You cannot always predict what kind of questions you might get in an interview. However, unlike other interview questions, there is one question that you can count on. We guarantee that interviewers are going to start the interview with the sentence „Tell us more about yourself“ - or some variation of it.
Although the question 'Tell us more about yourself' seems fairly simple, the number of candidates who fail to deliver a decent, well-structured and concise answer to it indicates that this question is more complex than it seems at the first sight.
On the bright side, no matter how complex the question is, there is one great thing about it - you already know the interview will start with it. Therefore, you can prepare yourself in advance to put your best foot forward at the beginning of the interview and make the best possible impression.
To be able to win interviewers over with your very first answer, you need to fully understand the background of this dreaded question and interviewers’ expectations towards the answer.
In the next 5 minutes, you are going to learn:
what the sentence "Tell us more about yourself" actually means
what interviewers want to hear when they open the interview with this question
what you should do to impress the interviewers
what are the things you shouldn't do if you want to leave a great impression
Buckle up and let's start!
So... what are they actually asking?
If you think about it, "Tell us more about yourself" is the broadest question ever. Even if you would talk about your favourite movies, time spent with your granny, reasons why you’ve decided to name your cat Rosie or why you prefer ketchup over mayonnaise, you would still provide a relevant answer, as this information could also fall under 'more about yourself' category.
However - unfortunately, if we may add - this is not what the interviewers are expecting.
By opening the interview with 'Tell us more about yourself', they actually want to learn more about:
you (well, this one was obvious!)
your relevant experience
your understanding of the role and the company (and this one is the key!)
So, when they say 'Tell us more about yourself', they are actually asking:
How much experience do you have?
In which industry or areas you’ve gained your experience?
Where are you currently working at (the name of the role and the company)?
What are currently your main responsibilities?
What are your strengths?
What are your biggest achievements so far?
What are your current aspirations?
How are you going to fit with the team and the company?*
*The latter one is never asked directly. Interviewers make the conclusion about it based on your behaviour and information shared with them during the interview.
As you can see from the list above, the answer to this question brings a lot of valuable information to the interviewers.
In the very first minutes of an interview, this question can easily help them to decide whether you have the relevant work experience and skills, and are you a good match for the company.
Of course, the things you decide to share with them are crucial here, as they show your understanding of the role and your motivation for it.
In general, candidates who are genuinely interested in the role will take their time to read the job description thoroughly, they will be familiar with main responsibilities and requirements stated there and they will tailor their answer accordingly.
It means they will include only relevant information about their work experience, strengths, and achievements.
Imagine the following situation:
A company has published a job description for the financial analyst role.
The job ad screams 'Numbers! Data! Reports!', whilst main responsibilities include reporting, analysing data and interpreting them. Thus they are looking for a detail-oriented candidate with strong analytical skills and financial background.
In the interview, one of the candidates starts talking about his previous role as a financial analyst.
As his key asset, he mentions that he is a natural people-person who enjoys networking, working in a team and building relationship with colleagues and stakeholders. His biggest achievement is the facilitation of cooperation between two business units due to his strong communication and interpersonal skills.
The other candidate has the same work experience as the first candidate, but he says he enjoys working with numbers and analyzing them. He has a broad experience in various financial departments where he was mainly responsible for data analysis and reporting which helped him to develop his analytical skills further. As his biggest achievements, he said that he managed to find a pattern in (unnecessary) costs that helped his company to cut costs by 8% per year.
Who would you choose? Hint: Even though the experience of the first candidate also sounds impressive, it doesn’t really fit the role we are recruiting for, doesn’t it? On the contrary, the second candidate sounds like a match made in heaven for it, right? So you may assume who will intrigue interviewers more and who will have a better chance of getting the job.
From recruiters’ perspective, this is one of the most valuable questions in the entire interview, as they can gather a significant amount of information from your answer. More importantly (and scary!), the information they gather go well beyond the information you explicitly share with them.
Through your answer and the way you present it, they can learn more about your self-confidence, presentation and communication skills, ability to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, motivation, values in work and how you work under pressure - as the interview is a stressful situation, and participants from both sides of the table are fully aware of it.
Having said that, it's obvious that the answer to this question can set the tone of the interview, and consequently, have the critical role in the decision about your job offer. Therefore, it is important to prepare the answer in advance so you can present yourself easily as a candidate they are looking for.
So... What they want to hear? (read as: What I need to say to get the job?)
When you hear this question for the first time, it may seem too broad and unstructured.
However, the answer to it should be the opposite.
You want to show you fully understand the requirements for the role and that you are the best candidate for it. Hence, it is highly important to deliver a tailored, well-structured and concise answer.
As you can see from the probing questions stated above, the content of your answer should be quite similar to the content of the personal profile in your resume. And the objectives are the same, as you want to:
share your background
show them you have the relevant experience and you are the right person for the role
motivate them to learn more about you
Once again, bear in mind that every information you share shows your understanding of the role.
In order to ace that question next time, here are some key takeaways:
What should you do?
prepare yourself in advance for this question
write down the information you want to include in your answer, focusing solely on the information relevant to the role
find the right way to put all the information together
be concise – the answer shouldn’t be longer than 2 or max 2,5 minutes
rehearse the answer
time the duration of your answer
rehears it again, until you are ready to confidently and naturally introduce yourself while including all the information you have prepared
What shouldn't you do?
don’t come to the interview unprepared for this basic question
don’t question it too much to find out what are they specifically referring to
don’t share your entire life story from the moment you were born
don’t include personal information
don’t recite your entire CV
don’t jump from one topic to another without any structure
don’t deliver an answer longer than 2 or max 2,5 minutes
don't finish with "What else should I add?" (it shows that you are not prepared)
Now go there and impress them - you can do it!