“So, tell me about yourself.”
It is a classic, frequently asked interview question.
Simple yet possible the one that throws people off guard the most.
- What could they possibly want to know?
- What kind of answer are they looking for?
- How much should I tell?
- What should I not say?
- How will they perceive this piece of info about me?
These are probably some of the thousands of questions that run your mind when the classic tell-me-about-yourself question first came up.
We will help you understand the question better in Part 3 of our The Interview Series. This way you can personalise your answer when the next time this scary question is being asked of you.
We are here to make this question less daunting for job seekers.
Here is everything you need to know about handling the ‘tell me about yourself’ question.
The Multiple Tell-Me-About-Yourself Versions
You have to be prepared to know when it comes up.
They can come in a variety of forms.
Different interviewers may reword this question in a way that is less explicit.
An interviewer could ask,
- What should I know about you?
- What would you like me to know about you?
- Is there anything else you’d want us to know about you?
- How would you describe yourself?
- Do you have anything else to tell us about you?
These may sound like different questions, but they are all asking the classic “tell me about yourself” question.
This means they want to know…
- who you are,
- what you can do,
- how fitting are you with the company culture,
- what are your capacity and capabilities,
- are you a good person,
- do you have sufficient experience,
- are you coachable,
- are you a follower or a leader,
…and the list goes on.
It is also the interviewers tactic to throw you off the structure rehearsed answers you’ve prepared.
So in other words, how well can you think on your feet.
Interviewers may also ask this question to get a better understanding of what you deem to be important strengths, skills, and attributes.
What should you tell about yourself
Interviewers do not want to hear your entire life story.
Rather, they just want the ‘juicy bit’ of your life.
Meaning, you just need to say sufficiently to sell yourself as the ideal candidate for the role they’re filling.
The person at the interviewing table wants you to demonstrate that you understand that skills, abilities, and experiences are most relevant to the position you are applying for.
This means you must research the company well, think of the ways you can contribute to it, and tell the interviewer your professional story without sounding like you are regurgitating your cover letter or CV.
A good way of relating your professional skills and experience, and showing you have done your homework, is to break your story into
- the present,
- the past, and
- the future.
Start telling the interviewer where you are right now.
Then briefly explain the previous roles you have had and the relevant skills you acquired.
Finally, move on to explain how those experiences will help you when you are working for the interviewer’s company.
Perhaps a little of your life goals and vision.
Remember to focus on career achievements that are most relevant to the position the interviewer is trying to fill.
Use anecdotes to your advantage, in a way that highlights the skills in your resume.
Highlight some of your key successes in your current and previous roles, and show them that you are eager to take the opportunity to grow professionally.
It’s all about showing the hiring manager more about you in a professional setting, and how you would be an asset to their company.
Often times, the tell-me-about-yourself question is for them to know who you truly are, not the facade you put up to show them.
Hence, preparation is key to answering the classic question
Sounding natural when answering this type of question requires a bit of preparation.
An unplanned answer to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question will only show the interviewer that you have not taken the time to think about the job opportunity.
Meanwhile, a badly framed answer can leave all kinds of nasty impressions.
If you fail to effectively communicate how you and your unique experiences make you the best candidate for the position, interviewers may think of you like any of the following:
- Under or over-qualified
- Lacking appropriate communication skills
- Someone who doesn’t understand the company or the position
- Someone who could be a risk to the company
Not a good look, is it?
That is why you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.
Before the day of the interview, make sure to tick the following boxes:
- Research the company thoroughly.
- Identify all your best skills, expertise, and the value you would bring to the company—write them in a list if it helps.
- Practice your answers so you can sound natural and confident, right from the very beginning.
For those changing careers or lacking experience
Don’t fret if you don’t have all the skills and experience required for the job.
You wouldn’t have been called for an interview if the hiring manager didn’t think you have potential.
So, the same rules apply.
Tell them about your present and previous experiences, and highlight the skills you bring to the table.
If you have just finished studying, tell them about your academic achievements, athletic feats, and volunteer work.
Relate to the interviewer the different times you have successfully worked as part of a team—interviewers are impressed by that.
And the same applies to those who are changing careers.
Use your unique experiences to demonstrate valuable skills like leadership, collaboration (teamwork), and any professional success story that you believe could show the interviewer you are able to step up to the challenge.
And the bottom line
Sell your skills to the interviewer.
Impress them with how well you can position your experience with the job role they are trying to fill.
It may take a little bit of preparation, but if you do it well, your first impression will be right on point.
Now, on to the next article in the series: Part 4, Behavioural Questions during Interviews.