How To Answer: 'Tell Me About Yourself'

Open ended interview questions are the worst – so we’re providing some structure and guidance on how to go about answering them in our new (aptly named) ‘How to Answer’ series. Kicking off with the dreaded request all job hunters fear… “Tell me about yourself”

The first mistake to make with this question would be to start talking about you personally, i.e. where you grew up, whether you’re in a relationship and whatnot – these talking points (though they might be interesting) are not relevant, and given your limited time it’s highly advisable to avoid them all together.

So, let’s break it down.

What your interviewer is thinking: How do your professional aspirations, work experience, extracurricular activities and educational background relate to this position? Are you confident enough to speak about yourself for a couple of minutes?

Careers website ‘The Ladders’ offers 2 key instructions to follow when answering this question:

1. Highlight your most important accomplishments
2. Focus on what most interests the interviewer

Let’s start with the first point:

A good place to start is by summarising your academic/work background:

Where did you go to university and what course did you do? What societies were you part of while you were there? What internships/part time work have you done in the last couple of years? What career are you looking to pursue?

Concentrate on the things you've done which relate to the position you are applying for. For instance, if a position is asking for someone with experience in marketing and evidence of leadership, be sure to mention your recent internship with Company X, in which you were marketing various events, and your time as captain of the hockey team.

On to the second point:

The interviewer wants to know how you can help them, what you can bring to the company and to the role to which you are applying. He/she won’t have had time to revise and remember everything on your CV so your answer should provide them with some talking points for later on in the interview. Be sure to give them something they will want to pick up on later (and that you can talk about confidently – DofE, lifeguarding, charity events, etc.).

Don’t be afraid to tell a story, this will interest the interviewer and it makes it easier for you to speak comfortably and naturally. However, ensure that whatever anecdote you choose to tell demonstrates your suitability for the role – make sure that the interviewer can always make the connection between your skills and how these relate to the job you are applying for.

Embedding a narrative into your answer will help to paint a picture of the kind of person you are. Plus it’s more interesting than just saying ‘I want to get into Recruitment because I’m a people person”. Yawn.

In conclusion:

Remember to keep your answers short, you don’t want to bore the interviewer. Just like with your CV, it’s important to be concise and succinct in your delivery as well as providing demonstrable evidence for your skills.

Be sure to place a value on the skills you have/the work you’ve done. Bring figures to the table – “As president of this society I increased member size from 20 to 100", or, “In my previous job I become Team Leader within 2 months”, etc. This way you eradicate the risk of the interviewer estimating this for themselves and miscalculating your worth!

And finally, remember that this question will quite often set the trajectory for the rest of the interview, so you can’t afford to wing it. As always, prepare! Script what you are going to say and not only will your answer sound better – you will feel much more confident in delivering it and taking on those that follow!

Hold tight for the next questions in the series, in the mean time, we've put together a number of interview prep articles. Find them all here


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