Drilling Down Into The Job Interview: How To Answer The “Tell Me About Yourself” Question
In this new series, we are drilling down into some of the most common job interview questions and offering tips to craft compelling answers that will impress employers.
Anyone who has ever sat for a job interview has heard some variation of the question “Tell me about yourself.” It’s usually the very first question an employer will ask to signal that the interview is officially underway. What’s more, it’s often a question that pops up again and again with each interview stage as you meet new people within the company.
And yet, despite it being such a popular question, it’s one that often stumps most job candidates. That’s because it’s quite an open-ended question, which can often go in many directions. Moreover, how does one summarise their entire career within a short, succinct answer that will hold the interviewer’s attention?
In this article, we’re taking a deeper look into this most common of interview prompts and providing tips on how best to structure your response.
Why do interviews ask the “Tell me about yourself” question?
To craft a compelling answer, it’s good to first understand why interviewers ask the “tell me about yourself” question in the first place.
Typically, most job interviews will begin with some small talk and casual greetings. So, this question is an easy and effective way for the recruiter to transition into the formal interview. But more than that, the question is a great starting point that can really set the tone of the conversation and provide an early indication of whether the job candidate is a right fit for the company.
Interviewers are aware that this is a question that can stump candidates. So, it’s also an opportunity for them to gauge how confident and well-prepared you are early on. That said, while it’s a tricky question, it’s important to remember that this is not a trick question. That means there’s no need to overthink your answer or try to break the mould. Your answer should simply help the interviewer get to know you better on a professional and personal level.
While there is no exact science to answering the question, when answered well, it will help you paint a compelling portrait of yourself, one that showcases something of your hard and soft skills as well as providing a little insight into your personality.
Structuring your answer
If you’ve made it to the interview stage, then it’s a safe bet that most interviewers will have glanced at your CV and professional credentials, at the very least. So, there’s no need to regurgitate every little detail, date, and responsibility listed in your CV. In actual fact, this is highly not recommended, as listing jobs, roles, and responsibilities will quickly become a tedious process for everyone in the room.
Instead, you should craft a short narrative that will take the interviewer through your proudest professional achievements whilst bringing them up to speed on your current situation and where you’re heading.
Typically, there are two common approaches when you come to structure an answer to the “tell me about yourself” question. You can either focus to take the interviewer through your:
• Present, past, and future – or,
• Past, present, and future
In the first option, you’d start by giving the interviewer a quick overview of your current role. Then you can walk them through previous experiences and how they’ve shaped you. Finally, wrap your answer up by segueing into what you wish to do next and what interested you about this job in particular.
You can also opt for a more linear approach, by starting from the beginning, perhaps by explaining what inspired your career path in the first place. From here you can lead into your present situation, before moving onto your future career goals. Whatever order you choose, it’s always recommended that you end by justifying why you’re in the room applying for the job. You want to interviewer to feel as if it makes sense for your career journey to have led to this role.
5 tips to answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
Now that we have a better understanding of how to structure your professional story, and what we’re hoping to achieve in our answer, here are five useful tips to create a compelling answer that sells your skills and proves your value in just a few minutes.
1 – Keep it professional
First of all, while it’s not explicitly stated, it’s implied that your answer should remain relevant to the role. In other words, this isn’t the time to open up about your family, pastimes, or any other highly personal details. Keep your answer focussed on your career, professional highlights, and educational achievements. There may be other opportunities in the interview to reveal more about yourself and make more of a human connection with the interviewers. But at this early stage, it’s best to describe how the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired over the years translate into this new position.
2 – Tweak your answer to fit the role
As when writing your cover letter, it’s important to tailor your answer to fit the role at hand. While you can stick to the same template, you want to highlight specific experiences and achievements that prove you’re the right candidate for this job. This may mean leaving out certain jobs entirely or emphasising certain roles and responsibilities more keenly. With each detail you provide in your story, you want to convince the interviewer that your skills and experience will directly help the company reach its goals.
3 – Keep it short and sweet
Naturally, if you were to take a literal approach to answering the “tell me about yourself’ question, it would probably take a full day or more. The trick here, is to be succinct. No one wants to sit through your life story, no matter how interesting it may be.
There’s also a secondary outcome to this question. It demonstrates how well-versed you are in giving presentations and your meeting etiquette. Are you a person who tends to ramble on aimlessly or do you know how to get to the point?
Most recruiters recommend keeping your answer to around 1 to 2 minutes long. This will show that you have control over your answer and aren’t just talking idly with no clear narrative in mind. That said, it’s also important to read the room. If you sense an interviewer is not that interested, it may be wise to wrap up sooner. Conversely, if a recruiter seems interested in a particular role of yours, feel free to expand a little. All in all, you should think of your answer akin to a movie trailer. It should’t reveal the full story but intrigue the interviewer enough to get them asking further questions.
4 – Strike a positive note
While honesty is always the best policy, this isn’t the time to focus on bad experiences with previous employers or particularly challenging moments in your career. Recruiters often say that most hiring decisions are made within the first few minutes. So there really is a lot riding on your answer to this opening question. Be sure to start off on a positive note. This will set the tone for what’s to follow and give your interviewer a great first impression.
As you settle into the interview, there will probably be opportunities to shed light on different aspects of your professional journey, the hurdles you’ve had to overcome or how you’ve resolved conflicts with colleagues in the past. But in this instance, choose the best way to portray your career story in the best light.
5 – Inject a little personality into your answer
Arguably, the aspect that candidates struggle with most when answering this question is how to convey something of their personality without going into any overly personal details. The truth is this goal is much simpler to achieve than most think. The key here is in the delivery of the answer. While it’s important to prepare and hone your answer, it should still feel like you’re having a conversation. In other words, you don’t want to sound like a robot reciting a boring biography. That’s why it’s essential to make your professional story sound human. By highlighting achievements you’re truly proud of, you’re more likely to show your passion and demonstrate what drives you. You can also weave in phrases like “I’m really passionate about…” or “This experience really inspired me to…” This will automatically give the interviewer a greater sense of who you are and what makes you tick.
For more insightful tips on how to approach your next interview, be sure to check out our extensive guides and articles in our Candidates Resources.