How To Answer The “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question

Joe McDermott | How To Answer
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 your 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 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 on 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.

Why Interviewers Ask – Tell Me About Yourself

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 the candidate even though this might seem difficult this too is a great question. Get it right and it could get you the job. Its a real selling opportunity and I suggest you spend time to get your answer perfect. Use the guide below but remember its about you.

How to Answer the Tell Me About Yourself question

We recommend that you keep your answer to no less than 30 seconds and no longer than 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.

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.

It is a great selling opportunity so focus on your achievements highlighting the results you have delivered. This is proof of your ability and will set the scene for a much more productive interview.

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)

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)

Going forward I will be working in a challenging finance role within this industry and your organisation is one in which I believe I could make a real contribution.”

As you will see in this answer we have addressed the Capability, Commitment and Cultural Fit 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 will need to expand accordingly to really sell yourself and your skills.

At the end, the interviewee 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 Glaxo Smith Klein 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

Get Expert Help With Answering any Question

So, how would you have answered the above question or indeed some of the more awkward questions such as ‘What are your weaknesses?‘ or ‘Why should we hire you instead of the other candidates?

And how confident do you feel about answering Competency Based or Behavioural questions, both very commonly used at present?

You know you can learn how to answer any interview questions like a professional and InterviewGold the leading online interview skills course will teach you how to do just that quickly and easily.

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