“Tell me about yourself” — Tips on how to answer it

“I ask the question, “tell me about yourself?”, because I genuinely want to learn about the person behind the resume. But the number of times candidates stumble and fall when answering this question, is staggering. I have had to interrupt candidates that started talking about their childhood, college internship and details about their first job. We don’t have enough time for a memoir.”

“Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

This blog is aimed at both candidates and recruiters. Because, yes, candidates need to find a good way to answer this deliberately open question, and I will try and help with that in this post. But equally, recruiters and hiring managers can help by steering candidates in the direction they want them to go. Set up the candidate for success.

Let’s dive in, and start with the recruiters’ part.

Dear Recruiter!

“Tell me about yourself” is an adequate question. But it is not original. Lots of recruiters use this as their opener. There are opportunities to ask a better question, that will help you get more, relevant, helpful information about the candidate, and likely, in a more concise way. I have some examples. Also, it is a perfect question to get more information, beyond just the words. Read why that is important, here.

  1. Focus on what you want to know, and what is relevant to the position you are recruiting for.
    • Tell me a bit about your current job, tasks and responsibilities.
  2. If you’re looking for a bit more background on the candidate, help anchor the answer by leading the question.
    • Can you take me through your resume, but from, like, 30,000 feet?
    • What is the biggest accomplishment in your last position?
    • What do you want to do next, and how does this role fit in that picture?
  3. If you want to be unpredictable and test the candidate’s response to unscripted situations, you can switch it up.
    • Describe yourself in 3 words.
    • If I call your last supervisor, how would he or she describe you?

It depends on your organization’s culture, your recruiting style and what you are looking for, but I think that it is your role as a recruiter to ensure a fit for the candidate and the company. It may be effective to be unpredictable, to ask trick questions and to grill a candidate. However, working together with the candidate may prove the most sustainable. Ask questions that give you an honest image of the candidate, and answers that are true and relevant. Guiding the candidate through this question will make it easier to focus on the answer, the content and behavior. And it will help the candidate just as much.

Dear Candidates!

This question is really part of the fixed repertoire of many recruiters and hiring managers. Some see it as an way to start a discussion, and others want to know about the person behind the resume. It’s an unstructured question, and it demands a good response from the candidate. And that’s exactly what a recruiter is looking for. So, you should have a standard script that you can adapt to the position, situation or type of organization.

But what does a good script look like?

It’s Concise

Do not ramble. Anywhere between 1.5 and 2 minutes in total is enough. Anything longer means that you’re taking too much time. A recruiter looks for a strong, concise and powerful answer. Do not list your resume or cover letter: your recruiter has read that, and he wants to know more. Practice so you know how long it is and how it sounds. But keep it loose and avoid sounding rehearsed.

As a rule, the answer should set the tone for the rest of the discussion. It should contain the things you want to share, and that are relevant to the role. For instance, you don’t have to go back 20 years, explaining your experience. A few years is enough. Next: the content.

It’s work-related

As your answer showcases your fit on the position, limit it to elements that relate to the role. Education, previous experience, accomplishments: good topics. Relevant volunteer work, hobbies or skills: can be very helpful. Your weekend shenanigans, football team preference, favorite food: not relevant. Because it takes away from the time you need to discuss your fit for the role, and it can be tricky as it’s personal, avoid that altogether.

It focuses on your qualities

Use it to display our qualities, skills and experience that are relevant to the role. You may be very proud of your Italian language skills but if this is not needed, at all, don’t mention it. Only mention the qualities that make sense for the position. For instance, mention your problem-solving skills, customer focus or flexibility with a short example, showcasing your fit for the role.

It highlights your key accomplishments

It helps building your story to list relevant accomplishments and experience. Your contributions and leadership in projects, significant achievements, and your development can strengthen your fit. Make sure it is relevant to the position or the company. Word it in a way that you prevent coming across as bragging.

And, to bring it home

Conclude your 2-minute pitch by linking it to the present: why you’re here, why you’re interviewing for this role, and why you’re a good fit. In addition, tie your experience, your accomplishments and qualities together, ad wrap it up. Let the recruiter marvel over your answer, make notes, and take a breath for the next question.

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