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Tell me about yourself: How to answer one of the most dreaded interview questions
If I asked you right now to tell them about yourself, how would you answer? This is your chance to make a solid first impression – so be careful!
It’s a common question in recruitment, but a difficult one to answer – how can you possibly encapsulate all your experience and skills into just one answer?
The good news is it’s fairly simple to answer well. You just need a structured response that is specific, relevant and impressive. Let me break that down for you.
Be specific about your achievements
Recruiters are always looking for candidates to be specific in their job interviews. Rather than you listing your skills, we want to hear concrete examples of your achievements that help us to form a picture of what you can really do.
We also want to hear data and results to back up your achievements, which make it easy to show how you made a difference in your last place of work. Instead of saying “I have solid project management skills”, use examples from your previous jobs, such as “I led a project that increased sales by X” or “I saved the company $Z”.
Use examples where you’ll have plenty to talk about, as the recruiter is likely to ask you follow-up questions based on your answer. Make it easy for yourself by choosing subjects that you have a lot of experience in and that you enjoy speaking about.
You may also be able to draw on these examples in competency-based questions later on.
Make your response relevant
When selecting which examples to talk about, choose the parts of your career that most closely align with the role you are interviewing for. Do your research into the role and what its main requirements are. Think about the key skills you will need to display in the role, and which skills you've developed and used in the past that will show that you are the right person for the job.
Use examples that will help the recruiter to ask you follow-up questions. Don’t forget that a job interview is a two-way street, and sometimes a poor interviewer can leave you scrambling. If you’re asked a more general question and you aren’t sure what the interviewer wants to hear, you can ask for clarification. Something as simple as, “Would you like me to start from the beginning of my career and talk you through it, or provide a few key highlights?” will do the trick and ensure you answer the question in line with the interviewer’s expectations.
Know your audience and tailor your responses to their questions accordingly. Be conscious of who you’re meeting with and why. Research them beforehand to get an idea of their background and where they fit within the organisation. You should also learn how to build rapport with recruiters.
Give short, impressive answers
Keep your answer short, punchy and upbeat. A lot of candidates start rambling when they’re asked to introduce themselves, which not only fails to impress the interviewer but also wastes valuable time. Recruiters don't want to hear your life story; they want a snapshot into your previous professional life. You’ve got complete control to provide a focused answer, highlighting your greatest achievements.
If you spend ten minutes giving an overly detailed rundown of your career history, there will be less time to cover more relevant areas related to the role. Two or three minutes of talking about your main achievements should suffice. Direct the recruiter to your most impressive achievements and make sure that everything you talk about showcases your key skills.
Structure your response
How you present your response is often as important as what you’re saying. You need to engage your interviewer, because if they’re not engaged at this early stage of the interview it will be difficult to recover from that point.
Focus on having a good structure and presenting a short, concise snapshot of your background. Generally, I advise candidates to break down the structure in to three parts:
3. Opportunity for follow-up
An answer can look something like this:
(Background) I have more than 25 years’ experience in retail, including roles at Company A, B and C. I specialise in visual merchandising, and as Regional VM Manager at Company A, I implemented a project that ultimately increased revenue by X% by standardising our in-store experience via store layout.
(Reasoning) I am looking for a role that allows greater flexibility and provides the opportunity to hone my skills in ecommerce. I am also really interested in area X, Y and Z that this position offers.
(Opportunity to follow up) Is there anything else I can tell you?
This is a simple and effective way to allow you to showcase your achievements and what brought you here today. It clearly highlights your experience and skills, along with why you’ve decided to apply for a new role. By asking a question to the recruiter at the end, it gives them a chance to ask you to expand on the areas they’re most interested in.
Practice makes perfect
It’s worth practising your introduction before the interview so that you can answer confidently and appear more relaxed. Ideally, you should appear calm and confident – rehearsing will help you present a smooth answer.
Once you have this framework sorted, you’ll be able to tailor it to meeting people outside of an interview setting, such as at a networking event. When meeting someone new, introductions can leave a lasting impression, and a short, punchy snapshot is a powerful tool to possess.For more practical interview tips, take a look at our career advice articles.
"Tell me about yourself" is the question that most often opens an interview and provides the interviewer with their first impression of you. When answering, make sure your response is:
• Specific, highlighting your key achievements
• Relevant to the job role
• Impressive and to-the-point
Structured – with a background, your reasoning and an opportunity for follow-up