How to answer “Tell me about yourself.”

This is a common starter question at the beginning of an interview. Sadly it isn’t quite as innocuous as an enquiry about how your journey went! You need to get your brain in gear fast for this and it’ll help if you’ve thought your answer through beforehand.

What does the employer NOT want?

  1. To know your name. Don’t start an answer with “My name is….” The employer knows that – it managed to ask you to the interview.
  2. Your life story! Don’t delve back to your childhood. What you did more than a couple of years ago is probably not relevant. Your fixed ambition to secure this particular job dating back to your third birthday isn’t very credible!
  3. To hear about where you went on holiday last year or the club you discovered last night. You want to try to keep to what might be relevant.
  4. A long and involved, blow by blow, account of how you came to make the application, what you like to eat for breakfast and details of your favourite pop group/ film/book. None of this is very helpful (unless you’re looking for a career in or linked to media!)

Live a great story - handwriting on a napkin with a fresh apple

So what should you be saying? Ask yourself some questions. The answers might inform your answer.

1.  What kind of job are you applying for?

brainstorming300A creative role demands that you are innovative, perhaps unorthodox and able to generate ideas. Lawyers tend to be more cautious, accurate, prepared to abide by the rules. It’s good to project an image which broadly links to the employer’s expectations.

2.  What experience is the employer looking for?

If you’re applying for a graduate scheme then the employer won’t be expecting too much from you in terms of previous work experience. A job in a shop or restaurant, maybe some volunteering, that’s fine. If you’re looking at an SME then the employer will be expecting a bit more. It’s unlikely to have money to pay you while you train and there’ll be an expectation that you can hit the ground running. It’ll be good to think about what experience you have to offer. Maybe social media expertise, marketing, account keeping?

3. What skills does the job demand?

Perhaps there is a way of working in these skills by reference to some of the things you have done?

4. What is your motivation for applying for the job?

success-go-to-it300This might be the moment for a quick pitch of your enthusiasm, it’s engaging to hear someone enthusing about the prospect of a job. Don’t overdo this though and avoid being obsequious. Don’t tell UK employers that you would be “honoured” to work for them, it’ll sound odd. (It might be fine for an Asian company though!)

So what might your answer sound like:

“I am a final year student of law at the University of Warwick. I am expecting to graduate with a 2.1 and have secured particularly high marks in….. I am really enthusiastic about your role (adding a short sentence of further detail). I have considerable work experience going back to my school days, I have worked in a variety of shops and bars and have volunteered to support underperforming students in a local school. All of this has developed my team working and communication skills. At university I have been active as a committee member for the …. Society and in that capacity have organised events and run social media campaigns to increase membership. This helped me appreciate the importance of attention to detail, particularly when planning and advertising our tour. I was elected to my department’s SSLC where I represented students’ interests negotiating effectively with academics on their behalf and as a result of my representations new formative assessments were introduced. Do you want me to tell you any more?”

You can tailor this to your particular experience. There’s nothing “wacky” in here. It’s the sort of answer suitable for a law job or one which draws closely on the skills and experience most law students have gathered. Remember to be more expansive and original if it’s that creative job you’re after. You might finish by asking the employer if there is anything more he/she would like you to add? It’ll help you gauge whether you have got the length about right.

Attractive asian woman looking at her reflection in a mirrorI’d practise this in advance. You might want to record it, or you might want to do it in front of the mirror. Whatever, make sure that you say it out loud and listen to yourself. Build in a few smiles too. If this question comes it’ll be at the beginning of the interview and it’s key that you start building rapport right from the start. There’s lots of evidence about the importance of first impressions in interviews and how this links positively to selection.

Good luck!


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