Have you ever been tripped up in a job interview with the question “tell me about yourself”? Of course you have.
This, and the other classic – “what makes you unique?” – are the metaphorical steak and chips on a bored recruiter’s menu. True staples.
The question seems quite easy, but its innocent exterior betrays its sinister nature.
You see, the question is evil because it doesn’t give you a framework for a response. This lack of framework can trick you into giving a long-winded, boring answer that sells you well short of the mark.
Today I’ll show you how to structure an effective answer to an interview question like “tell me about yourself”.
First, it’s important to understand why employers ask this somewhat tricky question in job interviews.
For some, it’s an easy way of structuring the upcoming conversation (they will use your response to guide the direction of the interview).
For others, it’s a test that probes for your ability to communicate succinctly and professionally.
Despite these differences, the “tell me about yourself” interview question has one overarching purpose: to see whether you can demonstrate how your background solves the interviewer’s commercial problem – if at all.
Let me share with you some tips that will ensure you say everything you need – and nothing you don’t.
1. Keep It Professional.
Knowing where to draw the line between the personal and professional can be tricky. Although personal details such as marital status, children and hobbies may be core to who you are, they are not factors that determine your ability to perform the role. It’s best not to mention them until the interview is winding up, and only if appropriate.
There is, however, an exception to the rule. If your personality and passions have directly influenced your career success, then these could work in your favour, creating a vital point of difference between you and other candidates.
For example, if you’re a CIO who grew up with computers and is passionate about the latest in technology, then this is definitely worth including in your response.
2. Customise Your Answer.
Do your research! Re-read the job description and make sure your strengths and abilities align with the required skills. Most importantly, back it up with examples, preferably from recent experience.
Also, having a look at the company’s ‘About Us’ page as a good way to get a feel for corporate culture. You need to demonstrate to your interviewers that your skills, experience and values offer the right fit for them.
3. Tell A Story.
Everyone loves a good story. The best stories clearly match your professional journey with the company’s brand and need. To be clear, this isn’t a free pass to go through your career history role by role! Pick highlights that are relevant for the position.
Instead, identify what the organisation needs from the role and look for recurring themes and past successes in your career that you feel meet this need. Many find it useful to frame their response within a present, past and future structure. Others prefer to focus on strengths and abilities within the context of past successes.
4. Keep It Short.
It can be daunting to condense years and years of experience into a short and snappy response. However, your answer does not need to encompass your entire career. It should convey the crux of your value proposition and just enough detail to capture the interviewer’s attention and prove that you are a high contender for the role. As a rough guide, keep your answer between 60-90 seconds.
5. Sound Authentic.
Give yourself a framework to work with but try to avoid memorising a script as this can sound unnatural. Practice your answer, preferably with family or close friends. You may find that this exercise will help clarify what you have to offer and may even help in answering other questions.
Sample Answers To “Tell Me About Yourself.”
To give you a rough idea of what a good response sounds like, here are some we prepared earlier:
Example Answer #1:
“I’m currently a Financial Controller for a boutique property investment company where I recently completed a project to automate processes, reducing month-end by three days. I’ve always had a head for numbers, so I after graduating with an accounting degree I joined the graduate program at Deloitte. After working in audit for five years, I joined the finance team of blue-chip real estate investment company where I gained more commercial experience, primarily in the M&A space. I’m now looking for a more strategic role that offers more scope for enabling commercial growth, as I feel this is the direction I’d like to go.”
Example Answer #2:
“I’ve always had an interest in healthcare. My father was a doctor in a nursing home, and he used to take me with him to work sometimes and I’d chat to all the residents. So, after doing a business degree at university, I got a job in administration at a regional hospital. Over the next 15 years, I worked my way up to senior leadership roles in the healthcare sector in the private and public sectors, where I’ve been very focused on balancing patient care with more commercial outcomes. I’m currently looking for a leadership role in the private sector, where I use my experience in the public sector to secure funding and ensure patients get the best care possible.”
I hope that this article has been helpful to you. If you’d like to browse the bios of interview coaches who can help you master your answer to the question “tell me about yourself”, click here.