How to answer: “Tell me about yourself”

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Simple questions can sometimes create awkward moments if not prepared for properly. For example, “Tell me about yourself” should be a simple proposition, yet this common interview question continues to stump candidates of all experience levels. It can be argued that this is partly down to the question’s open-ended nature as it’s not immediately obvious whether the interviewer is looking for a potted autobiography, a detailed run-through of your CV, or a combination of the two. But as with any challenging interview question, these fears can be overcome with proper preparation and an understanding of the interviewer’s motivation for asking it.

What is the interviewer looking for?

The question “tell me about yourself” almost always comes at the start, immediately after some lighthearted preamble about the weather and your journey to the interview. There’s a reason for this: the interviewer wants to get you talking. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to take it lightly. Your answer will set the tone for the rest of the interview, so it’s important to lead with your best points.

Three things to include

It’s vital not to ramble when answering the question: “Tell me about yourself.” Aim to tell an engaging story that highlights your strengths and lasts no longer than two minutes. Your answer should touch on the following areas.

Let your personality shine

Your interviewer wants to get to know you so they can understand whether you’re a good cultural fit. This is a great opportunity to emphasise your interests and softer skills – there’ll be plenty of time later in the interview to deep-dive into the minutiae of your CV. Focus on hobbies and activities that paint you in the best light. For instance, volunteering shows that you care about your community, while training for a marathon highlights your self-discipline.

Emphasising past activities and proven successes

Don’t allow wasted words to derail your snappy response. Everything you say should be geared toward persuading your interviewer that you’re perfect for the role. When planning your answer, re-read the job specification and pick out two or three recent real-world examples that prove you can meet, or exceed, the criteria. Work-based experiences are important, but it’s also fine to support your narrative with scenarios drawn from outside your professional life (such as volunteering).

Discussing strengths and abilities

All of the above should naturally allow you to reference strengths and abilities that help you to fulfil the job specification. Does the role require a candidate capable of building and motivating a high-performing team? Prove you fit the bill with an example that highlights your leadership experience, how you’ve developed staff, and how you’ve integrated new team members.

Three things to avoid

With an open-ended question such as “Tell me about yourself”, it’s easy to veer off-topic. Avoid the following pitfalls to deliver a focused answer that paves the way for a strong interview.

Mentioning personal information

While you want to show off your winning personality, there should be no need to discuss personal details such as your family life, marital status, religion or politics. Unless they’re specifically related to the job, none of these factors will help your interviewer to gauge your suitability.

Making vague, unsubstantiated claims

Never describe a strength without backing it up. Insisting that you’re organised, creative and a fantastic team player will count for absolutely nothing unless you can support your claims with real-life examples.

Reeling off your CV word for word

Your interviewer has already read your CV, so don’t waste their time and yours by giving them a job-by-job run-through. Instead, focus on the points that allow you to slide easily into convincing, engaging examples, to showcase your relevant strengths and abilities.