INTERVIEW TIPS - The ultimate guide to nailing the ‘tell me about yourself’ interview question
You’ve just sat down for an interview and you’re feeling a little nervous. After a few quick exchanges of small talk, it’s time to get down to business. You’re trying to recall all those notes you prepared, hoping your background noise stays quiet for the duration of your Zoom, and going over the buzzwords you want to avoid. You know what’s coming, yet it always catches you by surprise: the dreaded first question.
“So,” your interviewer says, “tell me about yourself.”
TAKE YOUR TIME
You might come across some career “experts” who suggest sticking to answers as short as 30 seconds because hiring managers will lose interest. While unorganized rambling will do you no good, hiring managers are likely looking for more information than you can express in under a minute. Managers ask questions like “tell me about yourself” because they are looking to see whether your professional skills align with the role you’re interviewing for.
It’s not just what you’ve done in your career, but why you made those decisions. The average hiring manager spends just seven seconds looking at your résumé, so this is your chance to show them who you are. When you answer this question, you want to share a clear narrative of the experiences, roles, and achievements. Use this time as an opportunity to road-map your interviewer’s takeaways so that you will stand out against other candidates.
THINK LIKE A LEADER
If you answer this first interview question hesitantly, chances are it’ll be harder to impress upon your interviewers that you’re a strong leader. Kicking off your interview with the intention of motivating and inspiring your potential employers can help you land the job. Try taking a less “informational” approach and more of an “inspirational” one. Show that you’ve done your research on the company and don’t be afraid to move the conversation toward your own visionary thinking.
Be vocal and animated. Speak energetically. Act enthusiastically and eager to be there. A smile and good posture could just be the extra note of confidence to show recruiters your commitment to the job.
When hiring managers inevitably look at you and say, “tell me about yourself,” think how your answer can be the start of a deeper conversation, leading to a stronger relationship with your interviewer. According to public speaking coach and founder of Spokesmith Eileen Smith, you should keep three themes in mind when crafting your response: Engage your audience, establish credibility, and tell your interviewers why they should care.
GET AWAY FROM YOUR RÉSUMÉ
As much as your previous leadership experience matters, employers are also looking for a well-rounded candidate. Don’t discount the last thing you read or watched as material for the “tell me about yourself” question. This can be a way to demonstrate your interests beyond the workplace and to show hiring managers that you have opinions that you’re not afraid to express.
DON’T NARRATE YOUR LIFE STORY
“Tell me about yourself” is a great opportunity to share what you’re like beyond your one-page résumé, but be careful about spilling your emotions and dishing out your entire life trajectory.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR SIMILAR QUESTIONS
Sometimes, this question can be disguised as another. Anne Marie Squeo, CEO and founder of Proof Point Communications, always starts job interviews with “tell me your story.” She reminds interviewees that she and other hiring managers have already read a candidate’s résumé, so there’s no need to rehash it. Yet, 85% of candidates seem caught off guard by the question and fall back on reciting their résumés anyway. Or fall prey to the urge to tell the interviewers everything they’ve done since high school.
DON’T DISCOUNT YOUR ATHLETIC EXPERIENCE
Think about the challenges you encountered in a game and apply it to the workplace. Did you attend daily, grueling sport practices? In the workplace, former athletes will know how to work through tough times, handle a busy schedule, and always keep a goal in mind.
Remember all the sacrifices you made for your team, too. You gave up personal time to perfect that pass or that trick shot. You understand that if one team member is struggling, success will be impossible. These are all critical characteristics to bring to a workplace.
Remember that employers interview many candidates, and if your answers sound the same as theirs, you don’t have a chance of sticking out. Using generic buzzwords will only increase the chance you’ll sound like a corporate drone, so try not to use too much jargon.
The same idea applies to generic accolades about yourself. Avoid inauthentic statements that interviewers can see right through like, “I’m a perfectionist,” “I get along with everyone,” and “this is a dream job for me.”
PLAN AHEAD AND WRITE IT DOWN
If you’re reading this now, you’re probably expecting that your interviewer will look at you and say, “Tell me about yourself.” You might think very few candidates actually write out what they’re going to say but, without a script, you could be caught flailing in an interview. And with a question as common as this one, you should be prepared.
FRAME IT AS A STORY
If you’re stuck while you’re trying to write out possible responses, Humphrey suggests framing it as a story. In a recent Fast Company story, she wrote,
The simplest way of thinking about flow is to build your story chronologically—with a past, present, and future. If you are in a job interview for an HR position and are asked why you want the job, you might develop this flow:
Past: “I’ve always loved people, and that’s why I’m passionate about this job in HR. I was outgoing and extrovertish, even when young.”
Present: “In my last two HR positions, I have developed programs that make employees feel safe and engaged. One program I am particularly proud of is our Mental Health offering.”
Future: “This job is my dream job, and as an HR professional, I know I would be a great fit for this role.”
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Even the best narrative won’t work if you sound like a robot. Whether you practice in front of a mirror or with a handful of trusted friends, you should go into an interview having already rehearsed what you plan to say. In an interview, you’re expected to balance sounding confident without coming across as a know-it-all. Striking this balance ahead of time will not only calm your nerves in the moment, but it will ensure that interviewers can relate to your personality.
BE YOURSELF. THIS IS JUST A CONVERSATION
When the interview time finally rolls around, take the moment seriously without wigging yourself out. Test the waters and follow the lead of your interviewer. Do they want to make small talk? Go with it. Are they probing for how much you know about the company? Go for it. The broadness of “tell me about yourself” should serve as an asset. You can talk about yourself while emphasizing the skills you will bring to the job. Skills are now the most important factor employers use when hiring, so don’t waste this opportunity to share your strengths.
Show hiring managers how you’re professional and experienced beyond your career accomplishments. In doing so, you’ll both tell interviewers who you are and why you’re the qualified choice.
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