It sounds like such a simple question but one that so many people have difficulty with. Even Matt Damon stumbled when Robin Williams asked him the same question in ‘Good Will Hunting’;
“You can tell me everything about Michaelango, Picasso and Mozart but you cannot tell me one thing about you”
Are you one of those people who worry over a question like this or do you have the perfect answer? Last year, I was watching the Apprentice and one of the participant’s was asked this very question by Alan Sugar. He proceeded to mumble and stumble his way towards an answer which confused “Sir Alan” and led to a further grilling which caused nervousness, pressure and beads of sweat to fall from the young man’s forehead.
Two Pronged Answer
You must remember that in an interview situation the client is looking for two things; whether you can do the job and if you have a personality they click with. Especially in a first round interview that generally lasts only 50 minutes, people tend to ramble without any focus and can easily lose confidence as a result. However, this is a question that you can be easily prepared for.
The best way to approach this question is to give a brief overview of your career to date; a quick snapshot of who you are from two angles 1) Your Work experience and 2) Your personal attributes. You can actually start answering that question by saying something like:
“Firstly I’ll tell you about my work experience up to now and then a bit about me as a person”
Starting like this means that the interviewer is aware of exactly how you’re going to structure your answer and it puts them in a state of calm that you’re not going to ramble.
1) Work Experience
You must always remember that the client is interviewing you for this job and there is a specific time limit on how long he can listen to your answers. Before you start talking you need to ask yourself whether your interviewer really wants to know about your paperboy round or tales of your hippy youth. In all honesty they don’t and because most people get thrown by this question they will start telling ridiculous stories to make the interviewer laugh or to make the experience more informal. This is a trapdoor that you will inevitably fall through. Stay away from the,
“Well apart from being a male model in my previous life I think I am a great Sales Manager who can sell ice to the Eskimos”
These types of answers are too general and will make you sound pompous. Alternatively, you want to give a quick overview by saying something like,
“I have X years’ experience altogether as a… and my passion for X started when I did my degree in X…”
Interviewers want to see that you- depending on the position- have some form of education and by conveying your academic side initially you can ease yourself into the interview. Don’t be afraid to express a “soft sell” if you can. i.e. “I graduated with a First Class Honours or a Distinction…” because these are facts said in an assured and non-cocky way which show you previously excelled.
When moving on to speak about your work experience shape your answer around the description of the job highlighting areas that they may be interested in hearing about. The student job you had on your J1 summer in the States or the Waitress job you had in your local cafe won’t be that relevant. For example, if the job involves Business Development and hitting sales targets mention this in your answers, as well as, giving the interviewer a brief overview of the company and your team.
“In organisation X…, that is a leading FMCG supplier, I worked on the Sales team. My role was three fold; Business Development, account management and presenting to clients.”
When you give an answer with this type of structure it helps to anchor you so you don’t ramble and ensures the interviewer knows exactly where you’re going with it. Once you give your key skills in the role you should elaborate on them but make sure your answers are short, concise and clear. You need to continue adding structure to your sentences throughout your work experience so mention; COMPANY, YEARS THERE, JOB TITLE and SKILLS GAINED for each job. You are giving an overview of yourself not an in-depth profile of each role. If the interviewer wants to focus on a particular role or aspect of that position, they can do so once you have finished giving your overview. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself because nobody else will.
2) Personal Attributes
After you have finished giving the overview of your work experience it is good to show that you enjoy life too and have other interests. You shouldn’t go into too much detail here and definitely do not say anything embarrassing i.e. that you’re a naturalist and walk around nude in the summer. Seriously though, let them know if you follow sport or, more beneficial, if you play sport. An active bodymeans an active mind and it also shows that you can work in a team so mention if you’re involved in your local GAA, Football, Tennis or Golf club. Also, reading and listening to music shows you’re creative. Although some companies are only interested in what you can do on the job it is still important to show you have a work/life balance.
One funny story I heard was when someone spoke passionately about their local Football team only for the interviewer to be the Chairmen of an opposition club nearby. Fortunately both had a laugh about it rather than any dagger looks being exchanged or any unnecessary tension being created but at the same time its good to show you have personal interests. You may have the exact skillset for the position but at the end of the day, people buy people so showing who you are is important also. If you don’t ‘click’ with the interviewer will then you have to ask yourself could I work in this organisation? in that department?
These personal attributes can be an opportunity to show off your personality and, you never know, the interviewer may be an avid Liverpool fan like myself!- and the job could already be yours! The important thing about the “Tell me about yourself question” is not to overanalyse it. Keep it concise and structured because this approach will lead to a more productive interview and both you and the interviewer can continue a lot more relaxed!
How have you answered this particular question before?