It’s the opening question to many interviews, designed to get the ball rolling and give you the opportunity to provide an overview of yourself as a candidate, yet the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question provokes fear in even the most confident interviewees. How do you answer it? Here are some tips:
- It’s more specific than it seems. Candidates are sometimes bewildered by the seemingly limitless scope of this question. What shall I tell them about myself? Where do I start? But since this is an interview, the panel is going to want a structured response which gives some insight into your overall suitability for the position. So make your answer specific and relevant. Think about the person specification: what aspects of your work experience, academic experience, or overall life experience make you suited to the position and choose the most relevant examples.
- Think structure. The ‘Tell me about yourself’ question is just like any other interview question in the sense that it needs a clear structure, even if the need for this is less immediately obvious. You could start with what you’re currently studying and your academic experience, followed by some brief ‘highlights’ from your work experience, followed by what motivates you, your overall career goals and objectives, and perhaps even what caused you to apply for this position. This can be a balancing act, as you don’t want to veer too far into ‘what motivates you’ or ‘what are your career goals’, since these questions could also come up later in the interview. The best strategy is to have an idea of the answers you would give to all of these questions to ensure that they don’t overlap too much.
- Think length. Although the scope of this question is broader than other questions, the answer you give should not be longer (typically 90 seconds to 2 minutes). Avoid spending too long discussing your personal life (although this can be beneficial if you choose specific, relevant examples) or ‘zooming in’ too much on one experience or quality, as this answer should be about providing an overview and you will probably have to talk in depth about particular experiences later in the interview.
As with any interview question, the best method is to practice – so make some notes or a mindmap for how you would answer this question. Once you’ve run over the structure, you can ask the question to yourself or get a friend to ask you and practice giving your answer. Better still, you can book a practice interview (if you have an interview scheduled) for more in-depth practice. You can also find more interview resources, including our online interview simulator, on our QMPlus page.