So, you arrive at the interview and find yourself in the hot seat. All eyes are upon you and the first question the interviewer asks is:
‘Tell me about yourself’
Ok, you think, nice open question, easy one, so you launch into a great rambling ten-minute speech giving all the details about your life from the day you were born including your hobbies and the name of your cat.
You feel very pleased with yourself, but chances are with that one answer, you may have lost the job. The interviewer would possibly see you as incompetent, unable to summarise and lacking focus and direction.
In my experience as an interview coach many interviewees answer this question poorly when in fact, I view this as a great opportunity for you to really sell yourself and make a powerful first impression. So, what goes wrong?
If the question comes early in the interview, the interviewer wants to hear about your career to date and what you will bring to the job. Indeed, it may be that they have not had an opportunity to read your CV and want you to help summarise it for them.
Tell Me About Yourself: How a Great Answer Wins Jobs
This interview question is so commonly asked because it is a great question. Asking this at the start allows the candidate to talk about something familiar i.e., themselves, so they start to feel at ease. It also gives the interviewer lots of information in a very short space of time.
It is also used to see how well a candidate can communicate. It is a test to see if you can summarise, can structure and can self-analyse so that you can impart the most important information in a short space of time.
For you as the candidate even though it might seem difficult this too is a great question. Get it right and it could get you the job. It’s a real selling opportunity and I suggest you spend time getting your answer perfect.
Why Employers Ask Tell Me About Yourself
Here are the key reasons why they ask this question.
1. Nice interview opener
They must start somewhere, and this is a great open question which is a perfect way to start the interview. You cannot answer with a simple yes or no, you must start talking.
2. Gets you relaxed
The tell me about yourself interview question is a great ice breaker because it helps you to relax and start the conversation. It is a question you should have well practiced and you should be able to deliver it smoothly and successfully. A good start can help with those common interview nerves.
3. They haven’t read your CV or Portfolio
It is possible they have not had time to review your CV, portfolio or application form in detail and this question invites you to give them a summary. As you will see below even if they ask for a CV walk through don’t do it. This is a real selling opportunity and this lesson will help you get your answer perfect.
4. They want to know you better
Crucially they want an early indication if you are right for the role or not. Your answer will give them lots of interviewer at a high level; say the right things and they will want to hear more – they will be invested and energised.
5. It is a test of your communication skills
It is also used to see how well you well you can communicate. They will want to hear a concise, powerful answer which is relevant to the role and which clearly demonstrates who you are and what you bring to the role.
Give a poor answer to this vital question and you risk the panel switching off for the rest of the interview having already made their decision to reject you.
How to Answer Tell Me About Yourself
It is worth spending time creating a powerful answer and then practicing until you can deliver it smoothly and confidently. It is vitally important as a good answer can set a positive tone for the rest of the interview while a poor one can be very difficult to recover from.
Most importantly your answer must have proper structure and a smooth flow that the interviewer can easily follow. They need to hear your key messages and you should deliver them succinctly and ideally within 2-3 minutes. The content needs to be strong, relevant and to the point.
To help structure your answer I recommend either the PASS or the ICAAN+ formula. Here is a summary of how the latter works.
Answer the Tell Me About Yourself question with ICAAN+ formula
We recommend that you keep your answer to about 2 minutes. You should include your name, a personal profile, your key strengths, a recent achievement, your most recent responsibilities and where you want to go next in your career.
What is required here is a short commercial about yourself, which you should prepare in advance and to help structure your answer use the ICAAN+ formula: Introduction, Career, Achievements, Attributes and Skills, Next, + Personal.
INTRODUCTION: Include your name, profession, qualifications, current job title or specialism, number of years’ experience, organisations you worked for.
CAREER: Expand on your career to date including Current Role, Previous Roles, Responsibilities and Experience.
ACHIEVEMENTS: Having outlined your career path, now is the point to highlight your key achievements. Mention a maximum of three each and ensure these are most RELEVANT to the role you are seeking.
ATTRIBUTES: Mention the core skills and strengths you are bringing. Review the job description and the list of competencies required and your answer should include some of these making sure you use the same terminology as used in the Job Description.
NEXT: There is a single sentence summarising why you have applied and how you see this as the ideal next stage in your career.
+ PERSONAL: If time allows and depending on the role and level, feel free to add a single sentence imparting some piece of personal information, perhaps mentioning interests or hobbies. It is a softer and more personable way to close the question and especially useful if it is relevant to the role.
3 Mistakes to Avoid When Answering Tell Me About Yourself
With our coaching clients we typically see 3 mistakes:
1. Lack of focus: The key error, too much talking. Senior candidates especially find it difficult to summarise a great career to date. They tend to start at the beginning and work through and this is a no-no. Focus, keep it recent and ensure the key points you talk about are relevant to the role in question.
2. Underselling yourself: Avoid the temptation to shy away from blowing your own trumpet. If you have done something great, you must tell them about it. While it’s on your CV they may not see it and may not ask you about it. A little pushiness is good, sell yourself, show them what you have done, what you have achieved in past roles or tasks inside and outside of work.
3. Too much personal detail: This is all about what you can bring to the job so avoid including details of your personal life, hobbies and interests. Unless something is relevant to the job don’t use valuable time including it.
Tell me About Yourself Sample Answer
Here is a section of a sample answer for a candidate being interviewed for a Finance Manager role:
Good morning, my name is James Smith*. I am a qualified accountant with six years post qualified experience gained within the pharmaceutical industry. (Expand)
Previously I worked with Glaxo Smith Klein* as an assistant accountant and I have spent the past 4 years working with Pfizer* where my most recent role is Project Accountant…(Expand)
I successfully manage the day-to-day function of the project finance function including managing 8 staff both qualified and part time…(Expand)
Three key achievements I would like to mention are firstly I recently implemented a new financial management system saving the company over £500,000 in year one…(Expand and talk through a minimum of 3 key achievements.)
I bring a range of key strengths for example, I have a reputation for my attention to detail and delivering major projects within strict deadlines and I enjoy working with complex financial data…(Expand and one again we recommend 3 core strengths relevant to the role with evidence.)
Going forward I will be working in a challenging finance role within this industry and your organisation is one I have targeted specifically. I met your team at your conference recently and I very much admired the work ethic and how your values fit perfectly with mine. In addition, it is a perfect career move for me because… (expand)
As you will see in this answer, we have addressed the capability, commitment and compatibility criteria and highlighted above are the key phrases that help make this a good answer.
Please note this is a shortened version of an answer which just highlights the key elements to include in your answer – you can access full versions in the InterviewGold online training. You will need to expand accordingly to really sell yourself and your skills.
At the end, you could ask ‘Are there any specific areas you would like me to talk about further?’
Even without this prompt we would expect the interviewer to probe further exploring the ‘new financial management system’, what other projects the candidate was involved in at Pfizer, what they did at Glaxosmithkline and why do they think they could settle down at this organisation.
*Some of the details of this answer have been changed for confidentiality reasons.
Learn about the PASS formula and get detailed sample answers from InterviewGold
Answering the tell me about yourself interview question perfectly is a skill, but one you can learn. It is like an elevator pitch and you should have it clear, polished and smooth.
With our online interview training program you will learn all about the PASS formula plus get sample answers to this and the questions they will ask. It is tailored to your job too, log in select your sector and then select your role and get accurate questions and answers plus tons of top advice.