You're ready to deal with tough questions about the challenges of the job and where you see yourself in five years' time. But instead your interviewer purrs, "Tell me about yourself." Your mind goes blank. What exactly are you meant to say? That you hate spinach, you're a Gemini and your favourite colour is red? If this familiar interview situation fills you with horror, take heart. According to the National Careers Service, the answer is practice. Thorough interview preparation will help you answer with confidence and land that dream job.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Take a notebook and pencil and write five headings: "Career overview," "Skills," "Suitability," "Well-rounded" and "Don't say this!" This gives you the outline of your answer. You know now that you will make four clear points and you will also avoid talking about anything that is irrelevant to the job.
Write three or four key words that sum up your thoughts in relation to each heading. When an interviewer invites you to "tell me all about yourself," you're faced with a highly unstructured situation. By preparing notes ahead of time, you have imposed your own structure on the interview. You'll be less inclined to ramble and you'll gain confidence from your sharp focus.
Start with a brief overview of your working life and achievements at work. Keep it short, a sentence or two. For example, "I have five years' experience as a project manager, during which I've developed my planning skills and secured a promotion. The thing I like best about my job is the chance to work as part of a team."
List your strengths and skills and give a concrete example of how you use them. It helps to give a recent example of a work challenge you successfully overcame. For instance, "One challenge I recently faced was a short-fall on the budget for a major project. That's where my accountancy course really helped. I found the glitch, made the figures balance -- and even ended up bringing the project in a little under budget."
Tell the interviewer why what you've mentioned so far makes you so suitable for the job on offer. You could phrase your comments in a similar way to this: "It's because of my skills in accountancy and experience in team-building that I think the job you're offering would fit me so well."
Round off your answer with a brief reference to your interests beyond work, to show you are a well-rounded individual. You might mention sports or social activities that show you as a good organiser or a supportive team player, as well as those that showcase your determination in mastering a new skill.
Remember this is a job interview. The person on the other side of the desk is not asking for your life story, a list of your likes and dislikes, or a blow-by-blow account of your last wild night out. Don't take the interviewer's question as an invitation to talk in detail about your home life.
Planning your answer
Tips and warnings
- If you want to improve your interview technique, the National Careers Service can help. To contact them, follow the link in the Resources section of this article.
- Always keep your answers short. Aim to take around a minute or two to respond to your interviewer's question.
- Don't assume your interviewer has read your CV in detail, or can recall it. Make sure you briefly mention the key information from your CV -- experience, qualifications, skills, strengths, accomplishments -- in your answer.
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