“Tell me about yourself”: how do you nail that key moment in an interview?

"Tell me about yourself": how to answer perfectly

So you just got an interview with your dream organisation – congratulations! Now it’s time to prepare for the best possible meeting with your recruiter and get the job. To start, they’ll probably ask you to introduce yourself in a few words.

The famous “Tell me about yourself” line, which may seem unimportant, is actually a decisive moment: your answer is a golden opportunity for you to stand out from the other candidates and show something of your personality within the first few minutes of the interview. To make a good impression right from the start, you should prepare your answer beforehand. It’s about balance and moderation: somewhere between summation and spontaneity, we’ll give you the keys (and a magic formula) to pass this part of the interview with flying colours.

1. Your motto: be prepared

No matter what happens, it’s unavoidable. However the recruiter phrases it, you’ll inevitably have to introduce yourself at the beginning of the interview. That’s a good thing! Once the formalities are over, this is one of the few times you’ll be able to speak freely and have the chance to make a good impression right at the start. How you answer this question will set the tone for the rest of the interview. So to make the most of this opportunity – while trying to avoid memory lapses, panicking, stammering or any other mishaps – it’s best to come up with an outline of what you want to say beforehand. The recruiter will appreciate a candidate who’s able to start the interview in a clear, concise manner. And preparing for this important moment ahead of time means you can focus on other details during your introduction: speaking in a calm, confident way and keeping an eye on your body language so you appear positive and self-assured.

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2. Work out what you’re going to say

If you’ve reached this stage in the recruitment process, it means the interviewer has already looked through your CV. With the “Tell me about yourself” line in the interview, the recruiter is, more than anything else, looking to get a feel for your personality and have a better idea of your strengths. It’s pointless to tell your life story, starting with your childhood in the countryside right up to the point where you got your driving licence, then recounting all your experiences abroad.

So what’s the magic formula?

  • The present. Who are you? What made you apply? Start your pitch with the thing you know best: your current situation. State your name and age to make the introduction easier. Explain briefly who you are and the context for your application. For example: “I’m a recent graduate and I’m applying to this company because it builds on what I was doing in my previous internship.”

  • The past. What career experience do you have that could apply specifically to this company? Be careful not to repeat your history chronologically – it’s already listed on your CV – without giving the recruiter any new information. Only bring up the experience that’s relevant to your application and makes you look like a good bet for the position in the eyes of the recruiter. Tell them what you liked about your previous posts and how you think that will figure in the company you’re applying to. You can prepare two or three points ahead of time to give your introduction some structure. For example: the subject you chose to study, a project in a previous position or a volunteer activity.

  • The future. How do you see yourself in terms of this job? What struck you in the job advert? How do you meet the requirements for this position? Why do you think you’ll like it? What can you bring to the company and what will it bring to you? The purpose of this bit is to determine if you are suited to the job, and to see if your expectations match those of the recruiter. Keep coming back to the links between your skills and personality and the specifics of the position. Pay close attention to the final sentence of your introduction and try to finish in an open-ended way so the recruiter can use your answer as a jumping-off point. You’ll be able to expand on this as the interview progresses. For example: talk about your management abilities, how you function within a team or your ability to work under pressure.

Don’t forget that this part of the interview ought to be relatively short: your introduction should last less than two minutes.

3. The most important part is you

Beyond highlighting a candidate’s professional skills, a job interview is the opportunity for the recruiter to get to know your personality. So don’t come off as too scholarly by giving overly polished answers. You should absolutely be prepared and know what you’re going to say, but you’ve also got to be spontaneous and natural. Be sincere about your interest in the job and the company, share your short- and long-term plans, and talk about what you want for your future. They’ll appreciate your ability to project forward and not just talk about yourself in the past.

4. Find the right balance

While the goal of the interview is to show that you’re the right person for the job and how motivated you are to join the company, try not to overdo it. You might come across as dishonest and make a bad impression, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to do. So there’s no need to blow your own trumpet or overstate how much you love the company. Bear in mind that the more natural your answers sound and the more logical your arguments appear, the more relevant your application will look. So keep your language simple. Forget the lyrical flights of fancy and overreliance on sentimentality: explain as clearly as possible what drew you to the job description and why you think you meet the requirements.

5. Set the tone of your interview

Usually, the “Tell me about yourself” question comes at the beginning of the interview and the answer is your first big chance to speak. Be aware that this is likely to set the tone for the rest of the conversation. So it’s up to you to keep it dynamic and share your enthusiasm with the recruiter. Smile and be energetic, show that you’re happy to be there, try to stay confident and keep the conversation open. You’ll have a better time that way, as will the recruiter, and you’ll stand a better chance of making a strong impression.

Finally, remember: there’s no reason to be overwhelmed by stress or to view this question as an insurmountable challenge. All that’s really required of you is “just” to talk about yourself, so be confident and relaxed without trying to perform. It’s in everyone’s best interests to know if you and the company have similar expectations.

Translated by: Kalin Linsberg

Photo: WTTJ

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