Tell Me About Yourself

Mastering awkward interview situations..

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Here I have listed down few questions that are frequently asked during job interviews, and probably not with the best intentions..

Q: Did you complete your PhD? Why not?

After spending few years in IT industry, I started to find this question totally irrelevant, considering that most companies I worked for often had team members or even senior managers who didn’t even have basic Bachelors or Masters degree in IT or Computer related fields (like Chemical, Polymer, Civil / Construction majors). Even those who claimed to have a total 10–15 years of work experience, only 2–3 years were actually relevant to the job.

In my case, this article clarifies why I decided not to continue my PhD even though I had several research publications and strong R&D experience -

After 3–4 years into PhD program, I realized, I was far more excited and enthusiastic while talking about some class project I did on Humor Analysis in FRIENDS tv-show (something I hardly spent 2–3 weeks on), than what I was doing for my PhD for 3–4 years.. If you read the above article, you will see that manually annotating Physics dialogs that repeatedly talk about Newtons laws (trying to find the sentiments or whatever) just didn’t fit anywhere in the overall big picture or long-term career aspirations..

PhD is something a person should feel proud of (not embarrassed) while explaining to others.. And somehow, I was far more proud of my FRIENDS paper on Humor than anything related to Physics dialogs or Word Senses (Master’s thesis)..

I wanted freedom to explore my own unique ideas, but apparently in USA, your PhD research is sponsored by and therefore confined to the scope of the research grant your advisor has (in my case, a chat-bot tutor that teaches newton’s physics laws). As an international student, you are in no position to bargain.. It’s more like “be thankful we gave you admission and funding, when we receive 100s of applications every year..”

Apparently, just two words “PhD Student” on your CV or LinkedIn profile can raise lot of questions and eye-brows. After constantly having to explain myself for 10 years, I decided it was best to just get rid of it to avoid any confusions. But the fact that I landed 5 PhD admission offers with full scholarship from top universities, including Carnegie Mellon and Twin Cities (Minneapolis) is I think worth mentioning somewhere..

Q: I see you switch jobs very often, any particular reason?

Short answer is: “Lack of Creativity at Work”.. something I was never willing to compromise on (and also why I left my PhD by the way).. If the majority of daily work seems like a mundane chore lacking creative aspect, then your organization will be better off hiring clerks..

What’s more important for your company? Longetivity or Productivity? Because I can very well show you examples of prized employees from large corporations who have spent 10–20 years there doing nothing useful or interesting throughout their careers! If I can produce the same amount of work or even better (both in quality and quantity) in just few months compared to what others accomplish over many years, it’s not the same..

I have worked in organizations where Creativity and Innovation just wasn’t in their DNA (only Engineering & Delivery was), and often I had to push very hard to convince my superiors to allow me at least some freedom so I don’t end up hating my job or quitting right away! In companies where there was absolutely no hope or scope to get creative, I did exactly that — found the nearest exit door and walked out never to look back again!

Just like PhD, the scope of my creativity at work was often confined to what the client wants (if it’s a service company), or what the “business” wants (if product). Nobody seemed to care “what I want”.. If the client wants something “rubbish”, yes you are supposed to deliver the “rubbish” w/o questioning..

Q: Are you married? Do you have children?

None of your business.. I could be married to a film star or beggar on the streets, why do you care? If that’s your hiring criteria, put it in the job description!

Q: Why did you move back to India from US?

If all your family & relatives live across the world, and you have to travel 30 hrs (flight + transit time) just to see them once in a year or two, you will know exactly why! In retrospect, abandoning your parents and grand-parents in their old age to fulfil your own dreams of living abroad just seems super-selfish..


In my experience, if the interviewer makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably because — they are just looking for some lame excuses not to hire you, or more often, these dimwits just want to show off they are smarter and better than you.. In either case, you are better off not joining the place that lacks a positive and inspiring work culture.

The problems are worse when people who hire you don’t ask these questions upfront, but rather leave it to speculations and guess-work, creating problems later on after joining.. Honestly, I see no reason to explain myself, especially to unproductive losers who are just busy gossiping at work..

Impromptu Interviewers

The worst interviews I had so far, however, are those when the HR person randomly pairs you up with someone, just because they are the only ones available and free that day to conduct interviews, even though they have no relevant background, or experience like yours.. Very often, these spontaneous interviewers haven’t even read your CVs beforehand, when they start interrogating you naively..

My reaction: I have literally stormed out of few interviews, promising myself never to set foot in that company ever again! If you have spent days preparing for your interview, why should the interviewer not even spend couple of mins studying about your background to ask at least relevant questions beyond the usual “tell me about yourself”.. If they have the right to interrogate us, we should be equally entitled to question their qualifications and accomplishments, especially if they seem unfit to take the interview or make fair decisions..

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