Tell Me About Yourself?

Why this is a trickier interview question than you might first think

I’ve hired many people over the years. I have fine-tuned my interviewing technique. I want to make sure that I get the very best out of each candidate.

I use the “Tell me about yourself?” question as an icebreaker. But I use it for so much more than that. Underestimate this question at your peril. First impressions are lasting impressions.

My current company requires me to conduct a standardised competency interview. I get to that formal part after the warmup.

“Tell me about yourself”

On the surface, this might seem like a simple question to answer.

That’s the point.

It is a simple question.

But I’ve found most people aren’t able to able to answer it well.

I can predict how the rest of the interview is likely to go based purely on how the candidate answers this first simple question.

What makes a good answer?

What exactly are interviewers like me looking for in the answer to this question?

I want to listen to your own verbal account of your CV (or resume if you prefer). I want to hear the story of you. As you chose to present it.

Answer carefully. This should be the one question that you are most comfortable with answering. But don’t get too comfortable. Limit your answer to 2 minutes maximum.

I will have read your CV in detail before the interview. That’s why you have been invited for an interview in the first place.

Get the basics right. Make sure that your high-level account of yourself exactly aligns with the chronology and details in your CV. This is not the time to throw in something that you haven’t mentioned in writing.

Less is more

What interviewers are really looking with the casual sounding ‘tell me about yourself’ is your ability to summarise yourself in as few words as possible. Ultimately, in today’s workplace, we are all salespeople.

You are being tested on your ability to summarise.

If your competency-based interview starts with this sort of icebreaker before diving into the more structured questions then don’t mess up first impressions by taking up the first 15 minutes to ramble on incoherently about yourself.

You will have plenty of opportunities to dive into more detail later on.

A good answer if you are starting your career

Here is an example of a good answer if you are applying to a graduate scheme while at university;

“Thank you for giving me this opportunity today. I’m in my final year of my business and marketing degree. I chose this subject after volunteering for a charity during school and helping them with their marketing. I realised that I have a flair for marketing and wanted to learn more.

I’ve very much enjoyed my studies. I particularly enjoy the digital marketing modules. My final year dissertation will be on the impact of digital marketing on retail in 2020.

In my spare time I enjoy playing rugby and amateur dramatics. I’ll be playing Peter Pan in my local theatre later this year.

I will be very happy to dive into more detail of my experience during the course of our interview”

Short and sweet with lots of interesting points for the interviewer to pick up on later. No need to go into further detail at this stage.

You’ve drawn out the important points about you.

A brief sentence about where you are in your life. Why you made the decision to focus on your chosen subject of study. A little about your interests to make you a rounded human being.

The interviewer wants to get you to know you as the whole person. Not just you as the academic high-achiever.

A good answer if you have more experience

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity today. I will summarise the experience I’ve had over the past 15 years.

I began my career in scientific research following a PhD in biochemistry. I made the switch to the corporate world to take up a scientific post within Starshot. I then moved onto a number of roles including commercial, product, strategy and marketing. As a result, I have a wide range of experience across a number of functions combined with deep subject matter expertise.

I have a passion for learning and throwing myself into new areas.

In my spare time I enjoy long distance running to build my mental resilience and keep fit.

I could go on into much more detail. I’ll keep it to a short summary to allow you to dig into areas of my experience that are of most interest to you”

You will feel uncomfortable giving such a short succinct summary.

You will want to sell yourself more and start going into the details of each job you’ve done. All the preparation for the competency-based questions will come into your mind. You will want to throw in examples.

Resist all temptation to elaborate further. Allow yourself to feel the discomfort Leave the interviewer wanting more.

By keeping your answer short and sweet, you will have given a solid first impression of someone who is self-assured and able to summarise a document that the hirer has read in detail.

They’ll want you in their team for this skill alone.

I want my team members to have the ability to present me with the salient points for every situation they are facing at work. This question is the first test as to whether or not they will measure up to that task.

In the subsequent core part of the interview, you can smash it out of the part with your well-prepared and detailed examples of the awesome experience you have.

The choice is then yours as to whether or not you want to accept the job offer that will follow.

Curious Creature. Voracious learner. Scientist turned writer with lots in between. Obsessed with running and personal growth.

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