The worst and best way to answer "Tell me about yourself" during an interview

There are three important points to remember when you're asking"Tell me about yourself" during an interview.

Answering this seemingly tricky question can be easier than you think... Only if you strategically prepare for it.

Most people would agree that talking about themselves is probably one of the easiest things to do. After all, who knows you better than yourself, right? Yet, if you’ve gone through your fair share of interviews you’ll probably agree that answering “Tell me about yourself” never gets easy. 

Beyond the nerves, when you walk into an interview unprepared, chances are the interviewer can sense it, and if that’s the case you can kiss that job opportunity goodbye.

Consider the following scenario:

Interviewer asks, “So tell me a bit about yourself?”

And you answer, “Well there isn’t much to tell, except that I’m a happily married mother of three boys. My husband was transferred to Johannesburg three months ago, and now that I’m happily settled in, I feel ready to start working again. I’ve worked in a number of jobs here and there. Now I’m looking for a company that will give me an opportunity to grow.”

The result: You’ve lost the interviewer’s interest. As much as he/she might be keen to know more about you, at this point they are only interested in establishing whether you’re the right person for the job. And your focus point should be to show why they should hire you.

Other answers to avoid include things such as:

  • Regurgitating your cover letter and CV
  • So, what would you like to know?
  • Rambling on for 10 minutes
  • Read more about preparing for behavourial questions.

    To increase your chances of getting this seemingly tough question right, career coaches often suggest breaking your response down to a simple three-part response that will guarantee that the interviewer is hooked from the word go.

    First: Begin by giving a concise version of your career history. Keep it as short as possible.

    Second: This is your chance to brag a little - tell the interviewer about a specific achievement that stands out and is likely to capture the interviewer’s attention. Make sure you explain how your victory impacted the business’ bottom line.

    Third: Provide a few definitive sentences about what it is that you would like to achieve in the future, and how the position you’re interviewing for can help you with your goals.

    So, as an example, say you've landed another interview, and the interviewer asked the same question. You could say:

    “During my time as the account manager for Said Company, I handled our top performing clients. Before that, I worked for Another Company where I managed to bring three major clients on board. While I enjoyed my time in these companies, my aim now is to become part of a larger firm where I can join a substantial Sales team where a collaborative effort is more important.”

    Remember that with any interview question, practice makes perfect. In this case, it’s important to focus your answer on the most relevant experience and skills you’ve gained in your career. Ultimately, take it easy – share a few light stories, but keep them to a minimum.

    For more interview tips, techniques and styles, visit our Interview Advice column.