In all my years of attending interviews (not a lot of years), the only question I dread answering, outside of “why should we employ you“, is “tell me about yourself“. The reason is, there is really no right answer to it. It’s frustrating trying to decipher what the interviewer really wants. You know you can’t start sharing your personal history like, “I grew up in the village“, or “I’m the first child in a family of five” and so on.
Another thing you can’t do when hit with the “tell me about yourself” question is to start reciting your qualifications. That’s not necessary as your CV is already with them. True, the interviewer wants to get to know you, but at that point, they are only focused on figuring out if you’re the right person for the job.
So, what do you do?
One thing I learnt from a close friend is to see the question as an opportunity to set the tone of the interview. The question allows you to emphasize the points you really want your potential employer to know about you. In order to provide a very intelligent response, it is pertinent to think of these three questions:
For the interviewer, it’s an easy way to start the conversation. His goal is to find out if you’re qualified for the job. The question is to get you talking about yourself so that it is easy for the interviewer to determine if you are worth his time or not. That is why, in most interviews, the question is usually the first to be asked, and this sets the tone for the interview. You do not want to create a wrong impression by fumbling your answers.
An ideal response should compel the interviewer to ask you more questions and include parts of your past, present, and future. An interesting response can encourage the interviewer to explore your application further.
A good interview candidate always prepares for an interview. You know that there is a high probability you will be asked this question, so why go to an interview unprepared. Research thousands of interview questions, review your CV and your cover letter, and refine your answers until they are perfect and precise. It might be a good idea to write out your response to this question in advance, and practice beforehand.
Do not be in a hurry to answer the any question, and at the same time, do not hesitate. The biggest mistake you could make is pausing or fumbling at the onset of your answer. This demonstrates a lack of self-awareness and self-esteem. Focus on the job description and try to respond with only relevant information. Avoid a dissertation on your personal life. Try to keep your response under one minute—which is enough time for you to respond and will also show the interviewer that your answer is well thought out and articulate.
You know your strengths and weaknesses. List the strengths that are important to this job you’ve applied for. Highlight the skills and expertise you have acquired from your other jobs that make you the best person for this job. Avoid going through all the jobs you’ve ever held, even if they are relevant to this one (you do not want the interviewer to sleep off).
Don’t go too in-depth or ramble about your thesis paper or course list. Begin your statement with your education and explain how the abilities and knowledge you garnered can be leveraged to successfully satisfy the job requirements. Expand on major projects that you worked on and mention leadership roles within the extracurricular activities that carried out while in school. If you don’t meet the educational requirements but have experience that shows you can do the job, then start there. Whatever you do, don’t lie about your education.
Most employers are looking for candidates that are interested in a long-term career. So, it is in your best interest to demonstrate that you want to build a stable career. Mention forward thinking goals that the company can help you achieve.
To conclude, state why you think your qualifications are a perfect fit for the job. Do not forget to include how much you would like this opportunity as it offers you challenge and excitement.
Looking back, I can now see why I did not get the job at my very first interview after Law School. It’s so hilarious. I was asked the “tell me about yourself” question, and I went,
“I’m humble, hardworking, a goal-getter. I always want to achieve whatever goals I set for myself. I try to apply myself to tasks, and I’m also a team player“. That’s not all. “I put in my best at all times. I always give 110% to any task that I’m given blah blah blah“.
Well, I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t failed that interview. Silver lining.
To be honest, the most difficult part about job hunting is getting to that first interview to be given an opportunity to speak. Once given that opportunity, your goal is to sell yourself. After all, an interview is really just a long sales pitch. The best way to answer this question is to get the interviewer to see you not as a potential candidate but as a future employee.
What other interview questions do you detest? Which ones have made you laugh out loud when you remember your response?