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“So, tell us about yourself?”- What to say, when and how

When it comes to a job interview, you will probably have to answer a version of the age-old question, “So, tell us about yourself.” This simple interview question can fill many people full of dread, and constantly ask themselves “how much shall I tell them and about what?” Interviewers seem to love asking this question for lots of different reasons. Perhaps as a nice easy question to put you at ease so you can introduce yourself for a few minutes. The interview question can also help them with the assessment process of your communication skills, your career story, why you want the job and how your achievements fit the role. Your answers will help them to start the decision-making process of whether or not to shortlist you for the job.

So we know the question is likely to come at some point in the interview. Many people will tell you to keep it short and concise. Whereas others may tell you to just go for it and tell them all about your career regardless of the time taken. As with most things, the right answer is somewhere in the middle.

Short and sweet or a bit more?

Now I am sure you have heard the phrase less is more. Something I don’t necessarily subscribe to all the time. Though in terms of the ideal length of the reply to this question, it is all about creating a well-constructed answer for when the question comes. An answer that showcases you, your career and what you will bring to the role. Clearly then the answer to the “tell us about yourself” or “introduce yourself” is going to need a little more than your age, rank & serial number. That said, no one will agree that a long rambling response will serve you well as a candidate in an interview.

Interviewers will be looking for more information than you can feasibly articulate in under a minute. If your answer is too short i.e. less than 2-3 minutes, then the interviewer might think you simply don’t care or just don’t have much to say. Or conversely just very nervous. So thinking through your answer before you settle down in your seat is by far the best strategy.

To give yourself room to know when to deliver a longer answer that will introduce you and will help you to get to grips with the question. To help you along the way, the following four points will help you deliver a killer reply to the “tell us about yourself?” question.

1 Time to tell your career story

Recruiters and interviewers will ask this question because they want to get a good understanding about whether your skills, strengths, competencies and accomplishments align with the job you are being interviewed for. They will also want to understand how well you performed in your previous roles. Mainly because they can start to assess the potential impact you could make within their business or organisation.

The clearest way to communicate how well you did in your previous jobs, is to take the time to tell them one or two key achievements for each of your roles. Ideally, achievements that convey key skills etc that apply to the job you are being interviewed for. As mentioned earlier, this is very difficult to do in under a minute. So try to aim for perhaps a 3-4 minute well-rehearsed and well-paced answer. One that demonstrates firstly, you have understood the question and secondly, how you fit and your key skills, strengths, talents and experience can bring value to the role. So make sure you have done your homework about the job and organisation. 

2 Your interview drivers and motivators

An interviewer will want to understand what you have achieved in your career so far. However, they will also want to know what motivates and drove you to perform well and make those career choices. Your CV will no doubt outline what you have achieved, hence the reason you have the interview. Now you have the opportunity to explain yourself, your key career drivers and motivators behind those achievements. Might be worth checking out the good old STAR model, to help you identify those key situations, tasks, actions and results to showcase your career accomplishments. Helps with a framework to answer the question.

For each role you have described and highlighted in your CV, you will need time to explain the goals and reasons behind those role choices and career transitions along the way. At the end of your answer, you want the interviewer to clearly understand your motivations & drivers for the role you are applying for.

3 Taking control of the interview

Another reason interviewers start with this question, is that they need a reminder of who you are. In the ideal world, the interviewer will have thoroughly reviewed your CV and prepared a full list of questions in advance of the interview. However, recruiters usually spend just a few seconds looking at your CV. In some cases, they may not have been the person creating the shortlist for the interviews.

So when you answer this question, take the time to share a clear narrative of your experiences, roles, and achievements you want the interviewer to remember from the start. Tell the interviewer how you are a good fit for the role, add value, share the organisational values and mission and how this role is important to your career development. This will help them shape follow-up questions focused on those exact experiences you want them to remember.

4 Time to stand up and be counted

Most, if not all, candidates will be able to give a one-minute answer to the “tell me about yourself” question I am sure. Experienced interviewers & recruiters will understand this and have heard it countless times. They are also aware that most candidates will be unable to deliver a longer response that holds a listener’s attention. Needless to say, this is why many candidates tend to opt for a shorter reply. So a good interviewer will also know that only the most prepared candidates will choose the harder approach of a longer answer and endeavour to deliver it well.

Remember you have the choice about answering the “tell us about yourself” question. You could view the question as a friendly introduction to settle your nerves with a quick one-minute response. Although, you might want to take the opportunity to stand out from the rest of the candidates lined up for the job with a longer more focussed response. What will help you is the clarity of mind to realise its not solely the time you allot to the question. Moreover, it’s about how you can construct a thoughtful answer that the interviewer will want to hear.

To recap –

  1. Start to answer the question with important facts about yourself & your career successes. Talk about your achievements, what motivates and drives your career and why you are the right fit for this role.

  2. Your competencies, strengths and performance outcomes can frame the “tell us about yourself” answer. They will demonstrate how effective you can be in this new role.

  3. Use the 4 stages above as they help you give the perfect answer at the correct length.

  4. You can introduce yourself by clearly referencing the job’s essentials and desirable elements and how you can add real improvements to the role. Learn them by reading the job & person specification carefully and researching the company’s mission and values.

Lastly………….

I hope by now you can see that, what seems at the outset, to be a very simple interview question to answer, is not necessarily as straight forward as it seems. Granted it may have been over thought and over complicated on my part. As this question is principally asking you about what you are the expert on i.e. yourself.

That aside, in an interview, this simple question can help the interviewer start to understand all the reasons to start take you as a serious candidate for the role. Being clear about your fit and the skills, strengths, competencies, knowledge and experience you bring to the role. All this is a vital scene-setter for the interview and the interviewers.

Therefore, learning how to control the interview and to showcase your main attributes with a well constructed informative and authentic answer, that will no doubt help you be remembered. After all, you are in a sprint to the line for this job against all the other candidates for the role. So if you can gain any advantage in the race by telling the interviewer about you well, can only benefit you and your career.

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