How to Answer “Tell me about yourself” Interview Question

Tell me about yourself. This is an absolute gift of a question and it is surprising how many candidates throw this opportunity away. Of course, it is a huge open question and can be answered in a huge number of ways. In reality, the interviewer wants to know who and what you think you are.

There is also a hope that the question will provide a significant number of topics that can be pursued at leisure and in-depth later in the interview. Also what you say now will be expected to be consistent with what you say later in the discussion.

How do you tackle this key question? Well, before going for any job you need to say to yourself:

What was it about the advert that appealed to you? Now you might want to get away from a horrible boss, or you think that your company is going down the tubes faster than a monkey on a slippery pole, but follow the basic rule of not answering the question but responding to it so that you help the interviewer move onto areas which make you attractive and the better candidate.

For example:

  • Well, the advert suggested that the position would require someone to be able to do xxx well and that has always been the part of the position I have enjoyed the most …
  • Having developed skills in xxx and discovered that I gain a great deal of satisfaction from doing xxx this seemed like a progressive career opportunity.
  • This approach keeps you focused on why you are sitting in a chair and letting a stranger ask you questions about yourself.
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Surprisingly, when asked this question candidates frequently respond with the counter question: ‘Do you mean at home or at work?‘ How dumb! Anyone can talk about themselves at great length without mentioning anything directly relevant to the job on offer. This does not help the interviewer or, more importantly, you the applicant.

The interviewer wants to know about you primarily in the work setting, you could talk for hours about yourself outside work but it is unlikely that you would cover the competencies that would give you pole position for the job. Using the advert, your knowledge of the job and the industry and information culled from your network, develop a specification for the job on offer and then develop your statement.

Do yourself an enormous favour and develop what is called a career statement. This is 30 to 40 words that sum you up as a potential employee. A strong career statement immediately creates a powerful and appropriate impression exactly when you want it: right at the beginning of the interview. Just as a good book, film or speech should provide a strong and engaging opening, your interview should have a great start with the judicious use of a powerful career statement.

Here are some examples responding to the question: Tell me about yourself:

I am an experienced secretary who is used to working in partnership with the team. I have proven administration and organisational abilities supported by good interpersonal skills.

I am an experienced bilingual industrial designer with extensive knowledge of the automotive industry. My track record suggests that I have strong aesthetic skills and a good understanding of commercial reality.

I am a self-motivated and achievement-orientated financial controller who has strong business development skills and a proven record of profit improvement through planning and implementing financial and MIS strategies.

As you can see from my CV I am an experienced customer service person with good administrative and keyboard skills. People say that I have a quiet personality and that I am good at administrative detail.

As I hope to have demonstrated in my application, I am an experienced management accountant with an extensive career in the retail and leisure industry. I have strong business development skills and a proven record of profit improvement through planning and implementing financial and MIS strategies.

In terms of my career, I am an Industrial Designer with an in-depth knowledge of the automotive industry. I have particularly strong aesthetic skills combined with a developed understanding of manufacturing requirements and commercial reality.

Now, this might all sound like boasting, but please remember that in an interview you are expected to boast as long as you do not tell lies.

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Now here are some further tips to succeed in answering this question: First of all write out your answer again and again until you have honed all the words and made your statement as brief as possible. Would the statement make you the ideal candidate? If not, do more work on it.

Now learn the statement by heart so that you can repeat it easily without too much thinking. This is dangerous because if you answer this question too quickly, the interviewer will know that either you have been trained in interviewing skills or think that you have been to so many interviews in the last few months that you can anticipate the question. In both of these situations, alarm bells go off in the interviewer’s head. So, next, practice acting the answer as if you were delivering it for the very first time. For example:

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Here are some more examples but with a softened and not so prominent ‘I am:

Pause – to show that you are thinking – then: ‘Well I am a technically aware sales coordinator. Pause, look at the interviewer’s desk, then continue: ‘My boss says that I am good at controlling multiple marketing projects,‘ pause and look somewhere else, because I think it is important to keep within agreed timescales’, pause, look at another part of the room and conclude by saying: ‘and I suppose I am pretty good at keeping salespeople to their commitments. Conclude by looking at the interviewer and if appropriate smiling.

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