How to answer ‘tell me about yourself’

It’s great news when you hear that you have got an interview but then the preparation starts and you need to be able to answer a multitude of questions; from motivational to competency and maybe even strengths based questions. But how about unstructured questions? Many employers start off their interviews with an unstructured question like ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ which if you haven’t thought about how to answer it could really throw you. Employers like to ask this sort of question as it can show quickly whether you are able to answer an unstructured question with relevant and engaging information and demonstrate that you have prepared well for the interview.

In order to prepare for this type of question, you’ll need to do your research on the company. Employers will be looking for evidence that you not only want to work for them and can do the job but that you will also fit into their team as well. Start with the job description for the role to see what they have asked for from their candidates as well as what they have said about themselves and think about why you applied in the first place. What was it you read which made you think that you not only could do the job but actually, really wanted to? You are also going to need to spend some time thinking about and understanding yourself. Use our online Moodle course to assess your skills, discover your strengths and find out what motivates you.

This is a common question and you have to remember that they are asking you this question for a reason, so do not be surprised and unprepared if it comes up! Or you may make one of these mistakes:

  • Simply recite your CV/work history – they have probably already seen this as part of your application. This is unlikely to add value to what they already know or show them more broadly who you are and what motivates you. So make sure you showing your motivations, interests and values.
  • Tell them all about your hobbies – you may think they have you CV/work history so they are looking for the more personal things, often they are but they still need you to be able to do the job, so showing relevant experience and skills will still be beneficial.
  • Tell them your entire life history – they are looking to employ you, not be your life partner! Interviews are often time limited and run back to back, so keep it focused and relevant on things that broadly relate YOU to the role and the organisation.
  • Tell them things as they come to your mind – do you plan and prepare effectively? Do you understand the requirements of the role? can you structure coherent arguments?  You will probably find Planning/organisation and communication skill on the person specification for the role, so start by showing them here in answering in a well thought out, confidently delivered answer

How can I answer this well, you ask? let us introduce you to a structure that can help you avoid the pitfalls and hit the right notes:

A note of caution. As with using any structure to answers in interviews, over rehearsing and/or not making clear links between the different elements of the structure can sometime mean that the answer appears forced and not authentic. As the question is about you authenticity is one of the factors they will be keeping an eye on, interviews are a conversation – not speeches at the Oscars.

The Structure:

  • Present – what are you doing at present? Your course of study, club/ societies/ volunteering / part time work – what are you enjoying about these? This will help show your motivations, values and interests. What skills are you employing to do them well, have you enjoyed using particular relevant skills?
  • Past – what experiences, situations, people have influenced your decisions on your present activities and career thinking (i.e. the job you are sitting there interviewing for)? This is a chance to cover other relevant experiences and skills.
  • Future – what do you see yourself doing in the future? Think about the type of work activities not just the job roles and titles, link how this has been influenced by your present and past. Remember that showing an understanding of the organisation and its structures in this answer will help show that you have thought through the “Why do you want to work here?” question too.

Remember, this is usually only the start of your interview! What you have told them in this answer should only be a very brief snapshot of you and you will be expected to build on what you have said here later in the interview. If the interviewer probes you for more information about something you have said, be prepared to go into more detail and don’t be scared to develop the examples you have covered in this answer later on. If you have done your research on the company and prepared well, chances are the things you have highlighted here are experiences the employer will really want to hear more about. So use them where you can to sell yourself.

We know interviews can be scary things and this first question might not be the easiest way to start. With good preparation however you will be able to take control of the interview and give the employer a great overview of you and why they should be interested in you as a potential employee. For more help with interviews, have a look at the Careers website, book an appointment to practice interview questions with a member of staff and… good luck!