That ‘tell me about yourself’ question

In my experience, one of the questions that unsettles interview candidates most is: ‘tell me about yourself’. I have no idea why this makes interviewees so uncomfortable: the way I look at it, this is an absolute gift of a question.

This question comes up frequently, so why do so many people feel caught out by it? Possibly because the British way of doing things means not boasting and not talking about oneself. That’s something that has to change if you’re going to do well in interview. So, here are some tips on how to prepare for and deal with this dreaded question.

How to view this question

Imagine all your ‘best’ bits – your skills, your experience, your particular talents and personality strengths – are contained in chapters in a book about you. You don’t have to use them all, but they are all potential ingredients for your answer. Which three or four chapters are you going to tell this particular employer about?

Re-story yourself

Interviews are great excuses to prepare a ‘story of me’. We all have that thing we can do when we first meet new people socially where we give a potted version of ourselves during the process of getting to know each other. This is just the same thing, but for business.

If you’re trying to re-story yourself – for instance, if you want to change career direction or get back to something you really wanted to be doing – this is a really great question to get. You can choose where to begin your story, where to end, what to include and leave out, and what context or backdrop to set up.

Even if you’ve always been in this field of work, you can reorganise your experience and skills to best fit the role you’re being interviewed for. That doesn’t mean telling any untruths, just choosing to emphasise differently, bringing out the qualities you want the employer to focus on. You can do the same with your CV (resume).

For more on re-storying yourself, check out Herminia Ibarra’s very excellent book on the subject (see link below).

Don’t ramble on

On the flip side of the coin, just because you now have a whole story ready to tell doesn’t mean your interviewer hasn’t got other questions they want to ask! Keep your ‘story’ to three or four main points. When you’ve worked out what you want to say, rehearse it until it sounds completely natural. Try to pitch it somewhere between two and three minutes.

Then work out what questions you might get based on what you’ve said.

I’d much rather have this question any day than most other questions, as it puts you right in control of the interview!

March 15th, 2010 | Category: answers, career change, experience, interview, skills | No Comments »

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