“Tell me about yourself” – an innocent ice-breaker or nightmare interview question?

Posted in: Interviews

A few days ago I delivered a workshop on Preparing for Interviews; during the workshop I asked the participants to share their nightmare interview question. It seems one of the most commonly asked interview questions ‘Tell me about yourself’ strikes fear amongst a number of us.

On the face of it, ‘Tell me about yourself’ is an innocent question, designed to break the ice and put you at ease before the actual interview starts. Yet I think it is one of the most difficult questions to answer. At the Careers Service we always encourage students to consider interview questions from the recruiter’s perspective; after all there is a purpose behind every question. When an employer asks, ‘Tell me about yourself’ they want to get a sense of who you are – the person behind the interview mask. This is often the first question asked in an interview; employers will note how confident and articulate you appear. Your response will set the tone for the remainder of the interview.

Our tips for a strong answer are:

  1. Be succinct: one way to approach this question is to prepare a 60-second elevator pitch. Remember you do not need to provide a detailed chronology, just a summary of your experiences.
  2. Prepare: you know this question is coming so prepare an answer in advance. Review the person specification and job description, make a note of the qualities the employer is looking for and tie in relevant skills from your placement or other work experience to the job.
  3. Consider your language: the language you use to describe yourself can create a picture in the interviewers mind about who you are as a person. Employers are consciously and subconsciously assessing whether you are the right ’fit’ within their team and organisation. 10 words you must never use to describe yourself makes for interesting reading.

Interviews take skill and in order to perform well, you have to practice. You may want to consider booking a mock interview with a Careers Adviser; you will not only perfect your technique but also get valuable feedback and coaching on your performance.

Posted in: Interviews


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