Introduce yourself the right way in an interview.

It's that tricky, open-ended interview question that has become so common in interviews these days: 'Tell me about yourself'. It's not that the person on the other side of the table is looking for you to tell them about your knitting hobby, or that they want to know anything about your personal life. So what exactly are interviewers looking for?

To help you ace your next interview, we decided to go to the source ‒ professionals who conduct interviews themselves. We reached out and asked them to share what they see as the hallmarks of a great answer to the 'Tell me about yourself' question, and common pitfalls to avoid. Here is, in their words, exactly what HR managers look for (and don't want to see) in a great answer to the question. 

Fit your experience to the role

The goal of a good answer to the 'Tell me about yourself' question is to fully connect the skills and qualifications you have with the attributes that an interviewer is looking for. 'The question should really be “Why should we hire you?” because that's essentially what you want to know,' says James McDonagh, Director of EMEA at Nigel Frank International. 'Give a concise and focussed overview of why you feel you're suitable for the role', he says.

At the same time, make sure to personalise your answer and not just rehash the job description. 'It is easy to spot a rehearsed answer here. Quoting or rephrasing elements of the job description can easily be identified, questioning how genuine the overall answer and indeed interview is,' advises Adelle Desouza, founder of HireHigher.

Only share what's relevant

When interviewers ask you this question, they're looking for information about you in a professional context – and not much else. 'When I ask a candidate to tell me about themselves, I don't mean personally, and I'm not looking to hear about their family, kids or hobbies', shares Stacy Caprio, business coach at Stacy Caprio Inc. This is simply because personal information like this won't help an interviewer assess whether you are a good fit for the role they're seeking to fill.

Ellie-Paige Moore, Marketing Manager of Blinds Direct agrees: 'Having the interviewee talk about themselves on such a personal level that I know they love listening to jazz music is also something I'm not looking for.'

Do not recap your CV

The interviewer doesn't need you to give a chronological recap of your employment history – they most likely have your CV sitting on the desk right in front of them. 'The response that I'm not looking for is a recital of what's on their CV', Moore also says. 'At this stage I am trying to find out how enthusiastic they are of the job and how much they want it.'

One way to express enthusiasm for the company in an interview is to conduct deep research before you enter the interview room. Your knowledge about the company will shine through in your responses and show that you're taking this opportunity seriously.

Get specific

Don't shy away from the details on why you are a good fit for the role. Jason Lavis, Marketing Director of Natural Resource Professional Ltd. comments: 'Inadequate responses are generic or irrelevant to the job posting. If someone says that they're a team player or an enthusiastic worker, it's generic, everyone can say that. They're essential baseline attributes for most jobs.'

Get specific about the right things; stay focussed on the essentials of what the interviewer needs to know about you. 'I'm looking for a recent employment history, and why they've switched jobs and what they are passionate about work-wise', says Caprio. 'Anything that helps me figure out if they are a good fit for the current position is what I'm looking for, anything that is too vulnerable or personal is the opposite of what I'm looking for.'

Be the perfect candidate

To shape your response, a helpful thought exercise can be to imagine what attributes the perfect candidate for the role would have, and then match the skills and attributes you have with this ideal candidate. 'Before the interview, ask yourself, “What would the perfect candidate look like, and how can I demonstrate skills, attributes and experience that displays this?”' recommends Lavis. 'The goal is to tick relevant boxes in the interviewer's mind concerning the type of person that they want.'

Keep it organised

With such an open-ended interview question, it can be easy to get off-topic and let your answer drag on for too long. 'Interviewees that go off-topic or make jokes generally do not do well in this portion', shares Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack.

It's also important to have a general structure to your answer, which you should think about beforehand. 'Your thoughts must be well-organised, and must flow logically from point A to B to C', adds Ron Auerbach, MBA and author of “Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success”.

To conclude

When an interviewer inevitably asks you the 'Tell me about yourself' question, you don't want to be caught without an answer on hand. Practice makes perfect – this means thinking about the role in question, shaping the story you'd like to tell and even repeating your answer in the mirror a few times. Most of all, remember to keep it concise and relevant!

Before you can excel in an interview, your CV needs to make the right impression. Find out how your CV stacks up with a free CV critique.

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