No matter if you were applying for an internship, volunteer job, or full-time job, you probably have had to answer the question ‘tell me about yourself’. This question is greatly used by the interviewer to get to know you and break the ice in the first minutes of your interview. It is considered a tricky question in the world of job applications because some interviewers see it as the “make-or-break” question.
As with other interview questions, there are good and bad ways to answer this simple but inherently complex question. In this article, we will go through the Do’s and Don’ts of answering the fabled ‘tell me about yourself’ – and why it is so popular in interviews nowadays.
What you should do
1 – Be straightforward and concise
This is the moment for you to practice the “elevator pitch” about yourself. Craft a concise but powerful answer that touches on your accomplishments and strengths. The best way to structure your response when the interviewer asks ‘tell me about yourself’ is to divide it into three parts in this order. Your…
- And future
Start by explaining what you are doing now (your role, the scope of it, a recent accomplishment, or something that thoroughly explains your position). Talk about how you got to where you are and any other past experiences that would help you with this current interview. Finalize it with a brief explanation of what you’re looking to do next and why you’re interested in this particular position you’re interviewing for.
Remember: conciseness is key. The interviewer will pay attention to how you portray yourself and the details you do (or don’t mention), so they can have an idea of how you’d be in a business meeting or working with the team.
2 – Tailor your answer to the role and company you’re interviewing for
It won’t do you any good if you focus on your advertisement strengths for a finance job. Make sure you do your research on what the company is looking for so you can tailor it to what they want to hear.
Focus on the experiences that you believe will directly correlate to the job you’re interviewing for, and focus on your selling points so they know you are a good fit for the company.
Always start with the most important points of your answer first. You never know what can happen in the next minutes of the interview (you are interrupted, the meeting is cut short, something out of your control happened). Treat the minutes you have as the most valuable item in that interview.
3 – Keep it professional, but add some passion
Keeping the interview professional is more than just avoiding the topic of personal life and hobbies. It also means dressing up in the appropriate attire, maintaining good eye contact, a proper handshake (or just a greeting in the era of COVID-19), and the way you portray yourself as soon as you enter the room. First impression matters and can often color the rest of your interview.
However, professional doesn’t mean bland or impersonal. If you feel comfortable enough, this is a good way to keep the interview professional while also making it slightly more personal. Don’t be scared of talking about why you’re passionate about your work, or the company you’re interviewing for.
You’re not a machine, you’re human.
Keep the conversation professional but don’t shy away from showing your true passion to the interviewer. They will remember more those who are passionate about working than someone who doesn’t seem to mind who they’re working for. Infuse your passion to make sure you stand out from the pool of applicants you’re fighting against.
4 – Practice
As with every other interview question, you shouldn’t try to wait until the interview to scramble for an answer. Think through what you want to say, create a rough draft of your answer, and practice it until you’re satisfied with your response.
Practice with other people and ask for feedback on what you can improve or what you’re doing well. Practice by talking it to yourself in the mirror so you can see how you portray yourself while you speak.
Practicing will make your answer stronger and will help you look more confident when giving it. Treat it as a guide – know the points you want to hit on but don’t worry about following it letter by letter. Be fluid in your answer and make it so you’re not presenting a speech but rather having a conversation with the interviewer.
5 – Know your audience
Apart from researching the company you’re interviewing for, make sure you understand your interviewer. If you’re speaking to a recruiter who’s more focused on your technical skills, you can get more technical with what you’ve done so far. If the interviewer wants to know how you’d fit in the company, you may opt to focus on the bigger picture.
This topic ties immediately with topic #4: it will be hard to tailor to your audience if you just memorize your answer. Adapt your answer to whom you’re speaking to, and make it more specific to the role based on what you learn throughout the interview. Be an active listener and tie your answers to what you hear from the interviewer.
What you shouldn’t do
1 – Memorize one “boilerplate” answer and use it every time
Memorizing your answer to ‘tell me about yourself’ can make you sound impersonal. You should have an idea of what you want to talk about during your answer, but don’t treat it as a script. You should be able to answer this as if you were in a casual conversation with a friend.
Having an overly practiced answer to ‘tell me about yourself’ also shows you’re not interacting with the interviewer and tailoring your answer to the company’s needs.
2 – Keep it bland
You have to go against a pool of applicants to get this job. If you don’t stand out from your interview, your interviewer might not remember you – especially if he has a day full of interviews to go through. Make sure to keep the conversational professional, but show the interviewer what you have to bring to the company.
3 – Recite your resume
The interviewer will probably have your resume in hand, so you shouldn’t recite what you have on your resume. You want to add to what the interviewer is reading – this is the time for you to add your face to your resume. Add the passion, the charisma, and the driving force that a document can’t add.
4 – Ramble on
You want to make sure you’re not losing your interviewer mid-answer by rambling. Make sure to keep your answer as concise as possible, without adding any superfluous detail. If your interviewer wants to know more about any point you mention during your answer, he will ask about it.
The bottom line
Asking an interviewee the cliche ‘tell me about yourself’ is a known and widely used question in interviews. This question lets the interviewer ease into the actual interviewing, and it breaks the tension from the moment. It also can help lead the interview: your answer might lead to a chain effect of follow-up questions, making the interview flow more easily.
This question is easy to answer but difficult to perfect. There are tricks and tips for you to deliver the best possible answer to this famous question and get the job you’re applying for. The next time you get asked, ‘tell me about yourself’ — knock it out of the park!