There are a handful of job interview questions that you are almost guaranteed to get asked regardless of the role, industry, or level of experience. ‘Tell me about yourself’ is one of those.
This question is used by many interviewers as a an icebreaker to get you chatting at the start of your interview. It’s often the first thing they will ask you once you sit down. This means that your answer will set the tone for the whole interview, so it’s really important that you get it right.
This question is a fantastic opportunity to show your interviewers exactly why you’re the perfect fit for the job, and it will help you to build rapport with them too.
So how do you go about answering this question? The secret, as with most interview questions, is preparation. But where do you start? We’ve put together the below guide to help you craft the perfect answer.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
So, why do interviewers insist on asking this open-ended question?
Some candidates find this question frustrating, and even lazy. However, there are many reasons why interviewers choose to start with this question – and once you see why, you’ll understand why this question is important.
The first thing to understand is that the interviewer is not looking to trip you up with this question. In fact, they are testing your ability to communicate effectively. An open-ended question like this is an ideal opportunity for interviewers to get an idea of how you think.
They will often be more interested in how you answer the question than what you actually say. They’ll be looking to identify if your answer structured, articulate, and focused on the job. Many roles will require good communication and organisation skills and this is a great opportunity to show these skills off with a clear and logical answer.
Many candidates will immediately overthink this question as they try and figure out what the interviewer wants them to say. The question you’re actually being asked to answer is ‘Tell me about yourself in the context of how you will add value to the company’. If you gear your answer to this version of the question instead, you will end up with a more concise, structured answer that is much more useful for your interviewer.
How to answer ‘Tell me about yourself’
Your answer should be different for each role you interview for but should always contain the same basic components. A brief introduction to who you are professionally, what experience or skills you have that make you ideal for this role, and why you are interested in this particular position.
At this point, it’s useful to remember that you’ll have time to go through the finer points of your CV later and that interviews work best as a conversation. Keep your answer relatively short. It might be useful to view this as a sort of elevator pitch for yourself.
Step 1: Research
We’ve already established that your answer needs to be focused on how you’re going to add value to the company. So how do you find out which of your qualities you should try and highlight? More often than not, this information will be on the job description.
Spend some time cross-referencing your experience with the most important skills the job description asks for. If the job description doesn’t list the company values or goals, their website probably will. Also, do a search to see if the company has featured in the news recently and see if you can learn anything about the direction they are moving in.
Step 2: Structure
Now you know what you want to highlight, you need to work out how you’ll say it. It’s easiest if you break your answer down into three parts:
- Your professional introduction: Decide how you want your interviewer to perceive you and start from here. Offer them a brief overview of where you are in your professional career.
- How your experience makes you the perfect candidate for the role: Take a couple of examples and highlight how these demonstrate the skills they are looking for. This is where your research comes in. Prepare 4 or 5 points – you won’t need all of them but it’s always good to have a few examples on standby.
- Why this role interests you: Does your current opportunity lack challenges or the chance for progression? Is there something about the company that you find particularly attractive?
Step 3: Practice
Organise your answer in brief bullet points and use these as prompts. It’s important that you don’t memorise your answer word-for-word as this can sound unnatural. It might help to ask a friend to listen to your answer to make sure you sound articulate and that the points you want to make are clear.
You will find that this exercise will benefit the rest of the answers you give in your interview and will help you speak more fluently about what you have to offer in the context of that particular job.
How not to answer
Here are some of the common traps that candidates fall into when trying to answer the question.
- The life story: Whatever you do, don’t give your interviewer a step-by-step outline of your life starting with your birth. They just aren’t interested and the vast majority won’t be relevant. This can also turn into a bit of a directionless ramble and everyone will forget what the question was in the first place – which isn’t a good thing.
- Being too modest: Some candidates will find shouting about their own skills and attributes really difficult. If this sounds like you, try not to be too modest. Instead, stick to the facts. This also has the advantage of keeping your answers concise and clear.
- Getting personal: Remember that this is a job interview – they don’t want to hear about your family or what you do with your weekends. Stay professional and don’t stray too far from the job.
- Repeating your CV: Don’t just walk your interviewer through your CV. This isn’t a very engaging way to conduct a conversation and is just a rehash of what they already know about you.
A good example
“I have been in the customer service industry for the past five years, working in an airport. My most recent experience has been handling incoming enquiries, building strong relationships with customers. One reason I particularly enjoy this work, and the challenges that come with it, is the opportunity to connect with people. In my last job, I formed some significant customer relationships.”
Next, mention your strengths and abilities:
“My real strength is my attention to detail. I pride myself on my reputation for following through and meeting deadlines. When I commit to doing something, I make sure it gets done, and on time.”
Conclude with a statement about your current situation:
“What I am looking for now is a company that values customer relations, where I can join a strong team and have a positive impact.”
A bad example
“I’m married with three kids, and I’m from London. My husband was transferred here three months ago, and I’ve been getting us settled in our new home. I’m now ready to return to work. I’ve worked in a variety of jobs, usually customer service-related. I’m looking for a company that offers growth opportunities.”
This is a rather personal start, and it allows the interviewer to poke holes. For example, it suggests this woman doesn’t stick around for very long due to her husband’s work requirements. She has some work experience but doesn’t emphasise where her strengths are, and she mentioned she is looking to grow, but hasn’t said that this job would be the ideal way to do it. In an interviewer’s eyes, she could be gone after long.