If you're going on a job interview, then it’s likely you are going to get the often dreaded “tell me about yourself” question thrown your way.
This old stalwart of a question has been around for decades and isn’t going away anytime soon, which is why you better get comfortable answering it. While there is no wrong way to tackle it, hiring managers are looking to learn more about you then what’s on your resume.
“In lieu of having people rattle off their entire resume from start to finish, companies ask this question to give candidates a chance to talk about their career and where they are planning to go next, in their own words,” says to Deb LaMere, vice president of employee engagement at Ceridian, a global human capital management software company. “Answering the ‘tell me about yourself’ question brings these words to life, giving some color context and background to the work and life experiences listed within a CV.”
When it comes to what companies are trying to ascertain from the “tell me about yourself” question, it is going to vary from one hiring manager to the next.Pablo Terra, Chief Operating Officer of Clarity 2 Prosperity Mastermind Group, a financial planning organization, says he tries to gleam the job candidate’s passion, level of engagement, attitude and interest. “I want to understand what are the values of the individual, what’s important to the candidate and does he or she have shared goals.” A person may look great on paper but the way he or she answers the “tell me about yourself” question goes a long way in determining if the candidate is the right cultural fit.
Given it’s an open-ended question, it’s not surprising that scores of job seekers are terrified of getting it on an interview. But it doesn’t have to create sleepless nights and interview anxiety. From staying professional to making eye contact to gauge interest, here’s a look at five ways to take on the “tell me about yourself” interview question and win.
Tip 1: Stick to the professional aspects of your life
Even if you can bench press two hundred pounds in the gym or can rattle off every popular movie line from the early '90s, your job interview isn’t the time or place to revel these skills to the hiring manager. A better move: keep it professional. Focus on those things that will make you a good employee and demonstrates how you would be a great fit for the company, says Kim Costa, job coach at Snagajob. She says to use the SET method when answering, which includes providing information about your skills, experience and time you’ve been using those skills. “It shows you are well-rounded and gives the employer a sense of what you bring to the table,” says Costa.
Tip 2: Weave “We” into your answer
Now more than ever companies are looking for job candidates who can play well with others. Hiring an employee who can’t get along with co-workers can be a costly mistake. One way to demonstrate just what a team player you really are is to weave the word “We” into your answer to the “tell me about yourself” question, says Terra. Instead of saying I was responsible for boosting sales x percent say our team lead the charge to increase revenue for the company, for example.
Tip 3: Refrain from boss or job bashing
Talking about your previous job or past experience is unavoidable but what you don’t want to do is bash your former employer, says LaMere. By doing that you’ll raise red flags about your attitude, loyalty and worse, whether or not you will do the same thing again when you move on to your next opportunity. “If you had a negative experience, keep the subject out of the conversation unless you can turn that negative experience into a conversation about lessons learned,” says LaMere. “Instead talk about what excites you about the career path that you are in or your previous work experience leading up to your present career.”
Tip 4: Make eye contact throughout your answer
Making eye contact has a lot of benefits. It shows confidence, honesty and your level of interest. When it comes to the “tell me about yourself” interview question, it can also cue you in if you are droning on and on, boring the interviewer. “It’s never a good sign if the hiring manger looks down or doesn’t make eye contact,” says Costa of Snagajob. “If they are looking around the room then wrap it up and go on to the next question.”
Tip 5: Prepare ahead of time
Since it’s such a common interview question, the best way to get over any anxiety is to prepare ahead of time. Ideally you want to know the content of your resume enough to be able to talk about your experience without needing to memorize it, says LaMere. Make sure your key points place an emphasis on being a team player and how you can contribute to the company, she says. “If you go in blind you won’t have the chance to sell yourself,” notes Costa.