up in my neck of the woods. I definitely wouldn't ask about someone's home situation. I'm even careful when the person is new. You want to get to know someone,but not in a way that they could be insulted. I asked very generically when a new teammate starts. Once I was answered with "I live with my motorcycle." Which totally answered the spirit of the question. We got to know him a bit.
Jan de Boer
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 473
    
    1
Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:What's this car thing you talk about?


Oh..., I hate car talk. That would have been worse than tell me about your daughter. I live in Amsterdam. I have not had a car in ten years. Public transport is good, and I am rather sportive so under 20 km distance work home, I bicycle. If you want to have a really bad start getting to know me, ask me what car I have.

Nevertheless, got a rejection. Own fault, should have prepared better. Now I know it is not like the old days anymore, when they used to roll out the red carpet if they had any candidate for the job.

 
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