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Tell Me About Yourself

It’s almost a guaranteed certainty…

Like day follows night; like October follows September; like the ferocious craving for chocolate that follows me whenever I try any type of exercise (*hangs head in disgrace), one of the first questions you’re probably going to get asked in an interview is, “Tell me about yourself.”

Regardless of your industry, your experience level, and job type it’s highly likely you’ll be asked this question.

As interviewers we love this question, thinking that it will put candidates at ease, help break the ice and build rapport to ensure our interviews are more like having coffee with a friend. Everyone wants a great interview experience, right?

The reality is that as an interviewee, what seems like such a simple question can really make your heart go into overdrive, your body sweat and your mind go to mush. The pressure of the occasion can sometimes make you forget what makes you, you! 

It’s one of the most dreaded interview questions. What, exactly, should you share? Not just to build rapport with your interviewer, but to show that you’re a great fit for the job and an all-round terrific individual?

Remember, this is not an invitation to recite your entire life story, like how you won that swimming certificate aged 7 or that you’re the nicest of all your brothers and sisters (honestly, these are answers I have heard in response to this interview question.) Nor is this question the opportunity for you to go line by line, item by item through your CV. Instead, it’s probably your first and best chance to demonstrate to your interviewer why you’re the right candidate for the job.

So what do you say and where do you start with your response?

Never fear, as an HR professional who has interviewed literally thousands of candidates I’m about to share with you a super-simple formula that will help you answer this question with ease. Without your answer seeming over rehearsed and robotic.

A formula I like to recommend to candidates (and one I like to experience when I’m an interviewer) is the Present-Past-Future formula.

First start with the present—where you are right now in your work or studies. Then, move into the past—not too far back (remember to keep a lid on those childhood achievements), just talk a little bit about the experiences you’ve had and the skills you gained either in previous jobs or as part of your studies. Finally, finish with the future—why you’re really excited about this particular opportunity or working for this employer. Again, link your future to skills and experiences you’d like to develop further rather than how they are such a great employer. Flattery will get you nowhere!

Remember throughout your answer to focus on the experiences and skills that relate to the job description and those that are going to be most relevant to the interviewer when they’re thinking about this particular position and their company. Try to link your response to the research you’ve previously undertaken about the organisation, it’s values, the team and role you are applying for.

In your response, try to relax a little and keep your response relevant, truthful, short and steer clear of using shock or humour. Highlight some of the items from your CV, in particular your strengths, proudest achievements and relevant qualifications. Your interviewer will want you to bring your CV to life and get to know a little more about you.


So how long should your answer be? How long should you talk for?

I’d recommend your answer to this question is about a minute long (try talking about yourself for 1 minute, it’s far longer that you think), certainly don’t talk for more than 2 minutes.  A great interview is a dialogue, not a monologue. Keep it concise and give your interviewer the chance to ask further questions if they want to.

Why not practice how you might approach and answer this question either with a friend (ask for their feedback) or practice in front of the mirror. Maybe even record your answer on your mobile and play it back – does it make sense and highlight your relevant skills and experience? Does it flow/sound natural? Is there a present, past and future element?

Finally, your interviewer will expect you to be a little nervous so if this is the first question asked at your interview a couple of stumbles or stutters is absolutely fine. They will totally understand. Just take a deep breath and dive right on in.

If you’re looking for more career advice and support come on over and join the Conquer Your Career Quest private Facebook group – click here to join. I’d love to see you there.

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