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6 Tips to Nail the Most Asked Interview Question: “Tell me about Yourself”

“Tell me about yourself.” It’s a common question that seems pretty straightforward on the surface. So how much time should you invest in crafting your response? The answer to this simple-yet-important question (I like to call them ‘sleeper’ questions) could be what stands between you and your dream job. Whether it’s a networking conversation or an interview, we’ll help you nail it every time!

Why is this question asked? What does the recruiter, hiring manager – or whomever you are speaking to – want to know? There is no doubt they want to learn about you: your strengths, interests, motivation, ambition and career history. But they haven’t got all day. What they’d really like is an answer that is easily digestible.

So how do you dazzle someone with your response? To organise your thoughts, start by considering information about yourself and career in terms of who, what, where, how, why and when.  This approach will ensure nothing is left unanswered.

You can structure your response in reverse chronological order (“this is me and this is how I got here”, working backwards to finish on your education), however the human mind finds it easier to digest story-telling format, which is chronological order. This way you can finish up with your future, and position how you’d like that to look.

1. Start with the end in mind

I believe you need to know where you are going in order to get there. This is as true for forming habits as it is for achieving goals, such as finding a new job.

Think about how you want the person to think of you after hearing your answer. What skills, attributes, and characteristics do you want them to associate with you? This is a golden, one-time-only, opportunity for you to create your choice of thoughts and feelings that will stay with the listener long after the conversation is over.

2. Plan what you want to include

You may not want to include all of these things, but think of this as a basic structure to follow:

  • Where are you from?
  • What did you study?
  • How did you get your first start in your career?
  • If you’ve had a career pivot, what prompted that?
  • How long have you been in this (relevant) line of work?
  • What companies / projects / teams / technologies have you been lucky enough to be involved in that have given you enviable, relevant experience for this role? (hint: this is where you show off your strengths and achievements in a humble yet confident way)
  • How this has developed your personal passion in this space, which is why you’re so keen on this opportunity
  • Where you’d like to think you could end up after a few years with the company, and the value you will have added along the way
  • Any safe, relevant personal interests (mad snowboarder, coach kids’ basketball on weekends, doing additional study, run the local user group for your tech vertical). Definitely avoid politics and religion at this early stage of the relationship.

The listener should perceive light and shade. You want them to think of you as a living, breathing human with clear goals and aspirations, not just the sixth person they’ve interviewed and 150th CV they’ve received in the last 24 hours.

3. Highlight your strengths and provide context

When highlighting your strengths, it is important to weave in what you’ve done (built custom CRM systems that integrated with a range of other systems), where you’ve done it (within the retail, telco, and banking sector), and how you have delivered (using Agile practices and truly understanding the business requirements).

If you need some help to get clear on your strengths, take a look at our blog on writing CVs for some suggestions.

4. Don’t forget to mention your ‘why’

It is important to talk about your interests and values as this will provide a fuller picture of who you are. Some questions that may help uncover your ‘why’ include:

  • Why did you pursue this career? What do you enjoy about it?
  • Why have you stayed in your current role? What aspects of it do you find the most satisfying?
  • Why are you looking to move on from your current role?

5. Set the clock

Timing is everything. How many times have you met someone at a party who has taken way too long to answer what you thought was a simple question? I don’t know about you, but I start to get hot under the collar, bored, anxious and desperate for an exit pretty fast. 

Your polished answer should take no more than a minute, a minute and a half tops. If you can’t fit everything into that time, you’re including too much. Be harsh. Apply the ‘so what’ rule to each point you want to include, and if it doesn’t pass the sniff test, bin it.

It is important to talk at a moderate pace – which can be hard when you are excited or nervous (or both). It’s better to engage the listener and ask what they’d like to hear more about after your summary.

6. Practice really does make perfect

Start by answering the question out loud to yourself. Move to locking eyes with yourself in the mirror while you answer. When you grow braver still, record yourself and watch for tics in body language, posture, expression, message, tone, pace, and impact. Graduate by role-playing with trusted people in your network. Before you start, tell them you’d like feedback on each of the abovementioned areas, plus anything else they observe that feels ‘off’. This takes some courage, and you may find that you get different feedback from different people. It doesn’t mean you have to take it all on board; trust your gut and back yourself.

Now go get ’em tiger

Good luck with your job search! For support on other job seeker topics, take a look at the resources we’ve put together to help you land your next role including a salary search. If you are on the market for your next IT opportunity, check out our job board to see all of our current vacancies. You can also register with Clicks via the Job Seekers page on our website. We have a fantastic referral program that can earn you $500 for every great person you send our way. Find out more here.

Clicks is an award-winning IT recruitment specialist. Our recruiters average 12 years of industry experience, and we’re on over 80 Preferred Supplier Agreements. As Australia’s favourite IT recruiter, we help candidates find great opportunities and clients find great people each day!

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