Experts reveal their top tips for how to answer that tricky interview question
- Many panic when being asked about themselves at a job interview
- Some may reveal too much while others might clam up
- We tackle how to handle it in our latest interview cheat sheet series
Every week, thousands of eager job hunters undertake interviews that come with a number of hurdles and worries.
One part of a job grilling usually entails the interviewer asking: ‘tell me about yourself.’
This is an extremely broad question and can leave many panicking.
Should you give them your life story, tell them about how you have the world’s most incredible cat and how your last holiday in Spain was magical?
Or should you not give too much away, in case you bore the pants off the interviewer?
In the latest in the This is Money interview cheat sheet series, we take a look at how to tackle this element of a job grilling to give you the best chances of bagging a job.
It is a question that very commonly crops up and it’s vital to prepare for it without rehearsing your answer in a parrot fashion.
This is Money reveals our top tips alongside James Innes, who offers CV services and has written a number of books on all aspects of the employment search and Pam Lindsay-Dunn, regional managing director at Hays.
YOUR LIFE STORY IS NOT NEEDED
Pam Lindsay-Dunn says: ‘This question can on the surface seem relatively easy to answer, however providing a strong response is actually quite difficult.
‘It’s likely to be one of the first questions your interviewer asks, and if you haven’t thought about what you will say it could knock your confidence for the rest of the interview.
‘The easiest way to avoid this is to make sure your answer is structured, ensuring you’ve covered all the points you need to and can keep your interviewer engaged.
‘Although the question itself is quite broad the interviewer really wants you to be able to summarise your relevant educational and professional background, key skills and expertise you have which match to the opportunity, what you’re looking for in your next role and why it appealed to you.
‘Keep in mind the answer to this question is also what your interviewer is likely to base their first impression of you on.
‘Remember to deliver your response with confidence and make eye contact where possible.
‘Don’t be afraid to take in your CV or some preparation notes into the interview with you as a useful prompt if you get stuck.’
LIKELY TO BE BREATHING SPACE FOR INTERVIEWER
James Innes, says: ‘This is an extremely popular question – and is just the kind an interviewer might throw at you at the beginning of an interview so as to get the ball rolling.
‘They are quite simply placing you centre stage and hoping you will open up to them.
‘Or alternatively, they’re hopelessly overworked and haven’t yet had time to read your CV – and asking you this question will buy them some breathing space.
‘This is a very broad question – and you might consequently be at a loss as to the approach you should take to answering it.
‘They’re not asking for an autobiography.
‘Focus on discussing major selling points that feature on your CV or application form – selling points which are directly relevant to the job for which you are applying.
‘Don’t start telling them your whole life history.
‘Besides talking about your career, make sure you have something to say about your education and qualifications – and even your hobbies and interests.
‘It’s vital to practise your answer for this in advance – and to try to limit your answer to one minute. If you can’t successfully ‘pitch’ yourself in under a minute then you’re going to risk losing the interviewer’s attention.
‘How have you described yourself in the “Professional Profile” at the top of your CV?Much of this material can be recycled to help you draft your answer to this question.’
USE ACTION VERBS
Pam says: ‘Try and keep each area as concise as you can and make sure all your answers are relevant.
‘A top tip would be to think about the language you are using and if possible – use action verbs to showcase your skills such as implemented, increased, built, crafted etc.
‘Using this kind of language highlights your successes quickly such as “I implemented a new process which resulted in a 20 per cent decrease in the number of customer queries.”‘
LEAVE DRAMAS AT THE DOOR
James says: ‘Whilst interviewers do want you to open up to them and paint a picture of yourself, you’re not on the psychiatrist’s couch here.
‘Keep it professional and avoid getting too personal.’
Pam adds: ‘Try and avoid telling the interviewer anything they don’t need to hear.
‘For example, if you moved from a previous job due to family circumstances this isn’t relevant to your experience and why you are interested in this role.’
BE PREPARED AND SOUND NATURAL
James says: ‘The biggest no-no is not having prepared for it thoroughly.
‘It’s such a common question. You need to have pretty much perfected your answer.
‘And the second biggest no-no is reeling off your answer like you’re a parrot.
‘You may have planned and prepared, but you don’t want it to sound like you’re just reciting from memory. It’s very important to sound natural.’
SHOULD YOU PLAY IT SAFE?
Pam says: ‘Depending on the industry of the role you are applying for there is the opportunity with this question to be creative in terms of how you summarise your skills and experience.
‘For example, if you are applying for a role within social media you could illustrate this question with a social media graphic or a quick snapshot of a campaign idea based on your experience.
‘Demonstrating that you’ve really thought about how to answer the question will play in your favour.’
James adds: ‘Should you play it relatively straight and bland – or are you more likely to be chosen if you’re a little bit out there?’
‘It all depends on the role and on the employer.
‘Generally, I would advise playing it relatively safe.’
STICK TO INTERESTS THAT MATCH THE JOB
Pam says: ‘Whilst it’s important for you to avoid answering the question too personally, if your interviewer asks you to tell them something interesting about yourself that isn’t on your CV they will be hoping to hear about your hobbies or interests to help them build an image of what kind of person you are.
Avoid answering the question with generic answers such as “socialising” and instead try and tell a story about why you started a hobby.
‘For example, “I joined a netball team to not only improve my fitness and reconnect with friends but to also boost my teamwork skills.”‘
‘Again, it’s advised to prepare an answer to this question before it’s asked.’