A Simple Formula for Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
We’ve all been there — at the far end of the desk watching attentively at the interviewer as he tries to make sense of your professionally submitted resume. After he has some clarity on the type of employee you are going to be, he sets down the file and smiles at you while asking the dreaded question— “Tell me about yourself”
This is the question that rattles us and makes us wish we were surfing in a Miami beach instead of taking this interview.
So, why does this simple question tend to make the strongest of us feel uneasy?
The reason could be as simple as not knowing how much information to let out. Disclosing little information can make the interviewer feel you are hiding something while revealing everything can make you sound like a blabbermouth.
The following in-depth analysis will showcase how to remain comfortable answering the question while hitting the sweet spot necessary to impress your interviewer.
DECIPHERING THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
Preparation is key to answering the question and to prepare well, you are going to need to understand the question itself. Narrating your entire life story and struggles can end up in a disastrous experience — the interviewer isn’t your personal psychiatrist and shouldn’t be treated as one.
Understanding the Question — “Tell Me About Yourself”
Think of this question as a window of opportunity — a good answer raises your chances of being hired while a bad one seals your fate. The question aims to test your intelligence while also trying to break the ice between you and the interviewer. The interviewer is like an explorer trying to research unchartered territory — the territory being you.
Under no circumstance should you answer the question in a sentence or what is already provided in your resume. Answering in such a manner will make you sound unprofessional and will give out the idea that you are an uninteresting person that has no objective beyond your professional experience.
Try to analyze the question that was asked of you —
- If the interviewer specifically asked a question such as — Tell me something about your professional expertise. Strictly, speak about your professional exploits and achievements and remain in this tone until the interviewer changes the subject to a more relaxed topic.
- If the interviewer asked you to describe yourself in a few words, stick to describing your strongest points like — Trustworthiness, Punctuality, Leadership Qualities, Teamwork and Bonding, Career-oriented, Objective-based, etc.
- If the interviewer is vague and asks a general question — “Tell me something about Yourself”, it’s alright to blend a bit of your personal life into your professionalism while answering the question. The interviewer may be interested in understanding the type of person you are outside your workplace.
Personal or Professional? What is the Appropriate Answer?
The standard confusion that every candidate faces when answering the question is whether to keep it professional or personal. The right answer is to add traces of personal life to your otherwise professional answer. The personal tone is utilized for the interviewer to understand you as a person, it gives him the insight on your hobbies and a basic mental framework of your emotions.
Respect the time shared between you and the hiring manager and try to keep your answer appropriately paced. Don’t forget to mention any accomplishments that has benefited your previous employer as it can play heavily on your chances of being hired.
On the night before the interview, it’s a good idea to write down a pattern that consists 80% of professional accomplishments with 20% of words thrown in that add to your personal life. Memorize the following and try to pretend the mirror is your interviewer while you begin to answer in a confident manner.
The idea behind this is to get you to open yourself fully without encountering a nervous breakdown on the day of the interview. Mock interviews such as these can train your mind to strictly follow the type of content that was written down on paper. In this case, you will be trained to follow an 80% professional tone and a 20% personal tone when the question is asked.
Here’s a video briefing you on answering the question in a real-life scenario.
Things to Avoid Sharing While Answering the Question
Just because you have a story to tell, doesn’t necessarily mean the hiring manager is in a mood to listen. It’s considered extremely rude to continue talking without having a point and it can severely affect your chances of being hired. Strictly, stay on topic and answer in short and informative statements unless asked otherwise.
Don’t share your political ideas or why the country needs a great leader. Your interviewer may have opposing views on your political tastes and it can cause an argument to emerge that may as well end all your chances of landing the current job.
Similarly, it’s not appropriate to discuss religious beliefs and past encounters you had with your previous employer. The hiring manager is in no position to hire you based on your past antics or because you stood up to your ex-boss. In fact, it could lead to a disastrous ending if your personality is concluded to be hostile and you will immediately be shown the door.
Remember, no company likes to hire an employee who has a habit of telling on others, all companies look for a team player and one who socializes well with others. Teamwork and selflessness are some of the most sought-after qualities and it would up your chances of being hired if you were to reflect on these characteristics during your interview.
Don’t Recite Back-to-Back Words from Your Resume
Hiring managers are smart enough to pick up on your flaws and there is no need to constantly headline your strengths over the course of the interview. If there is a question asked, answer it by being broad-minded and providing as much information as there is.
For example — If the interviewer wants to know about your key selling points, don’t list your accomplishments and feats that were achieved by you that are already on paper. Instead, create a real-life scenario as if you were working for the company and offer a solution on how you would solve a specific problem. This can showcase your presence of mind and will also impress your interviewer.
Ensure your resume is short and within 2 pages, a long resume means there isn’t much to talk about with the candidate. The core details to include in your resume are your work experiences, accomplishments, personal information, and educational qualifications. Anything else is pure fluff and has no real advantage outside of being clutter.
The more you leave out of your resume, the more you can fill in during your interview process. Repeating word-to-word information out of your interview shows the interviewer that you spent more time rehearsing the resume like a script and less time in understanding the job requirements. Keep the interview fresh and leave the rehearsals to established actors.
THE INTERVIEWER’S VIEWPOINT: WHAT HE EXPECTS IN YOUR ANSWER
Every interviewer is assigned with the sole task of picking the top candidate that has applied for the posting. Hence, your interviewer is equipped with a specific method that he utilizes for hiring and determining if you have the necessary qualities that are required by the company.
Each interviewer has distinct levels of identifying strengths and weaknesses based on your answers, it’s important to remain confident in your abilities and to never break composure.
The Interviewer would like to gauge if you are the perfect fit for the job posting
Let’s face it — the company is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with a few missing parts, the missing parts represent employees and the company’s main objective is to find the best fit for the missing portion of the jigsaw puzzle to make whole. This is where the interviewer comes in, his job is to get the most accurate pieces to fit the company’s requirements and he does this by assessing your strengths and weaknesses.
To ace the recruitment process, you need to lead with your strongest selling points and show the interviewer exactly why you would be perfect for the company. Offer real-life examples and showcase your knowledge in the business field by quoting recent news that made the headlines. This type of conversation explains to the interviewer that you are up-to-date with the current trends.
The hiring manager is always looking for fierce individuals so leave your modesty back home as it serves no purpose in a professional environment. By not being modest, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to brag about achievements you haven’t achieved. It translates to being confident and a fearless person who isn’t afraid of taking up challenges when the need arises.
As a rule of thumb, always stay in the present and discuss your future and ensure the past is briefly revealed. This projects you as a person that is grounded in the present who is interested in the future of the company rather than past glories.
List every achievement you’ve experienced in precise and short explanations
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure — This quote can ring true to any new business venture you are about to undertake. As a professional, it’s important to cover all achievements in your resume and briefly explain the process to your hiring manager. Although it may seem like a small deed to you, it could be exactly what the company is looking for and may just win you the placement.
Even if it was a college project that you had completed years back, mention it in your resume under the “Accomplishments” section. Maybe you took part in a community drive to clean up the city — list it down. Community services can have a profound effect on hiring managers and they can immediately feel a positive vibe oozing from you.
All companies have a public image to maintain and hence, the kind of employees they recruit can have a major influence on their publicity. Hiring managers will try to assess if there has been any negative incident in your past that can potentially hurt the reputation of the company. It’s important to be brutally honest here as it takes just a simple online search to list your previous offenses.
Chances are the company understands the situation you were in when you committed the offense and may offer a chance to redeem yourself. Although, if you decide to lie your way into the company, you will be under a constant threat of being blacklisted against all future employers. When in doubt, pick the honest route.
Don’t Unnecessarily Ramble and Overthink
If there is something that is a total turnoff for hiring managers, it is candidates who just don’t know when to shut up. When you try to be over smart and provide a complicated answer to a simple question, you end up with a very annoyed hiring manager who is in no mood to hire you anymore. Try to seal your discussion by answering the question in no more than a minute.
Practice this important activity at home and ensure you make up interview questions that you can provide your own creative answers to. Ensure the answers don’t cross over 100 words and now say it back loud. If you feel something’s not right, rewrite the dialogue until its fine-tuned.
On the day of the actual interview, you will be ready to answer any question that is thrown at you with grace. Remember, to always ensure your answer remains in plain English and most importantly — Be yourself!
Don’t try and emulate someone just because you were inspired by a movie or a book, it can backfire on you. Also, don’t repeat the interviewer’s questions back to them to initiate a stalling process. If you feel nervous it’s alright to excuse yourself and request to use the restroom where you can collect yourself. Drinking a glass of water is a good way to calm yourself before entering the interview chamber.
THE PERFECT ANSWER: HOW TO KEEP IT SHORT YET INCREDIBLY DETAILED
Practice makes perfect! Although there isn’t a perfect answer that suits every situation, by training yourself beforehand, you can prepare yourself to answer even the most nerve-wracking questions in a relaxed manner. To answer the question about yourself, you need to maintain 3 important features while taking the interview — Expertise, Vision, and Curiosity.
Highlight Your Expertise
To crack the interview, you need to flaunt your most valuable asset — Expertise. Say you’ve previously worked for a company for 4 years, it’s important to exhibit the skills you learned during your 4-year stay. If you are unable to answer what you learned in your previous company, the interviewer would have no reason to hire you.
Every company likes to have a candidate that can quickly grasp the structure of the company to better execute their abilities. For this reason, it’s important to advertise your abilities like a telemarketer would but by being discreet about it during the “Tell me about Yourself” question. State your strongest selling points and explain in detail how you plan to implement this ability in the company you are applying for.
All hiring managers would like to know what made you leave your previous employer. A good answer to this question would be something like — “Although, I am excited in my current role, I feel my expertise demands a challenging project for me to grow on a professional level, hence, your job position offers all the value I am looking for.”
A terrific method to nail the interview process is to obtain a stopwatch and time your answers. Give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve managed to positively answer all the questions in under a minute and improve on the ones that breached the one-minute mark. In this way, you can take full advantage of being concise and detailed about your professional exploits.
Project your vision about the company
Every professional should conduct adequate research on the company they are applying for and get to know the top people working within the company. This way you can project a vision during your interview to showcase where you can help the company grow and why the company can benefit from hiring you.
Maybe a certain news article on the company caught your attention and you decided to apply because you see the right values embedded within the company, state this fact during the discussion. The interviewer will then begin to understand that the interview means a great deal to you and by hiring you, the company receives a valuable team player.
If a person working in the company plays a key role in inspiring your professional career, then mention it. However, avoid manipulative tactics of purposefully praising the company you have no knowledge about, it takes the interviewer one question to understand you are faking the enthusiasm. Thus, ending your job placement with catastrophic results.
At the end of the interview, it’s a good idea to politely provide feedback about the company and on the off chance you were not hired, you could provide your insight targeting the company’s growth. Positivity is something that hiring managers are highly attracted to when selecting their employees, you could immediately be shortlisted for offering valuable advice.
Maintain a Level of Curiosity in Your Answers
When an interviewer asks you a question, leave some room for curiosity to creep in and engage your interviewer in clever wordplay. For example, you’ve just been asked about your previous employer and how it felt working with them. Your answer could be ambiguous and go something like — “I’ve had a wonderful experience working with my former boss who was ecstatic after I pitched in a major project for him.”
The interviewer would now be curious to know about the project responsible for making your ex-boss happy and will inquire about it. In this way, you have successfully controlled the direction of the interview and you can engage in many different scenarios where you can showcase your talents without the usual lengthy explanation that can eventually become dreary and boring.
You can follow the same policy with your resume by listing important selling points and leave out the explanations. Your interviewer will be forced to ask you to brief him about your successful projects. Hiring managers like to hear the success stories straight from the candidate’s mouth rather than read a thick wall of text from their resume.
To give you a great visual example, here’s a video showcasing all the tips required to provide the perfect answer to the age-old interview question.
CONCLUSION: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Every interview is a stepping stone to growth, even if you were rejected, it causes you to identify the mistakes and improve upon for your next interview. By being confident in your abilities and understanding yourself a little better than your previous interview, you will undoubtedly land the biggest career break of your life.
Answering the big question about yourself is easier said than done but it opens a window to learn more about yourself and with practice, you will be able to nail the hardest question asked in every interview with absolute ease.
Remember, employee recruitment is based on the quote “Survival of the Fittest”, show them why you are the toughest beast in the jungle by displaying your professional abilities fearlessly.
"So, tell me about yourself.” “Ummmm…” “I’m from London, happily married with three kids and I …