There are a handful of job interview questions that you are almost guaranteed to get asked regardless of the role, industry, or level of experience. The dreaded ‘Tell me about yourself’ is one of those. This is used by many interviewers as a bit of an icebreaker to get you chatting and is often the first thing they will ask you once you sit down. This means that your answer will set the tone for the whole interview, so it’s really important that you get it right.
Many job candidates panic in the face of this question and either treat the interviewer to a rendition of their life story or go robotically through their CV. This question is, in fact, a fantastic opportunity to show your interviewers exactly how you’re the perfect fit for the job and to build a bit of rapport with them at the same time.
As you know that this question is highly likely to come up your interviewer will expect you to have thought about it. You really have no excuse to just wing it. The secret, as with most interview questions, is preparation. But where do you start? We’ve put together this simple three-step guide to help you craft the perfect answer. But first, we want to explain exactly why interviewers ask such a tricky and open-ended question. This is the first step in working out what they want you to say.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
So, why do interviewers insist on asking such a vague and open-ended question? Some candidates view this as a frustrating and even lazy question that is very likely to trip you up as soon as the interview has started. However, there are many great reasons interviewers choose to start with this question and once you understand these, you’re well on your way to a brilliant answer.
The first important thing to understand is that the interviewer is not deliberately trying to be mean. In fact, they are probably hoping that you are the right person for the job. The fewer people they have to interview for the role, the easier their life will be. However, they do need to get it right as a bad hire could be detrimental to the business and would reflect badly on them.
An open-ended question like this is an ideal opportunity for interviewers to get an idea of how you think. They will often be more interested in how you answer the question than what you actually say. It will weed out those candidates who weren’t prepared and will also give them an idea of what you think is important for them to know as a potential employer. With the things you choose to talk about, you will reveal whether or not you really understand what skills and experience are relevant to the job. Is you answer structured, articulate, and focused on the role on offer? Or is it a rambling and irrelevant recitation of your life story? Many roles will require good communication and organisation skills and this is a great opportunity to show these skills off with a clear and logical answer.
Many candidates will immediately over-think the question and panic as they try and figure out what the interviewer wants them to say. The question you’re actually being asked to answer is ‘Tell me about yourself in the context of how you will add value to the company’. If you gear your answer to this version of the question instead, you will end up with a more concise, structured answer that is much more useful for your interviewer.
How to answer:
Your answer should be different for each role you interview for but should always contain the same basic components. A brief introduction to who you are professionally, what experience or skills you have that make you ideal for this role, and why you are interested in this particular position.
At this point, it’s useful to remember that you’ll have time to go through the finer points of your CV later and that interviews work best as a conversation. Keep your answer relatively short and don’t be tempted to launch into a long monologue. It might be useful to view this as a sort of elevator pitch for yourself.
Step 1: Research
We’ve already established that your answer needs to be focused on how you’re going to add value to the company. So how do you find out which of your qualities you should try and highlight? More often than not, this information will be on the job description. Spend some time cross-referencing you experience with the most important skills the job description asks for. If the job description doesn’t list the company values or goals, their website probably will. Also, do a search to see if the company has featured in the news recently and see if you can learn anything about the direction they are moving in.
Step 2: Structure
Now you know what you want to highlight, you need to work out how you’ll say it. It’s easiest if you break your answer down into three parts:
- Your professional introduction: Decide how you want your interviewer to perceive you and start from here. Offer them a brief overview of where you are in your professional career.
- How your experience makes you the perfect candidate for the role: Take a couple of examples and highlight how these demonstrate the skills they are looking for. This is where your research comes in. Prepare 4 or 5 points – you won’t need all of them but it’s always good to have a few examples on standby.
- Why this role interests you: Does your current opportunity lack challenges or the chance for progression? Is there something about the company that you find particularly attractive?
Step 3: Practice
Organise your answer in brief bullet points and use these as prompts. It’s important that you don’t memorise your answer word-for-word as this can sound unnatural. It might help to ask a friend to listen to your answer to make sure you sound articulate and that the points you want to make are clear.
You will find that this exercise will benefit the rest of the answers you give in your interview and will help you speak more fluently about what you have to offer in the context of that particular job.
How not to answer:
Here are some of the common traps that candidates fall into when trying to answer the question.
- The life story: Whatever you do, don’t give your interviewer a step-by-step outline of your life starting with your birth. They just aren’t interested and the vast majority won’t be relevant. This can also turn into a bit of a directionless ramble and everyone will forget what the question was in the first place – which isn’t a good thing.
- Being too modest: Some candidates will find shouting about their own skills and attributes really difficult. If this sounds like you, try not to be too modest. Instead, stick to the facts. This also has the advantage of keeping your answers concise and clear.
- Getting personal: Remember that this is a job interview – they don’t want to hear about your family or what you do with your weekends. Stay professional and don’t stray too far from the job.
- Repeating your CV: Don’t just walk your interviewer through your CV. This isn’t a very engaging way to conduct a conversation and is just a rehash of what they already know about you.
If you follow these tips, you should be able to create an answer that turns this daunting interview question, into a brilliant opportunity to showcase why you are the perfect candidate for the job. For more advice, read our article on interview tips for aviation jobs.