How to
answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question in an interview

Regardless of your industry, your experience level and your job type, some interview questions are almost guaranteed to come up. At the top of this list is the classic “Tell me about yourself…”

question is almost always asked first, straight right after some chit chat
about traffic or the weather. Since it’s often the first real question to be
asked in an interview, it’s your big chance to make a first impression with a
well-rehearsed answer.

View this question
is an opportunity, an opening for you to set the tone and emphasise the points
that you most want your potential employer to know about you. It’s an
opportunity to create a bold impression with your strongest selling points. Don’t
waste the opportunity by diving into a nervous stream of consciousness,
rehashing your resume or expressing your love for scrapbooking.

This is also an
opportunity to show that you can handle tough questions in a pressurised
situation. Be aware of your body language, your posture, eye contact, hand
gestures and your overall demeanour. Sometime the wording of your answers is
less important than creating the impression that you’d be able to stand in
front of the Board and successfully present the PowerPoint which will determine
the success or otherwise of the project.

Interviewer’s view point

When interviewers ask you, “Tell
me about yourself”, what are they trying to achieve? Well, for the
interviewer, it’s an easy and open-ended way to start the conversation, to
break the ice, to allow your nerves to settle, and to assess your ability to
respond concisely with an answer you’ve had time to prepare. Remember that in
most cases the interviewer really wants to like you. Their life will be easier
if they can find a great candidate quickly. Help them like you!

and Don’ts for answering “Tell Me About Yourself”

Don’t rehash your resume in fine detail — Many candidates nervously
respond by launching into a recitation of their resume from the very beginning.
That can turn into a very long monologue that starts with their oldest and
least relevant experience. By the time you get to the good stuff, your
interviewer has zoned out and is thinking about the cricket score.

important to prepare a brief summary of the high points of each of your past
positions. Make sure you emphasise the points that are relevant to the role
you’re applying for.

if the interviewer specifically asks you to “walk him
through your resume,”
 don’t take the suggestion too literally.
You can still lead with your elevator pitch and then an overview of your most
recent position. Leave plenty of opportunities for the interviewer to jump in
and engage with you throughout the rest of the interview.

Find the balance between confidence and bragging – Try not to make
the mistake of being too modest, nor too arrogant. Without bragging, provide a
response that demonstrates your confidence and communicates your qualifications.
Remember that by simply being in the interview you’re already ahead of the majority
of applicants whose CV’s were discarded. You’re there because you deserve to be

comfortable with “selling” yourself is a tricky art, but don’t be too humble. Competition
for any good job is fierce. Don’t rely on the interviewer to see past your
humble exterior and figure out how great you are.

you take time to prepare, you can find a way to present yourself to full
advantage while staying true to your personality. For modest types, I recommend
focusing on factual statements.

don’t have to brag, don’t go with “I’m the best salesperson in the
 Instead, you can say “I led my
division in sales for the last three years and was able to bring in 50% of overall
new business during that time.”

Don’t ramble. If, after you’ve been talking for a while, you think you might
be rambling it means you probably are. Nerves are normal and they affect us you’re
your response should be ideally less than a minute, and no more than 2 minutes.

won’t be able to fit all of your great qualities and resume highlights into 2
minutes, so you’ll have be selective in what you include. Emphasise your past
experiences that directly relate to the responsibilities of the role you’re
applying for.

could reinforce the number of years of experience in a particular industry or
area of specialisation. You might also highlight special training and technical
skills here. Focus on the qualifications in the job description and how you
meet and exceed the requirements.

can wrap up your answer by indicating why you are looking for a new challenge
and why you feel this role is the best next step.

The “Tell
Me About Yourself” formula

There are three
components to answering this question:

1. Who
You Are
 — Your first sentence should be an introduction to who
you are professionally, an overview statement that shows off your strengths and
gives a little sense of your personality too. This is not easy to do gracefully
on the fly. It pays to prepare a bit in advance.

  • Good: “I’m an innovative Finance Manager with 12
    years of experience managing all aspects of the Finance function in a variety
    of industries. My roles range from preparing and presenting month-end data, to
    analysing expenses to develop cost-saving initiatives.”
  • Bad: “Well, I grew up in South Africa. As a
    child, I originally wanted to be a game ranger, then later I became interested
    in playing cricket. I excelled in the games from early on, placing first in my
    fourth-grade Simon Says competition. Funny story about that…”

2.  Expertise Highlights —
Don’t assume that the interviewer has closely read your CV and knows your
qualifications. Use your elevator pitch to briefly highlight 2-4 points that
you think make you stand out. Make sure you only speak about tasks you’ve done
that will be relevant in the eyes of your potential future employer.

  • Good: “I have spent the last six years honing my
    skills as a Financial Controller for a global retail brand, where I have won
    several performance awards and been promoted twice. I love managing teams and
    solving problems.”
  • Bad: “My first job was as an accountant preparing
    tax returns for people much richer than me. I learned a great deal in that role
    that served me well over the next 16 years. At the time, I wasn’t sure about my
    career path, so I next took a position selling cupcakes at markets. It only
    lasted for six months, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Especially the chocolate

3. Why
You’re Here
 — End by telling them you want the position and why. Be concise
and positive, don’t be too candid, uncertain, or negative.

  • Good: “Although I love my current role, I feel I’m
    now ready for a more challenging assignment and this position really excites
  • Bad: “Because of the company’s financial problems
    and my boss’s personal issues (you know she’s going through a messy divorce),
    I’m worried about my job’s stability and decided to start looking for new

Remember that you
will have time later to walk through your resume in greater detail and fill in
any gaps that you don’t cover in this answer. Don’t try to squeeze in too much
information or your interviewer will start to tune out, make sure you keep
their attention with a concise and relevant response.

A good interview is
a dialogue not a monologue. Keep your responses concise and give your
interviewer the chance to dive in and ask questions later.

Practicing your
answer over and over will be the key to success, use the mirror and a stopwatch
as tools for success.