Like many hiring managers, when I interview people, I often ask the “Tell me about yourself” question as an icebreaker.
You would be amazed at the things I have heard over the years in response. “I’m divorced and really struggling bringing up my two boys”, “I’m quite nice”, “I’ve been preparing myself all my life for this interview”, “ I started my career as a graduate accountant in 1988, I worked there for 2 years then I … (yawn, yawn – that’s me not them, they were still talking job by job) and my favorite “Not much to tell really”.
This question is so often badly handled. If you have an interview coming, you need to prepare for it, especially given it is often one of the first questions asked, at the time when you are trying to create a good first impression.
How do you answer this? Do you tell them about what you’ve done career wise, about your outside activities, your family – what you are interested in? What do they really want to know??
What you don’t do is just recite your resume back to them, they have that, they’ve read it that’s why you are there. You also don’t ramble on for 10 -15 minutes hoping you might land on the ‘right’ thing.
What you must do when you are sitting in front on an interviewer or a panel of interviewers, is tell them what is important for them to know, in order for you to get the job. You do this in a planned and succinct manner. That means research and planning your response, which will be different & tailored for each job. Sorry you can’t say the same thing each time!
If you have done your homework, you will know about the organisations strategic direction, products & services. You will know who is interviewing you because you will have googled them and stalked them on LinkedIn, you will know the culture and what is important from a fit perspective from your social media research and you will also know exactly what the job entails and what you need to do in order to be amazingly successful. You will have learned this from reading the job description, asking the recruiter and googling other similar jobs to get a better sense of challenges and what success looks like.
So when you are telling the interviewers ‘about yourself’, you tell them; all the things you have done that align to what they need from the person doing their job – your skills and expertise relevant to the job, your values that are in sync with theirs, your background if it adds value and finally that you are very interested in their role and organisation. This needs to sound relaxed and natural. It has to be authentic.
For example, if you are were applying for a generalist HR role – in a small company, where they need hands on expertise and the culture is very altruistic. You may say in response to the “tell me about yourself” question
I am the type of person who loves to roll their sleeves up and really add value, I thrive in a busy environment. I have great generalist HR skills and enjoy being involved in lots of different types of projects, this is so motivating for me. I also enjoy giving back to the community and to feel like my work has meaning and purpose. This is why I am excited to be here, because I feel it’s a good fit for who I am”.
If however you were applying for a HR Business Partner role in a large organisation where they wanted someone to work well with a team of other HR professionals and help implement change, which means redundancies, then your response to the “tell me about yourself” question would be different. It may go something like this,
I am the type of person who works well with all types of stakeholders & peers, I find I easily fit into new environments. I am really organized and planned, yet flexible to change priorities as and when I need to. I have worked across a range of HR areas from recruitment to redundancy. Whilst redundancy is tough I think my personality suits this because I don’t get stressed, I can remain calm and guide & support managers during these challenging times and still be empathic for the impacted employees and the rest of the team. I am looking to work for an organisation where I can be part of a team and develop good working relationships where I can add value. ”
Do you see the difference? If you answered the second response to the first role, you wouldn’t create a good impression nor if you answered the first way to the second situation.
In order to answer the “tell me about yourself” question it is important to plan and practice. When you get to an interview you have done a lot of hard work to get there, so be focused and remember you need to connect the dots for the interviewers, sell your suitability, show them why they should hire you. Make it easy for them! Always bear in mind it’s not what is important to you that matters, it’s what is important to them! Tailor your response, don’t lie, but tell them what they need to know to feel comfortable you are a good fit for their job.
written by June
If you need help landing the job, contact me at [email protected]