Interview Questions: how to answer “Tell me about yourself”

By: Robert Gaines

This is quite possibly the one question most likely to set a few nerves on edge.

It’s always a challenge to answer, yet it’s a question that will almost inevitably crop up in every interview you go to, so it makes sense to be prepared for it.

“Tell me about yourself” is often used right at the beginning of an interview. It can seem a little like a ‘lazy’ question to ask, but it’s actually a very useful question for employers. It gives them the opportunity to gain an understanding of how you view yourself and how you communicate – and, most importantly, get a sense of how you might fit into the role for which you’re being interviewed and the company culture. It’s very definitely not an open invitation to tell your life story, discuss your spouse or children, or become enthusiastic about your hobbies.

Don’t dread it!

Yes, it’s a question designed for the employer’s benefit, but it also gives you some power too, putting you in the driving seat and allowing you to influence how the interview will proceed from this point and the follow-up questions you’ll be asked.

The important thing is to do your homework before the interview - understand the job description and match up your skills accordingly. Come up with a simple statement about yourself that relates to the position and the type of person the employer is looking for. You can then give edited highlights of your career to date – not a tedious blow-by-blow account – making sure that everything you say is demonstrating why you are right for the job. Give the interviewer(s) a good idea of the benefits of employing you - hard evidence of significant achievements is always good – £X of sales over six months and X% increase in profit will speak much more loudly than a generic list of skills that many other candidates will also possess.

Don’t worry about not giving much detail at this stage. Be concise and focused – if what you’re saying is of interest, the interviewer will pick up on it and ask for more information later in the interview. It therefore makes sense that you concentrate on the points that you want to discuss. If there are parts of your career you prefer not to linger over, you can simply leave them out.

Practice makes perfect

Avoid working to a script – you may want to tailor your answer according to the job anyway. Your personality needs to come across and, if you’re trying to remember what to say word for word, it won’t feel natural. Practise what you want to say before the interview, get friends or family to listen, or do it in front of a mirror, so that you become comfortable and relaxed about what you’re saying – and confident!

It’s not easy, and lots of people do find it difficult to talk about themselves, but this seemingly innocuous question is your opportunity to sell yourself and get the job you want, so it’s well worth the effort of being prepared.

Read our Interview Questions Factsheet for more advice

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