I had a phone interview today and some of the questions I had difficulty answering.

  1. tell me a little bit about your self
  2. describe what makes you, you in a nut shell
  3. what do you know about us?
  4. why do you want to work here?

My thought process: I wasn't actually sure of the position of the person I was speaking to and I asked if this was more of an HR interview than a technical one (since the position was operations engineer) and she said yes. With this in mind I had trouble answering 1 and 2. I wanted to talk about my skills relevant to the job position, but didn't think that would turn out well as she being in HR doesn't actually know the details. So what do they want to hear when they say "tell me about yourself"...I'm assuming it's not my favourite restaurants. Also 2 seems the same as 1.

With 3 I felt like I was reciting off the information I had red on wikipedia. "The company was founded in 2008", "it has 600 employees". What else should I have said?

  1. was a bit tricky but I managed to talk about how the company has a good reputation and I noticed on the job description they use current technology that I find interesting.

Obviously it's difficult to be certain you would actually want to work at the company from just one phone interview and their public website. I could have answered this question better if I had the opportunity to ask her questions about the company first.

The interviewer new I would be moving cities and I mentioned I was originally from the one where the job was. She said "so you would be staying with your parents?" and wanted to know about that. This touched a nerve and made me upset for the rest of the interview. Should I have said something? I seriously doubt she wants to hear why I can't live with my parents.

  • 1
    an HR person is quite capable of writing down what you say. Claim to be a very good X programmer, and it will be passed along. Keep that opinion to yourself because the interview isn't technical and you're a no hire. As for what you know about them, nobody cares if you know when they were founded. Do you know what they do? What they value? What they want? The interviewer doesn't want to waste time telling you things you already know. As for 2 being the same as 1, that's a clue you didn't answer 1 properly and were getting another chance. Mar 28, 2015 at 14:33

3 Answers 3


This is your sell to them, so you need to be prepared. As a hiring manager I'd look for answers as follows :

1,2 are saying "we only have a limited time, give me the headlines of why I want to hire you" so the things you talk about are the things you bring, don't talk about hobbies/interests here.

3 is showing me you've done your research on me (company), I want to be happy that you don't want ANY job, you want a job HERE. It costs a lot to bring someone new, I don't want to have to do it every year. If you don't know anything about the company, I 'll worry your just jumping from opportunity to opportunity.

4 is further drill down on three, testing your assumptions about what the role will be, if you are wildly off track again it might not be somewhere you'll stay. I once went for a solution architect job, went on about how much of an opportunity it was in terms of designing systems, only to be told they bought in if they could, so most of the role would be speccing a shopping list of things when they bought, but if I hadn't been asked my expectations would have been far different.

  • 1
    I disagree with your interpretation of 1 and 2, those are clearly intended for the candidate to provide some personal information, the type of question you ask to figure out what makes someone tick. That includes a person's hobbies and interests.
    – Cronax
    Mar 27, 2015 at 8:51
  • @Cronax - no in a PHONE interview it's the news headlines about why you fit. In a 30 min call between intros, background, interviewee questions and sum up, you have about 12 mins to interview the person, you need the high level overview to drill down. If you talking to me about hobbies at this point I'm filing your cv in the bin and checking the number for the next call. Mar 27, 2015 at 8:56
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    Phone or regular interview makes no difference in this case, if the questions are posed in the way they are in the OP then they are asking for personal info. To ask for professional info only one would ask something along the lines of "Tell me what skills and experience you have that makes you a good fit for this position"
    – Cronax
    Mar 27, 2015 at 8:59
  • 1
    No, this is specifically about phone interviews, and a phone screen is to decide if the person is who the cv suggests, and is worth a further interview. You have a limited time, you may have a tech screen to do as part of it as well, and at this point finding out about how rounded the person's interests are is NOT important. You can ask that at the face to face. Mar 27, 2015 at 9:06
  • I still disagree. These are standard questions that warrant standard, condensed answers, regardless of whether this is a phone screen or a face-to-face. If as you say the aim of the questions is different then the questions will be much more specific, as in my previous example.
    – Cronax
    Mar 27, 2015 at 9:23

You may have prepared yourself for the interview but so far as I am concerned, you did it all wrong. Remember the one thing about a job interview: you may think that the interview is about you, but it's not. The interview is about the employer and the employer's needs. You are relevant to the interview process - the employer is no fool and is simultaneously talking to a few other candidates not just you - only to the extent that they have reason to believe that you will meet their need and that you will meet their need as someone who will be a "good fit" - whatever that means - to their company.

  1. When an employer asks you "tell me about yourself", they are not asking about your good works, whether your dog loves you, whether your kids admit to their peers that you are their parent, or what you have been doing to yourself since the day you were born - they couldn't care less about any of that. That employer is asking for summarized info on how your experience, skills set and possibly education are relevant to the position they are trying to fill. I can talk about myself and my relevance to an Infosec/Devops position in five sentences or less - I find that a 30-second elevator pitch is simply too long for me. So far as I am concerned, you stand out as a candidate to the extent that you vividly describe in five sentences or less how you fit the position the prospective employer is trying to fill. If the interviewer wants more details, they will ask for more details - that's what the rest of the interview is for.

  2. When you are advised or even bluntly told to research your prospective employer, you are not being asked to look up trivia crap like when the organization was founded, how many employees it has, what its revenues are, etc. Doing research on the prospective employer means reviewing their website, googling for news about them and asking yourself "What is it about what they are doing that I like?" It could be their mission, it could be their business model, it could be their management. But you have to find that there is something that you like about who they are or what they are doing - Ideally, something that you like, that you feel strongly about and that you believe in. Otherwise, you'll never be able to answer either the question "what do you know about us?" or "why do you want to work for us?" in a way that's convincing to the prospective employer.

One more time: the interview is not about you, it's about them. You exist, and you are relevant to them only to the extent that your existence is beneficial to them meeting their needs and requirements. If they ask you any question about you, they are always asking you your pixel fits into their picture. They couldn't care less about the rest of you. They may care about you as a person after they hire you, but not one minute before. Capice?

  • +1. Looking up on Wikipedia is perhaps one step up from those who don't bother to look anything up, but it still smacks of doing the least possible to be able to field this question. And I'm still surprised as to why anyone would go to Wikipedia first and not the company website - unless they are one of those uber-arty-hipster companies who say almost nothing concrete :) Mar 27, 2015 at 13:10
  • @JuliaHayward An org that feels strongly about the story that it wants to tell will most likely tell it on its own website. No doubt that the org would feel offended if it went through all that trouble to tell its story and no one including the candidate cares enough to read it. Especially the candidate. Mar 27, 2015 at 13:17

The questions you were asked are very common basic questions. You should always be prepared to answer these in any interview, physical phone or otherwise.

Questions 1 and 2 are where an interviewer is giving you a chance to introduce yourself. Their aim is to get to know you, get an idea of what sort of person you are.

To question 1, basically you should respond with your name, (intended) occupation and your hobbies/interests. For example:

"My name is John Smith, I'm 29 years old, I am a [language/system] developer aiming for a senior developer position with your firm, in my time outside of work I like working on open source projects, watching films or series and skydiving."

Something to keep in mind when answering this question is that people tend to have preconceived notions about what kind of things certain people like and that they may make a judgement about you based on this question. If you're applying for a software engineering question they often expect you to at least have something to do with computers amongst your hobbies.

To question 2, you should answer with the skills, interests and properties you have that make you good at your job and will make you fit well into the intended position.

Questions 3 and 4 are where the interviewer is trying to find out whether you are actively interested in their company and this position or if you're simply looking for a job at the first firm you can find that will pay you a salary in your expected range.

For question 3, they expect you to know the basics about their company either way, but if you truly want to work for them you'll want to be able to tell them more than just "You are company X in industry Y with Z employees". They want the info on their wikipedia page, but they also want to hear things you can only find out by researching them in-depth.

For question 4, they want to know why you think you'd like working for them. They are hoping that if you will be able to tell them what specifically about their company, the position and the location appeal to you.

Finally, you should never let a comment like the last one bother you, there was no offence intended on their part. It's a logical conclusion to think that you will be moving in with your parents at least temporarily when you are moving back to your hometown. If that is the case, this means the risk of you not finding a living space near your work just got taken care of. If you don't get along with your parents, that may be a reason down the road to choose to leave the city and with it the job they are offering. They are making a risk assessment, so try to show them why they don't have to worry.

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