“Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” Steve Martin
If you are having an interview in English, you will almost definitely be asked this question:
“Tell me about yourself.”
This indirect question is usually the first question of the interview, and it’s important to answer this question properly so that you can start the interview off right.
Shanthi covered how to answer this question thoroughly, but I thought I’d add an extra angle to this topic.
Thank you for the mention, Ryan and welcome to EWAT.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ryan who is this month’s guest blogger here on EWAT. In this lesson he gives you some superb tips on how you can tackle/deal with this complex question.
Please continue, Ryan.
Listen to the Post Here
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What “Tell me about yourself” actually means
When the interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself, they don’t want to know your life story.
They really mean “Tell me why I should hire you over everyone else.”
As Shanthi says, to answer this question properly, you should:
- Give a brief summary of your professional background.
- Make your structure clear and briefly summarise your professional achievements.
- Quantify your achievements if possible (use numbers and specific details/data).
- Do not give a run-on answer.
A run-on answer is an answer that is very long and just goes on and on (and on). A run-on answer is an answer that seems like it will never end.
But Ryan, this is hard…
I know, I know. Interviews are stressful events!
They are stressful for me, and I am a native English speaker so it will be more stressful for you in your second language.
But don’t worry too much. If you are reading this, that means you are willing to work hard, so if you prepare well, you will be fine!
Also, I will break this down simply and easily so that you can sail through in your interview in English.
There are two things to remember regarding “tell me about yourself”:
- All of the other qualified candidates (your competition) will likely answer in the same way. They will briefly summarize their professional achievements in a short and proper manner.
- The interviewer already knows your basic professional achievements from your resume, so repeating your achievements on your resume is nothing “new” to them.
What can you do?
So, if your competition has the same strategy as you, how can you stand out? How can you be unique? How can you gain an advantage over your competition?
By developing your own “hiring story”, a strategy I first learned from Ramit Sethi.
What does this mean?
Simply, it means to develop your own story of why you are the perfect candidate for the job.
Communicate the story of why you are the best candidate for the job (why they should hire you) and tell this story to the interviewer.
How can you develop your own “hiring story”?
You have to prepare.
- Study the role that the interview is for by reading the job description.
- Find out which skills and experiences you have that relate to the job description.
- Think about specific experiences and achievements, education, and awards.
- With this, then tailor your answers — that means, give the most relevant/specific answers for the question that matches the job description.
The key is to tailor your answers — with stories. These stories combine together and become the main story as to why you should be hired.
“Tell me about yourself” – Example Answers
Now, let’s look at two example answers to this question. One is good, and one is bad. Try to figure out which answer is good, and which answer is bad. Ready?
Irene, the financial analyst
Irene is an analyst at Big Lake Bank. However, she is looking for a better job with higher pay and more opportunities. She applied to another company (Ocean Trust Bank) for a senior analyst position. She gets contacted for an interview by Ocean Trust Bank.
Interviewer: Hi, Irene. Please tell me about yourself.
Irene: Hi! My name is Irene and I currently live in New York City. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I enjoy hiking and reading. On weekends, I love spending time with my dog and my family. I was the vice president of student council in high school. I went to New York University and majored in finance. My favorite color is pink. I am really excited for this interview!
Interviewer: Hi, Irene. Please tell me about yourself.
Irene: I’ve always been interested in finance. When I was a student at New York University, I was president of the stock market club for three years. This experience and interest in finance led me to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a 3.98GPA. A few years ago, I studied for and passed the CPA exam. At my current company, I won “Analyst of the Year” in 2015. What really excites me about this position is that the company is growing and I listened to the CEO’s speech on the Financial Network last night, and she talked about putting clients first, which is in line with my values. This is why I would love to work for you.
So which one is a better answer?
Answer 2. But Why?
- Irene was brief and to the point.
- She communicated her skills for the job without having them run-on.
- She showed her interest in finance and her leadership skills by saying she was president of the stock market club in college.
- She showed her discipline by studying and passing the CPA (certified public accountant) exam.
- She quantified her answers (3.98 GPA) (GPA means grade point average, the average of all your grades and scores).
- She showed that she is determined and organized (analyst of the year award).
- She showed that she is interested in the company by taking the time to listen to the CEO speak, and by sharing the same values.
- She kept the answer professional.
- And she told her “career stories.”
There were three main stories in that short answer. Did you catch them all?
- Story about why she chose her field/industry (interested in finance through stock market club)
- Story about her life/career experience with quantifiers (analyst of the year, 3.98 GPA)
- Story about why she wants to work here (CEO has similar values)
These three stories combine (all come together) to make one story– the story of why Irene is the best candidate for the job.
This “story formula” is the best way to answer the question “Tell me about yourself” in my opinion.
So we know answer 2 was good. Why was answer 1 bad?
- It was personal and not professional.
- The answer was not relevant to the job position.
- There was no quantifying of achievements.
- There were no stories, or career narrative.
- The interviewer has no idea what value Irene can bring to the company.
Wow, this was a long and difficult blog post, but getting the job you want is very important and takes hard work.
If you want to succeed in your business career, you have to work hard. And since you are reading this, I know you will. You can do it!
With some preparation, you can and will answer this question with confidence and land the job you want.
Just remember this simple formula.
- Know what the job role is by reading the job description, and tailor your answers to the job role.
2. Develop your “hiring story” – (Why you are the best person for the job)
- Open with a story about why you chose your field.
- Then follow with a story about your career or life experience relating to the job.
- Finish with a story about why you want to work at the company.
3. Combine your “hiring story” with the proper way to answer the question
- Briefly summarize your professional background.
- Keep your answer professional.
- Quantify your achievements — use real numbers.
- Do not run-on.
Have you answered this question before in an interview? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.
Also ask any questions in the comments below and I will answer them.
Finally, here are a few vocabulary words from this post. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and good luck with your interviews!
Indirect Question (noun): A formal and polite question used in professional situations and speech
Example Sentence: “Could you tell me where the restroom is?” is an indirect question.
Quantify (verb): To express or measure something in specific amounts
Example sentence: “I made sales” is not specific. You can quantify this by saying “I made five sales.” or “I sold $10,000 worth of product.”
Run-on (sentences/answers): (noun phrase) A long-winded answer that seems to never end, or that continues too long
Example Sentence: A long sentence without much punctuation is called a run-on sentence.
Job description (noun): The formal account of employee job duties and responsibilities published by the company
Example Sentence: It’s a good idea to always read the job description before applying to a job.
To tailor (answers) (verb): To adapt; to customize; to make specific for a relevant situation
Example sentence: If you have customer service experience but are applying for a computer programming job, use your experiences to tailor your answers to something problem solving or math-related if possible.
CPA (acronym): [not to be confused with ‘GPA’] An acronym for “Certified Public Accountant”
Example Sentence: My father is a CPA in Chicago.
GPA (acronym): [not to be confused with ‘CPA’] An acronym for “grade point average”; a number that shows the average of your total grades in school
Example Sentence: Generally, the highest GPA one can achieve is 4.0.
Thank you, Ryan for your superb tips on this question that causes so much anxiety to many job applicants.
What has been your experience in answering this question at an interview? How did you prepare for it? Please share your experience with us in the comments box.
Ryan O’Loughlin graduated from university with a degree in Economics, but a sense of adventure, a passion for teaching, and a TEFL Certification took him to Seoul, South Korea, where he taught English for four years. Back in the United States, Ryan continues teaching English to students around the world through his website, English for my Dream. You can also find him on youTube.