Dealing with the 'Tell us about yourself' question

8 December 2020

“Tell us about yourself” is an interview question that is guaranteed to come up in most, if not all, job interviews. It is usually the first question to be asked at interview and your chance to make a positive first impression.

Through my work with students and graduates, I know that most of them dread this question because they aren’t quite sure exactly how to answer it or how to prepare. Some of the questions I usually get asked are What should I include? What does the employer want to know? Is there a right or wrong answer?

Why does an interviewer want to know about you?

To begin with, it’s a good way to open the interview and an opportunity to get you talking. Besides being an ice-breaker question, it allows the interviewer to achieve one of the key outcomes of your interview – getting to know you.

From your point of view, you should see this question as an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of your interview. Your goal when answering the “Tell us about yourself” question is to give a brief, concise overview of your career so far, that will show off your relevant skills and experience and overall suitability for the role. Employers want to hear about you as a professional so the safest thing to do is keep it work-related rather than sharing too many personal details.

If you answer this question well, the interviewer will begin to know what makes you the best candidate for the job in terms of skills and experiences. It’s a really good way for you to be able to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly and effectively and present yourself in professional manner.

What should you include in your answer?

The great thing about this question is that you can prepare for it in advance of your interview. You have the opportunity to really do your homework and come up with a great response. You will want to spend some time reviewing the job description, researching the company and coming up with a way that you can tell your story while making sure it’s clear to the employer what you have to offer and why you are the best person for the job.

You might like to use this simple structure to help answer this question:

  1. Present – Begin with the here and now and talk about your current situation. Perhaps you are a second year student seeking placement or perhaps a final year looking for a graduate role. Let the employer know about the course you are studying.
  2. Past – Next, you want to let the employer know how you got to where you are today. Why did you choose this area of study? Was there a point in your past where you realised you wanted to pursue this career? Talk about previous experience that is relevant to the job and any key accomplishments.
  3. Future – To finish, you should talk about your career aspirations. Tell the employer how this role or working for that company fits in with your overall career goals and what you hope to get from this opportunity.

Practice makes perfect!

They do say that practice makes perfect. Nothing is ever perfect first time round so practicing beforehand can help give you confidence and will also help with settling your nerves. A word of caution though, while practicing is a key part of your interview preparation, just remember that there is a very fine line between practicing something (recommended) and memorising it (not recommended). We want to make sure that your answer come across as authentic and is delivered with conviction.

You only have one chance to make a good first impression at interview so by getting to grips with this key opening question you really will get off to a good start.

Laura Cranston, Employability Advisor

If you need help with upcoming interviews please get in touch by emailing careers@ulster.ac.uk