Affirmation anyone?

“So… Tell me about yourself?”

This is perhaps the most commonly asked interview question and one that can provoke all manner of responses.

Option 1: Rabbit in Headlights

When providing outplacement service, I have seen that question provoke freeze (as in the freeze ‘fight or flight’ option). The interviewee’s body has completely frozen up and the tongue appears to have to have swollen to such a size that the mouth can no longer accommodate it, as the brain races uncontrollably to try and find an ever-elusive answer. The usual spoken response, after a few agonising seconds, is a prolonged, “Errrrrrrrr – well…”

Option 2: The Monologue

The second alternative is the speech that may well have been prepared earlier. Again the body language can give away early onset of a monologue: the chest swells, the eyebrows and shoulders lift as the interviewee’s thought process realises, “Ahhh – I’m ready for this one.”

The speech then begins. Little regard is paid to whether the interviewer wishes to hear it or not; it’s going to happen anyway. The monologue may begin with something like, “Well I went to <insert your> University to study… and of course I got my degree and then I went on to join…’

An alternative (there are of course many) is,  ”I joined Bloggs and Co in 1997 as <insert job title> and, after 2 years, I was given additional responsibility and became…”

These speeches may often have the dreaded TLA’s (that’s ‘three letter acronyms’) and be full of esoteric language that is difficult for someone who has not worked with Bloggs and Co to understand. When I hear these speeches begin I sometimes, in the words of Billy Connolly, begin to lose the will to live.

Perhaps you might like to hear a small suggestion?

You will all understand that I am using humour and exaggeration to stress my point but there is, nonetheless, one to be made. Part of the problem you face is that many interviewers have a day job. This means that interviewing may be something they are not practised at or prepared for. Even some trained HR professionals will ask bland, meaningless questions that do not give the interviewee any guidance. Recruitment and interviewing are, after all, only part of a modern HR manager’s responsibilities. I believe, however, that there are ways you can work this to your advantage.


While I appreciate that it irritates my wife to answer a question with a question, I think in an interview situation this can be a useful tool. When asked the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, or indeed any other question, why not use affirmation?

26780567 - the word affirmation against arrows pointing

For example:

Question: “So… Tell me about yourself?”

Answer: “Perhaps I can tell you about some of the challemges I’ve had at Bloggs and Co, which I think may be of interest to you?”

This approach has, I think, more than one advantage.

Firstly, it gives you time to think: with 4 seconds to make a first impression this can be a useful tool.

Secondly, you have massaged the interviewers ego by telling them that it is important to you to understand what they wish to hear about.

Thirdly, it encourages an ‘engaging’ conversation which is far more likely to lead to you being liked by your interviewer. If they don’t like you, they almost certainly won’t hire you.

This is, of course, only one example and affirmation can be used throughout your interview to check on progress and avoid the risk of twittering on. Careful observation of the interviewer’s body language may tell you if this is happening.

Further examples of affirming questions could include:

“Have I covered that sufficiently, or would you like more detail?”

“Would you like to hear how we grew sales at Bloggs and Co in a diminishing market?”

“Cash-flow was really difficult at Bloggs and Co. Perhaps I could tell you how we dramatically reduced our debtor days?”

The list is endless and these are just a few examples to illustrate the point.

A final consideration is that, by using affirmation, you become able to give an interview some structure where it may otherwise not have one; this may ensure that you can get across those things that are important to your overall message. Questions tend to put the person asking them in control. Provided it is not overdone, you will also find that an interviewer who is asking the right questions will appreciate the engagement, and opportunity for feedback, that your affirmation will give them.


Who am I? A chap living in Nottingham, United Kingdom who perhaps has a much higher level of enthusiasm than ability leading to an interest in many things but mastery of none. A father of three no longer dependent children, or so they tell me, and husband to a one-time nurse who now works with me (or rather I work for). I attempt to take photographs and occasionally fluke half decent shots though thank goodness I no longer have to buy film. I endeavour to practice karate but with advancing years spend more time instructing them participating but actively participate in the more gentle tai chi. Professionally I have spent the last twenty years in recruitment – not always the most highly regarded ‘industry’. For my part I take great pleasure in helping companies to find the right people and a lot of satisfaction out of seeing them thrive and succeed. More recently I have spent a lot of time helping people who have, or fear they may, lose their jobs. For many putting a CV together is so difficult and then finding opportuniteis can be a major challenge. Interviews can be a different problem altogether but with a little help most people can perform a lot better than they otherwise would.

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