“So, tell me about yourself.”

“Ummmm…”

“I’m from London, happily married with three kids and I love graphic design.”

Almost everybody gets nervous before interviews. This anxiety alone is enough to mess with even the most basic interactions. That’s why this question is often the hardest part of the interview for many people.

Regardless of whether you are interviewing for the big CEO position or an entry level administrative assistant position, there are questions that are guaranteed to come up in the job interview. Top on the list is the dreaded “Tell me about yourself.”

Despite the fact that you are the most qualified person to answer this question, (let’s face it – nobody knows you better than you know yourself) many people have trouble answering this question.

This question can also come in any of the following formats:

  • Walk me through your background.
  • Who exactly is [Your Name]?
  • Say something about yourself.
  • What would you like me to know about you?
  • Introduce yourself.
  • How would other people describe you?

These are questions that are commonly found at the beginning of the interview before things get all serious about the job expectations of the position, the salary and your abilities.

Many people dread this question because it’s unclear what exactly the interviewer is looking for in an answer. Should you talk about your academic qualifications, work experience, family background and upbringing or should you add a little bit of everything in your answer? How long should the answer be?

These are just a few of the questions that come to mind when asked this question.

The good news is that with good preparation, you can use this question to your advantage. Since it is usually asked at the beginning of the interview, you can use it to set the tone of the interview and highlight your strengths right from the beginning.

To most people, this question sounds like an ice breaker and a way to get candidates to give their life stories. The million dollar question is: is that what the potential employer sitting on the other side of the table is looking for?

The positioning of this question at the beginning of the interview makes it a very important question. You cannot afford to wing it. If something is wrong with your answer for this question, it can easily mess with the remainder of the interview.

That’s why it is important that you prepare adequately for this question. It takes some bit of practice to get it right, but you will be happy that you did. The results are worth the hard work because starting the interview on a good notecould give you abig boost in confidence, something that can kill the anxiety and make your job easy convincing the panel that you are the right man for the job.

It’s important to note that the interviewers don’t want to know everything about your life from the day you were born. However, disclosing too little information can leave them wondering what you are hiding.

Let’s dive in and see how best you can prepare for this interview question.

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER WANTS TO KNOW

The reason why this seemingly simple question can be such a difficult one for many people is the number of directions it can take.

Why are they asking about me?

What will they be interested in when I give an answer? Is it my personal life? Work life?

How do I best give them the answers that they seek without giving them too much unnecessary information?

Let’s start with finding out why they ask this question.

For starters, this question is good for building rapport. It gets you talking and they will be able to understand your personality from your responses. However, that’s not what they are really after.

Here’s what they really want to know:

  • What are some of the things that are important to you as a person? This question can be used to make you reveal your personality. What do you value most? Is it your job? Your certificates? Your family? It can also be used to check know if you really understood the job posting. They can use your answer to find out what you think is the most important duty of the ideal candidate.
  • How do you view yourself as a professional? The question asked is about you, so you will give your best impression of yourself. Your answer will show how much you believe in yourself and your skills.
  • How do you hope to provide value to the company? Understanding the role you are interviewing for is important, but it’s also important to have an idea of how your skills and experience fit the requirements. Your interviewer hopes to hear that you have a clear picture of what you can do to help the company move forward.
  • Can you think on your feet and come up with an answer to a casual unstructured question? As much as your answer is important, the way you answer it also tells a lot about how you will handle pressure in your new role. They don’t want someone who will freak out in the presence of a customer when put on the spotlight. So your interviewer will also be watching out for any non-verbal signs of tension.
  • What is more important to you? The company’s needs or your needs. Just like it is in anything else in life everybody cares about their own needs. Your interviewer will use your answer to find out if you have placed your own needs above the company’s needs. I know, that’s the natural thing to do. However, putting your needs aside for a while could prove to be beneficial to you. You should answer with both personal and professional information about yourself that shows that you have understood what the company does and its core values.
  • What first impression do you make on people you’ve just met? Once you are hired, you will be a representative of the company whenever you meet an outsider on the line of duty. With this in mind, the interviewer will be examining the impression that you have on new people. Are you confident and articulate or do you look confused and out of place?
  • What kind of thinker and talker are you? Unstructured questions like this one provoke you to think. You interviewer will be checking if you are the kind of person who recites information like a robot or someone who conveys passion in their speech. Giving a word for word recitation of sections on your resume will not be beneficial to you.

MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN ANSWERING THIS QUESTION

Before we look at what your answer should contain and how to package it, let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes made by job seekers when answering this question.

  • Reciting your resume and cover letter. Your interviewer already has a copy of these documents. Although you should highlight some of your relevant past accomplishments, it should not be a regurgitation of your resume or cover letter. In fact, it’s best if you can talk about relevant accomplishments that are not on your resume.
  • Telling your life story. Your friends will be happy to hear about your childhood and all the happy times and challenges you faced growing up, but your interview panel won’t. The main aim of the interview is to fill a position so telling them about how growing up in the countryside was fun for you. Save that for later once you are hired.
  • Answering with a question. When asked to talk about yourself, don’t answer with a question. “Well, what would you like to know?” That answer shows that you are not prepared for the interview and that does not help you professionally.
  • Giving a long monologue about yourself. Although they have asked you to talk about yourself, it’s important that you are brief and concise. Have two or three things that you are going to share and keep it short. A minute is fine but don’t go beyond two minutes. Give them a chance to pick whatever part interests them and ask follow-up questions down the line. Don’t feel like you have to give all the information about yourself in this one answer.
  • Giving a one-line answer. As much as you need to be brief, you also need to give useful information. Giving a one-liner shows that you are arrogant and not interested in the job. So avoid answers like “I am John Doe, a graphic designer looking for a company that I can grow with”
  • Talking about your political and religious views. As much as we like to embrace everyone with their differences, some subjects will only raise concerns about your work ethic. So unless you are explicitly asked to share your views about a controversial subject (which is very unlikely), steer clear. 

INFORMATION YOUR ANSWER SHOULD HAVE

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s take a look at the right way of answering this question.

There’s one very important thing that you should remember when preparing the answer that you will give for this question in the interview:

Nobody cares about you. It’s all about them.

Put yourself in their shoes. What are their most pressing needs at that moment? They want to find out enough about you to decide if you are the best candidate for the open position. They obviously have expectations and if you have read the job positing carefully, you should have a good idea of who they want.

In most cases, since you applied and received an invitation for an interview, and they turned down hundreds of applications, they already want to like you. Your only duty at this point is to confirm that they were right to invite you for that interview.

How do you do this?

Keep reading.

The following questions will help you identify the things that you should include in your answer.

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST RELEVANT ACHIEVEMENTS?

Take some time to list down some of your past achievements. Think back from the time you started working. You can even list any major achievements that you had in college or high school if they are relevant to the job.

For example, if you took home the math trophy for two years in a row in high school, that’s a good achievement to list if the job is a numbers job like marketing or accounting.

You can show this list to a friend to make sure that you don’t miss any.

Once you have all of them listed down, pick one achievement that is relevant to the job you are applying for. Let’s assume that you are applying for a sales manager job and you have been the top salesman at your company for the last six months. That achievement is relevant because it tells them that you have perfected the sales process so you have what it takes to guide others as they try to get there.

Now that we have a relevant achievement, let’s move to the next question.

WHAT DOES THE COMPANY FIND VALUABLE?

You will need to do some digging for this one.

Go to the company website and read the content there. Pay close attention to the vision and mission page. Take a look at some of the press releases there to get an idea of any new projects they are working on.

You can also look at the company’s pages on social websites to get a feel of what the company values most. Find a way of weaving this into your answer. Here’s an example:

Ashley is applying for a Marketing Manager position at ABC Inc. After checking the company website, she finds that ABC values efficiency. Here’s what she can say when asked to introduce herself:

“Currently, I work as a marketing coordinator at XYZ Marketing Agency and my duties include evaluation of all our marketing campaigns to make sure that we are getting the best value for every penny spent. Previously, I was in charge of managing social media marketing campaigns for our clients before I was promoted after doubling the ROI on all my cases in less than a month. Although I enjoy the work I do with different clients at XYZ, I’d love the chance to dig deeper and work with one specific company, which is why I’m very excited about this opportunity at ABC Inc.”

This example shows that Ashley is passionate about marketing, experienced, qualified and as crazy about efficiency as ABC Inc. is. She has mentioned a past achievement and showed how she can deliver value to the company.

The answer also gives the interviewers’ the chance to ask follow-up questions if they require more information about her past while staying relevant to the job she’s applying for.

PACKAGING THE ANSWER

With all the things that you need to say in your answer, it can be quite challenging to know how to say it in an interview.

Worry not.

We have a simple formula that you can use to package all the important details in your answer and present it naturally to your interviewers for the best effect. Here it goes:

Start with what you are doing currently. Talk about your current role and some of the duties that you are tasked with. This will show your interviewers that you can be trusted with responsibility.

Next, talk about your past roles. You can use this chance to highlight an achievement that you made in a previous role and earn some admiration from them. You can also use the opportunity to show that you are experienced in the position and that you have delivered in the past so you can deliver in future.

Finally, finish with talking about your hopes for the future. Needless to say, you should be sure to include the position you are interviewing for and talk about how it is in line with your personal goals. This is the chance to paint a picture of you delivering value to the company in this position. Show your excitement to make a positive move in your career while at the same time making it clear that you will be valuable to the company.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THIS QUESTION

The key to having an easy time preparing for this question can be summarized in the following four simple steps:

  1. Focus. Dig deep and identify traits that you would like to highlight in your answer. They should be things that paint you in good light. It could be your graduating with honors, your experience or your skills. What would you like the interviewer to remember about you when they are discussing the interviewees? For Ashley in our example above, she had a proven track record and relevant marketing experience.
  2. Stick to your script. In the heat of the interview, you might get ideas and get the temptation to wing it. This might cause you to say something that you have not carefully thought through and it could leave you on the spot.
  3. Do not lie. Don’t be too keen on impressing to the extent on cooking abilities that you don’t have.
  4. Practice. Once you know what you want to say, take some time to practice it in front of the mirror. You can even have a friend or roommate pretend to be the interviewer and play out different scenarios until you are confident about your statement. Don’t memorize the words, but make sure that you know the things that you are going to highlight.

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