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“Tell me about yourself” – The four words that often cause candidates to freeze up at the start of an interview.
Hiring managers will often kick off with this question in order to set a conversational tone and to gain a general overview of the candidate to help inform the direction of the interview. But such a broad question can be very difficult to answer on the spot. That’s why it’s vital to prepare a structured answer ahead of time.
As an interview opener, the interviewer is looking to get a sense of who you are and give you the opportunity to highlight your experience to date before diving in with more specific questions related to your resume and the role you’ve applied for. So, what should you look to include in your answer?
A useful formula for approaching this question is to ensure you are covering your past, present, and future professional endeavours.
Now you’ve got the formula, here’s our top five tips on how to successfully craft an answer.
Your response to “tell me about yourself” should change depending on the role and company you are applying for. Carefully comb the job description, company website, and social media before crafting your answer. This will help you to deduce which parts of your career history you should highlight, which accomplishments to pull out, and the right tone of voice to fit the company culture. For example, you should generally adopt a much more casual and personality-driven tone at an interview for a start-up marketing agency than at a Big Five accounting firm.
This is just the start of the interview, so there’s no need to perform a long monologue about your life to date. Instead, use this opportunity to highlight the most glittering parts of your career and educational history, pulling out examples that are especially relevant to the role.
Professionalism is key in an interview, and gives the hiring manager insight into who you are as a professional. So while you’ll want to get your personality across, be mindful not to overstep any boundaries. If you were laid off from a previous role, or aren’t the biggest fan of a former employer, for example, now’s not the time to mention it. First impressions matter, and putting a positive spin on your career history – while remaining truthful – is a tried and tested part of the interview process. You don’t want to be remembered as the candidate who spent 10 minutes complaining about their former manager.
While the purpose of an interview is to find the right candidate for the job from a skillset perspective, interviewers are also looking for the right person for the job and so they’ll also be looking at whether you are the right fit alongside existing colleagues, will be professional and easy to work with, and are able to tackle any social or people-facing aspects of the role.
The hiring manager will likely have sat through numerous interviews for the role, so it’s important to not only demonstrate your suitability for the role but also inject some personality into your answers to provide a glimpse into the person behind the professional and what you can bring to the team outside of your skills and expertise.
The interviewer won’t always phrase the question “tell me about yourself”. They may say, “could you share a bit of your professional journey?” or “how would you describe yourself?” or myriad other phrasings. But essentially, they are all the same question and the signal for you to launch into your pre-prepared answer.
My name is [name] and I’ve worked in [industry] for [X] years, starting out as a [first industry job role], moving through [other relevant roles] and working my way to [current job title] at [company]. I always wanted to work in [industry] because [reason]. My current role involves [brief outline of highlights of job]. I’m particularly strong on [skill Y] and [skill Z] and was recently praised for [accomplishment]. I hope to one day work my way up to [dream position] because I enjoy [reason], and the skills and knowledge I’d gain from working at an innovative company like [company] at the cutting edge of [industry] would be invaluable in doing so. I love that [company] prioritises [priority] and [values], and should I be successful I would be keen to grow with the company.
Looking for some more interview tips and tricks? Check out our resources for answering tough interview questions and interview techniques.
Or, if you’re ready to make a career move, start your journey with a Page Personnel job search.
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