Interview Icebreakers and Responses

If you are looking for a job on campus, an internship, or maybe an entry-level position this fall, here are some helpful tips to help out with interview icebreakers. Icebreakers are the part of the interview where you are prompted to talk about yourself and get the interviewer interested in your background.

“Tell Me/us about Yourself.”/ “Walk Me Through Your Background.”

This common question will come up at almost any interview regardless of the field. In most cases, it follows some small talk about the weather or traffic.

Why is this question stressful?

For a novice interviewee, the “tell me about yourself question” can be stressful. It prompts you to discuss your background without any particular focal point, and it can easily mess you up if you don’t have a prepared answer. Take the time to compose a response focused on your best qualifications and rehearse making sure you hit all of the points you want to convey so that you can put yourself in the best light.

Focus on your strengths

Your prepared statement on your background is the first impression the interviewer(s) will get about your personality. The goal is to show this company that you will add tremendous value to their business.

Focus on a summary of who you are and your career qualifications in a few sentences. Avoid talking about anything personal. Keep the focus on what you’ve done, making sure that it is relevant to the position you want. Consider this your elevator pitch (or, a brief sales pitch selling yourself as an employee). 

Examples

Weak: I grew up wanting to be a doctor. But I failed my MCATs, so I decided to go into marketing. I have some friends who did marketing and said they make good money, so that works for me. Anyway, [Stop! You’ve already set yourself up for failure. You’ve demonstrated that you have failed without a good reason for the failure. You’ve also mentioned that you are in this just for the money–not a great reason for them to hire you.]

Better: I’m a recent grad of the computer science grad program at [x university/ college]. Before my studies, I taught computer science for a few years in high school but realized pretty quickly that I had a passion for coding. I developed a thorough understanding and appreciation for big data and web intelligence and worked on some highly effective projects to get more optimal responses to search queries. [Good, you’ve established some grounds for getting hired. You have background and motivation for going into this field. You’ve also mentioned some specific points of strength that may be valuable if you are applying for a big data and intelligence app developer position. However, you are also talking about experience that is kind of old and might not be the best idea to take the focus at the beginning of an interview.]

Best: As a recent comp sci grad, I’ve had the time to develop skills in big data development. In my last semester, I acted as the lead group member for one project. I was primarily responsible for designing and developing business intelligence initiatives. We worked in a UNIX environment and using Hadoop, MapReduce, and Hive which allowed us to develop a client web page that optimized navigation through results. [This is the best response for a recent grad because it centers solely around the candidate’s qualifications and shows what the candidate has done that is relevant to the position he/she is applying for. It also sets a good and positive tone for the rest of the interview.]

Things to avoid in your response:

  • Getting too personal (i.e., talking about your personal beliefs, interests …)
  • Being negative (i.e., stating negative sentiment towards anything even your current position or college program)
  • Restating your resume (The interviewers have your resume which is why you got this position. Go into more details)
  • Being too modest (Don’t forget this is your moment to shine. Make this all about your and your accomplishments. Act like a salesperson for yourself! The interviewer will not telepathically know your qualifications without you mentioning them.)
  • Bragging (Don’t mention you are the best at something. Just simply point out your accomplishments as they are.)

Show that you can anticipate questions from the beginning.

If you can determine (via Glassdoor or LinkedIn) whether your interview is structured or non-structured (with formal questions or more conversational), you could try to address this question before it comes up. To do this, start out with saying, “I’d like to give you a quick snapshot of my background before we begin,” and go on to state your piece about your experience. Showing your ability to anticipate interview icebreakers and think ahead will speak volumes for how you will serve their company.

My Experience with Interview Icebreakers

Over time, I grew to love the interview. More specifically, when I started reading how to give interviews. I had never thought of how nervous the interviewer might be, so I began to think of ways that I could make them feel more at ease. In a couple of situations, the interviewer only got to ask me if I was able to find their office okay because I had a good idea of what questions they would ask and addressed them in detail. At the end of one interview, I remember asking, “Do you have any questions? I have a few I’d like to ask.” At the end of that interview, I was handed all of the new-hire paperwork and a schedule for classes to teach.

Similarly, another employer called me directly to set up an interview, and a few questions led to a lengthy discussion about the position. At the actual scheduled interview, I was asked to fill out the new hire paperwork first and then meet to discuss the job further. In my opinion, I think confidence in interviews is your greatest asset, and being prepared.

Comments

Overall, I know how diverse interviews can be (given the endless types of contexts and positions). However, I’m here to help you. Leave comments below to ask questions or share experiences with the College Mamma community. For an answer to a particular problem you are facing in college, reach out to College Mamma for advice by sending your message via email to [email protected] See our advice page for more information on college life.

Author: College Mamma

College Mamma is a professor who blogs for students. She is also a mother of two and a lover of coffee.

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