“Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer asks as he makes notes, pauses, and looks up. “I uhhh…” (and your mind goes blank)
While seemingly easy, this question is ambiguous at best. And with reason. You see, the interviewer wants to get into the very reason you’re sitting in that chair in the first place.
But before they get to know your “why,” it’s important that you know their “why” first.
Why interviewers ask “tell me about yourself”
While interviewers ask this question because they have an opportunity to steer the direction of the interview, they also want to know what’s your secret sauce.
Ramit puts it this way, “Tell me why I should hire you over 30 other candidates.”
This is your opportunity to tell your story, and no, this is not where you pull out the, “I was born and raised in Kentucky.” Stop.
How to answer ‘tell me about yourself’ in 5 steps
Now that you understand why interviewers ask you to tell them about yourself despite having a copy of that $20-a-page resume, it’s easier to dig in.
Step 1: Do your research
Your job in answering this question starts long before the actual interview meeting takes place. It starts with a bit of research into both the role and the culture of the business that you’re hoping to join. If you really want to be prepared, do some research on the interviewer too. There is a lot to be learned from a LinkedIn profile or social media.
Step 2: Formulate an answer that will tick a few boxes
If an interviewer leads with “tell me about yourself,” you can tick a few boxes by choosing a few functions that you perform in your professional and private life that will support their brand. For instance, if you’re counting beans at a corporate bigwig and you also happen to be the treasurer of your kid’s soccer team, this might appeal to a firm looking for a financial manager.
Step 3: Show them that you’re relevant
Ever bump into an old high-school friend and he’s still wearing that same hairstyle, jeans, and long-shirt-under-short-shirt combo, but he’s complaining that he’s stuck in his career? You’re itching to tell him that’s because he’s still stuck in 1984.
Your interviewer feels the same when the most relevant contribution you have to this role happened a gazillion years ago. Instead, line up your story to include information that punches the heck out of the interview and showcases your experience, skills, abilities, and aptitude best for that particular role.
Step 4: Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes
As Ramit shows us, pitting the college kid against the salted MBA candidate doesn’t necessarily guarantee an ending in favor of the MBA candidate. We know this because Ramit has landed job offers from top companies such as Google and Intuit by using an interview strategy.
But it goes deeper than that. You still want this interviewer writing down a magic number at the end that will make it worth your while, don’t you?
So you do the only thing that will guarantee the interviewer to choke on that lukewarm cup of coffee. You hit him with The Briefcase Technique, where you reveal your secret weapon: problem-solving. Ramit explains the technique as identifying a problem the company might have, and how you can help them solve it.
Step 5: Be professional
While it might seem endearing to tell the interviewer about your viral video of some neighborhood brawl that took place last Sunday, it might not actually do you any good. In fact, unless you’re interviewing for a position that entails viral videos, this is almost certainly a no-go.
Instead, keep it professional and stay on topic, unless the interviewer expands questioning into more personal or fun topics. Even then, keep it clean.
“Tell me about yourself” might not be as straightforward as that
While this is a standard question that pops up in any interview, there are variants of the question.
- Tell me about your work experience?
- How do you see your current experience adding value to this role?
- Walk me through your time at your company
What’s important to know, is that all interviewers want the same thing. They want to know how your history and experience can add value to their team. Plus, they’re sussing out whether they actually like you.
Formulate your answers to suit the job position and interview style
Don’t punt Burger King when you’re applying at McDonald’s.
In the same vein, you’d want to highlight aspects of your work and life experience that will complement the role you’re applying for.
Similarly, it’s essential to read the interview. While you might just land the dream interviewer that encourages flow and openness, it’s also very possible to catch Chris on a Wednesday morning after Taco Tuesday. Keep it succinct and on topic.
A few winning “tell me about yourself” answers
- No problem! I’m the head burger flipper and have held that position for three years. My main job functions include quality control and timing to ensure the patties are perfect every time. Before this role, I was an animal rights activist for the rights of pet snails until the bill was passed. I’m looking to further my career by finishing my management diploma, which is why I applied for this position. I really like the opportunity for growth within your organization.
- Happy to! I’ve been an executive PA for the last two years, but find my strongest skill set is in event organizing. I’ve completed a few courses to perfect this aspect of my job. Your company has been a great help in arranging many of our corporate events, and I love working with your brand.
While it’s important that you showcase the best attributes to land that dream job, it helps to remember that this is your chance to interview your future employer.
Take notes and ask questions to ensure that you’re just as charmed by your potential future team as you’d want them to be with you.