One of my favourite interview questions is:
“So… Tell me about yourself?”
I like this question, not because it’s particular good or useful but because it’s so vague that without prior thought and preparation it’s sure to go wrong.
It’s certainly the best question to hear funny anecdotes of bad responses.
“Yes… well… my names John, I’m 45, and I’m from Leeds. I have a wife and I am a father of two children.”
This answer was given to an interviewer, who sat in awkward silence waiting for the candidate to elaborate into their working career. But that was it.
“Tell me about yourself” is generally used as a warm-up question to ease the candidate into the interview. But just because it’s the first question doesn’t mean it’s okay to mess-up or provide details that have no advantage to gaining the position.
Mindset, mindset, mindset..
When you have an interview you need to get the mindset that every second you are in the room (or on a call) you are making an impression. This ranges from the first moment you speak to the receptionist to your way out.
During that time you are selling yourself why you are right for the job – so if someone says “Tell me about yourself” don’t take this literaly!
“Tell me about yourself” might be a lazy question, but that shouldn’t mean giving a lazy answer.
So time to break down the resume?
Not quite, another bad response is to break down your whole career into detail, right to that entry-level job where you did nothing relevent to the role you are applying for.
I was coordinating telephone interviews and got a call, the candidate had not heard from the interviewer so I dropped a message to find what was going on.
After a delayed, the interviewer responded with basic apology platitutdes and assurance they were calling the candidate now. They told me they were running behind as the last candidate had spent 35 minutes of their 30 minute telephone interview going through everything they had done.
I did wonder why the interviewer didn’t do anything to prompt their response – instead they used the first question to provide evidence to later interview questions.
How to answer?
When answering this question the best approach is to:
- keep it relevent to the post
- make it a highlight reel
When it comes to making impressions its getting that question right so that the detail provided gets the interviewers interest, but doesn’t bore them into submission.
As it is generally the first question, keep this in mind, as there will be other questions they explore you skills in further detail so don’t try to get everything in.
Therefore, the best way to answer this question is to follow a similiar approach to the elevator pitch.
If you are not familiar with the elevator pitch it’s a technique used in sales and business to sell a product or service in an organised, clear and succinct way.
It basically means that you can explain something in the time to ride an elevator – hence it’s name. This makes this technique valuable for answering this exact question.
To prepare for this type of questions you firstly need to address it’s vagueness.
As it’s a very open ended question, it has potential to go anywhere, but this is not neccessarily what the interviewer is looking for. You have to try and think what they want?
Although there is no definitive answer to this, the best approach is:
- Look at what the job entails – what are the main attribute(s) they are looking for?
- What particular skills do you have that meet the attributes?
- Why are you interested in the job? What is your background that makes you suitable?
When you have decided how you have approached this question, the next step is make your answer succint so that it has some logical structure. A good approach is the following:
- Write a pre-prepared statement.
- Read through this and edit to keep it concise.
- Keep re-reading and editing so that it meets the main attributes of the job and it last sixty seconds.
Once complete, you have a pitch to say why you are suited for the job.
The benefit to you, is by having a good answer, it will help your confidence in answering the remaining interview questions.
As with any interview there is no guarntee of what you will be asked.
Questions such as this and “what is your weakness?” are advantegous questions to prepare because of there general all round application, getting your mind prepared to support in answering any other questions that get thrown at you.
Do you have any approach preferred approach to this question? How would you answer it? And if you enjoyed this article please share and / or join my mailing list.
2 thoughts on “The interview: Tell me about yourself”
I also think that interviewers use this question to see how the candidate would respond to an open-ended question. So keep that in mind and don’t start selling yourself right away – I think less is more but also like you mentioned, don’t just talk about your personal life and end it there.
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Good points. I guess the approach is marathon rather than sprint, breaking down each interview question as it comes rather than trying to get it all in one.