That first interview question, how to prepare.

Tell me about yourself – Alex Greener, Talent Acquisition Partner

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This week we are bringing you some advice on how to answer the famous interview question we sometimes get asked at the beginning of an interview; “Tell Me About Yourself.”

It is a question that can make or break your initial conversation with the interviewer. Without the perfect answer you may find yourself tongue-tied, or even worse, rambling.  By learning how to answer this question, you will set the stage for an engaging and enjoyable interview for both you and the hiring manager.

You might have been to a few job interviews and noticed a common thread. Every interviewer starts with the “tell me about yourself,” question. Ironically, the opening question is not a question at all. It’s more like a terrifying statement for most interviewees. It’s an obvious place to start, but a not-so-obvious question to answer. However, it is a question you can use to your advantage.

If you struggle to promote yourself in a job interview, you’ll find the tips in this article helpful. The more you prepare for your interviews, the more in control you will be. That’s why by preparing a strategic answer to this guaranteed question is important for setting you up for success for the remainder of your interview.

The underlying strategy to shaping your response to this question depends on the same underlying strategy for writing your CV: tailoring. If you prepare an answer to this question tailored to the hiring manager’s needs, you are on the right path to performing well throughout the interview.

When the interviewer asks this question, what they are really asking is, “what have you done that is relevant to the business problem I am trying to solve?” Sometimes you’ll hear this question in the extended form, “walk me through your CV.”  The manager is looking to identify whether or not your past performance and future career goals make you a fit for the job opening. If you are attempting to move into a new industry or career path, it will be even more critical to make sure you get this answer right.

Timing is the first trick to answering this question. First, limit yourself to one minute. By being aware of your timing, you will avoid rambling. It’s the rambling that tends to knock people off track and lose the hiring manager’s interest. Instead, you need to be very concise in your answer. Limiting your answer to one minute will help to ensure you are concise and on track.

Being selective about the information you share is the second recommendation to answering this question. While timing is important, you also want to be sure you are providing enough relevant information to pique the hiring manager’s interest. You want to come across as the ideal candidate, therefore, you need to tie your “about you” into the hiring manager’s needs.

You also need to answer in a way that feels natural and conversational with the hiring manager. Make sure your answer highlights your best experience as relevant to the job description and prior company research.

How to prepare your answer for this question:

Have the job description and your company research in mind as you answer so that you are tying your past career history with your next move into the company to show how it makes sense. This is usually summarised in the first couple paragraphs of the job description as a role summary.

What to include in your answer:

  • Provide a high-level summary of your career, selecting the most relevant roles and organisations.
  • End your answer with what you’re hoping to achieve in your next role and why it makes sense in terms of your short and long-term career goals. This indicates to the hiring manager that you’re in it for the long haul.
  • You’ll want to be sure that the career goals included in your answer are indeed possible with the employer, otherwise, they might not see a long-term fit.
  • Try to avoid the temptation to walk through your entire career history or read from your CV.

In summary:

Keep your answer short, succinct, relatable to the role and the hiring manager’s needs. If they want to know more they’ll ask you to expand.

Structural guidance for you to use:

  • Sum up your professional profile noting your best relevant attributes and strengths.
  • Provide recent proof through storytelling, e.g.: “I was responsible for financial management in my role as finance manager where I was responsible for a £5 million budget annually.
  • Speak about the results you produced in your story: “This resulted in demonstrable cost savings in the last financial year by reducing overhead costs and expenditure by 33%”.
  • Show your passion and relevant selling points in your future career goals and enthusiasm, e.g.: “I love managing multiple projects and stakeholders at pace and I feel I’m ready for the next step in my career path; one that will allow me to work with an industry leader and continue to grow in this sector.”
  • Once you’ve answered this question, in this manner, you will be off to a great start in the interview. These will be great talking points to spark more conversation and allow you to ease into the remainder of the interview.

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