“All of us have information that might not be appropriate to expose in an initial job interview.”
Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about another downsizing or layoff. Thousands of unemployed youth, older workers, new immigrants, and people with disabilities will be seeking jobs this year and attending multiple interviews.
When job applicants arrive at an employment interview, they usually shake hands with one or more interviewers, sit in a chair that has been reserved for them, and respond to polite comments about the weather and traffic. Then the interviewer sits back comfortably in their chair and, in a light and friendly tone, says, “Tell me about yourself.”
The question seems harmless enough, but beware!
When a job seeker hears this request, their thoughts begin to race and they tend to share information that is not job related. Their resume is probably lying on the desk in front of the interviewer, and the applicant feels like they need to tell them something that is not contained in the resume or cover letter. For a Christian, it is at this point they feel a strong urge to affirm their commitment to Christ.
When I offer career counselling to a person from the Christian community and suggest that they might not want to start the interview with this declaration, they will often say: “But I want them to know where I stand, and if they don’t like the idea of my convictions, I don’t want to work there.” Their relationship to Christ is the most important information they feel should be shared, and it’s difficult not to do so. Besides, Christ said, “Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10: 32,33).
The truth is, an employer will be much more receptive to an employee’s Christian beliefs if that employee behaves in an ethical manner—if they are honest, fair, dependable, kind, respectful of authority, and are a good team member. Once a job candidate is offered the position and begins building relationships with their fellow employees, God will give them opportunities to share their faith in informal settings.
And it’s not just on this matter with Christians that I sound this caution. Any job candidate needs to be wise when faced with the invitation to “Tell me about yourself.” All of us have information that might not be appropriate to expose in an initial job interview. Here are the types of responses I would caution against: “I have been treated for stress-related mental illness during the last six months.” “I have just come through a messy divorce and I’m now a single parent of three children.” “I’m gay.” “My cultural background does not allow me to shake hands with a woman.”
Sharing too much personal information with an interviewer can bias their line of questioning and have a negative impact on an applicant’s first impression. In Canada, employers are not allowed to discriminate based on “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.” However, discrimination happens and it can be very hard to prove.
Resumes don’t get jobs; they get interviews. Therefore, the interview is a vital part of the recruitment process. “Tell me about yourself” is often just a way of opening up the conversation. Applicants need to focus on work-related content—education, skills, past job/volunteer experience and personal attributes. Most interviewers want to make sure that the job applicant can support everything they’ve written in their resume. It’s up to the applicant to make the content believable for the hiring manager. By preparing a short summary ahead of time, they will be ready for this opening question. Here are a couple of sample responses to the invitation to “Tell me about yourself”:
“I have lived in this region for several years and have watched your organization grow and expand worldwide. I would like to join such a company. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree with a major in economics, and during the last seven years I have held a responsible accounting function in the printing industry. I was laid off due to the downturn in this sector. Prior to my last job, I was employed for 10 years in banking. I’m a conscientious, accurate and dependable worker with excellent references, and I believe my background is a good match to your current vacancy.”
“I am completing a college human resources management course next month, and I will graduate with honours. As part of this program I held an intern position with a large insurance company and, while attending school, I have worked in a variety of retail settings. My employers and supervisors in volunteer positions have always commented on my good interpersonal skills and my ability to build rapport with customers. Your current opening for an entry-level administrative assistant would offer me an opportunity to apply my education and work experience.”
Remember, “Tell me about yourself” should be about your ability to meet job requirements.
Carol Ford owns a consulting business specializing in career development and personality differences. She attends Cedarview Community Church in Newmarket, Ont.
. “Canadian Human Rights Act,” Government of Canada, Justice Laws Website, accessed January 6, 2015, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/h-6/fulltext.html.
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This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of testimony.
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