Interview Basics: “Tell Me About Yourself”

Interviews are stressful. And they’re stressful because they’re a kind of performance, with only one chance to do your best. Example: How you answer the very first question in an interview often sets the tone for the whole interview. Give a prepared, focused answer to the first question, and you’re more at ease. Give an unfocused or unprepared answer, and you’re automatically more nervous, and may have trouble concentrating on the next question.

“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most dreaded of all interview questions. Here’s why people are so nervous about it:

  • It’s an open-ended question, with no direction given on how to answer it.
  • How do you know what the interviewer wants to hear, or how long you should talk?
  •  “Tell me about yourself” is usually asked right at the start of the interview, often the very first question.
  • It’s crucial for a great interview that you give a clear, professional, comfortable answer to this question.

So how do you answer it? Well, here’s a simple format to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question in a way that puts your best foot forward, and sets you up for a successful interview.

First off, it’s important to remember that interviews are all about preparation. Knowing basic information like job duties and company profile are important, of course. But knowing more about the interview process itself will pay off in a big way.

For example, did you know your answers should be shorter for a 30 minute interview than a 60 minute interview? Or that an HR person will be looking for different qualities than a site supervisor? Knowing details such as these helps you create the best ‘Tell me about yourself’ response possible.

TIP: Asking how long an interview will be and who will be conducting it are perfectly acceptable questions to ask when the interview is being scheduled. Plus, it shows that you care enough to be prepared, which makes a very good impression.

Next, when writing your answer, try structuring it as having 3 separate-but-related sections, or ‘chunks’:

  1. The first chunk is where you describe your qualifications / work habits
  2. The second chunk is where you share your area of expertise
  3. The last chunk is something about who you are outside of work.

How much of your answer should you use on each ‘chunk’? Well, a good rule-of-thumb is:

  • 50% on qualifications and work habits,
  • 40% on your area of expertise,
  • 10% on your outside-of-work interests.

So, for a typical 60 second response, the first 30 seconds would be discussing your (job relevant) experience, certifications, work habits and skills. The next 20 seconds would be your area of expertise (and a quick example of the results you’ve achieved with it). The last 10 seconds could be devoted to you mentioning your family, or any charitable / professional associations you may belong to.

TIP: Avoid simply repeating your resume or cover letter in your answer. That’s boring. Instead, touch on your 2 or 3 most impressive qualifications, and then talk a little bit about who you are at work. What kind of employee are you? How do you contribute to the team? Show them you’re a good fit for their organization.

This simple format is a good way to get started, but don’t let it hold you back. “Tell me about yourself” is a chance for you to tell the interviewer why you are the best person for that job. With preparation and practice, you’ll find this question one of the easy ones to answer.

FINAL TIPS:

  • How long should your answer be? A guideline is 45-75 seconds, depending on the job you’re interviewing for. But however long it is, make sure it’s polished, and delivered with a clear voice and a smile.
  • Don’t think you have an area of expertise? Think again. Everyone’s got at least one area of their job that they enjoy more and do better than others. Make sure you mention that ‘superpower’ on your resume too!
  • Practice practice practice! If you get nervous in interviews (and who doesn’t?), practicing your answers will greatly reduce your nerves. Don’t leave it to chance, professionals practice and prepare before every interview.

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