“So, tell us about yourself.”
It is a question interviewers frequently ask, and one that can really throw people off guard. What could they possibly want to know? What kind of answer are they looking for? These are the things we’ll be shedding some light on in this installment of our “The Interview Process” series.
We are here to make this question less daunting for job seekers. Here is everything you need to know about handling the ‘tell me about yourself’ question.
Different interviewers may want to reword this questions in a way that is less explicit. An interviewer could ask, “What should I know about you?” or even “What would you like me to know about you?”
These may sound like different questions, but they are trying to get to the exact same point: the interviewer is asking about you, and how you are the right fit for their position. There is a reason interviewers use this type of question. They want you to move away from the rehearsed answers, and prove to them you can think on your feet. Interviewers may also ask this question to get a better understanding of what you deem to be important strengths, skills, and attributes.
What to tell
Interviewers are not the type of people who want to hear your life story. Rather, this is the time to sell yourself as the ideal candidate for the role they are trying to fill.
The person at the interviewing table wants you to demonstrate that you understand which skills, abilities, and experiences are most relevant to the position you are applying for. This means you must research the company well, think of the ways you can contribute to it, and tell the interviewer your professional story without sounding like you are regurgitating your cover letter or CV.
A good way of relating your professional skills and experience, and showing you have done your homework, is to break your story into the present, the past, and the future. Start telling the interviewer where you are right now, then briefly explain the previous roles you have had and the relevant skills you acquired. Finally, move on to explain how those experiences will help you when you are working for the interviewer’s company.
Remember to focus on career achievements that are most relevant to the position the interviewer is trying to fill. Use anecdotes to your advantage, in a way that highlights the skills in your resume. Highlight some of your key successes in your current and previous roles, and show them that you are eager to take the opportunity to grow professionally. It’s all about showing the hiring manager more about you in a professional setting, and how you would be an asset to their company.
Preparation is key
Sounding natural when answering this type of question requires a bit of preparation. An unplanned answer to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question will only show the interviewer that you have not taken the time to think about the job opportunity. Meanwhile, a badly framed answer can leave all kinds of nasty impressions.
If you fail to effectively communicate how you and your unique experiences make you the best candidate for the position, interviewers may think of you as any of the following:
- Under or over-qualified
- Lacking appropriate communication skills
- Someone who doesn’t understand the company or the position
- Someone who could be a risk to the company
Not a good look, is it?
That is why you need to prepare, prepare, prepare. Before the day of the interview, make sure to tick the following boxes:
- Research the company thoroughly.
- Identify all your best skills, expertise, and the value you would bring to the company – write them in a list if it helps.
- Practice your answers so you can sound natural and confident, right from the very beginning.
For those changing careers or lacking experience
Don’t fret if you don’t have all the skills and experience required for the job. You wouldn’t have been called for an interview if the hiring manager didn’t think you have potential.
So, the same rules apply. Tell them about your present and previous experiences, and highlight the skills you bring to the table. If you have just finished studying, tell them about your academic achievements, athletic feats, and volunteer work. Relate to the interviewer the different times you have successfully worked as part of a team: interviewers are impressed by that.
And the same applies for those who are changing careers. Use your unique experiences to demonstrate valuable skills like leadership, collaboration (teamwork), and any professional success story that you believe could show the interviewer you are able to step up to the challenge.
Here’s the bottom line: sell your skills to the interviewer, and impress them with how well you can position your experience with the job role they are trying to fill. It may take a little bit of preparation, but if you do it well, your first impression will be right on point.