'Tell me about yourself' is one of the most common questions asked at an interview, but people rarely prepare for it. Job seekers plan their strengths, their weaknesses and have an answer for the standard ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’, but few give this question any thought.
Before preparing an answer for any question, always ask yourself: ‘Why are they asking me this? What do they want to learn from this question?’
In my opinion, this is probably the most important answer you will give during your interview. Why? Because it is usually the first. People make judgements very quickly and first impressions count. Your ability to build rapport with the interviewer is vital and getting them to ‘like’ you at this very early stage will impact the rest of the interview. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but my experience tells me it’s true.
Now, some interviewers tell me that they ask this question because they like to see how you will react in an unstructured environment. Some will say they like to start the interview in a relaxed informal way and this question allows for that. I ask it for both these reasons. Here are my thoughts on how to best answer this interview question…
Don’t ask the interviewer to clarify
Avoid asking the interviewer to clarify what they mean. I wouldn’t advise you ask: ‘Sorry in what way? Do you mean personally or professionally?'
Take control of the question and don’t seek guidance at this early stage. If you show you are not prepared for this question, they may think you are not prepared for the job and the responsibilities that come with it.
Think like your customer
To be successful at selling anything (including yourself) you need to think like your customer. To answer this effectively it is always worth thinking about what that particular hiring manager will be looking for in this role and then give them what they want. If ‘what they want’ feels unnatural to you, then this may not be the right role for you long term.
I need to say this as I often see people try to fit themselves into a job that doesn’t fit and neither party wins in the long run.
Keep it brief
You don’t need to take a massive amount of time answering this question. Twenty minutes describing your life history is not necessary, but often happens when people are not prepared.
Identify what your customer is looking for, identify what attributes you are attempting to sell and focus on those. Aim to showcase these within a professional capacity rather than a personal one. As great as these attributes are, they are looking for an employee at this stage, not a friend.
Talk about your motivators
Employers want to identify very quickly what type of person you are. What type of employee and colleague you are going to be. Will you get on well with Janet in finance, because she is hard work? Or will you show up for work on Tuesday even though Monday was the day from hell.
Try to finish with ‘I’m motivated by...’ or ‘my values are...'
Influence their next question
It is not that difficult to control the questions you get asked in your interview. I’m not talking about any Jedi mind tricks, but hiring managers are people, and we are not that complicated. If you want to talk about a particular part of your life, or experience, then mention in briefly here. Give them a hook. Not the whole story, just enough to whet their curiosity, so that their next question allows you to expand in more detail.
Everyone will have his or her own response and that is perfect. There is no set answer, but as long as you are prepared and you consider these points, you will set the tone perfectly.
About the author
Over the last decade, Aimee has worked for some of the world’s largest recruitment companies at senior management or board director level. She is now an award winning entrepreneur, presenter and coach. Aimee has helped thousands of people succeed in their dream career through her advisory website Careercake.com