The tell me about yourself question. Wow. This one really is a belter but as sure as Liverpool nearly winning the league, it will crop up. It’s hard to summarise yourself in 2-3 minutes but, more often than not, it can sometimes be the one question that can make or break an interview. Interview questions are often based on your competency to do the job well, but this one is a bit different. It helps the interviewer get a feel for who you really are, your character, and helps them to see if it fits the team culture.
We all have a backstory. It’s what makes us unique. Maybe you’ve lived in different parts of the world, got the boot from school, lived near a warzone, or had to support your parents. These things shape and define us, they’re interesting facts and can genuinely make people take note of you for all the right reasons. Be proud of who you are as well as your roots.
Now, I’m all for being positive and building self-esteem, but never let this stand in the way of honesty. I’ve seen some people believe they are the best (we’ve all got that one pal!) but they aren’t and, believe me, thinking this way is dangerous. Just take a look at successful sportspeople or musicians – they always strive to be better, are never complacent, and are usually quite humble. On the flip side, take a look at politicians to see how a false or deluded view of your true self could kill an interview stone dead. You have to be truthful with yourself about how competent you really are.
It is wise to avoid companies who believe their own hype or continually diss their competitors or slate former colleagues. This level of arrogance will eventually catch them out, in particular when their competitors run off with their customers. Let’s see how Ryanair go in the long run!
An employer is looking for someone who is genuine, honest, conscientious and manageable, so when you’re asked the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question, relate your story to these types of traits and try to pull out your interests that are in sync with the nature of the company. It can demonstrate a genuine interest in what they do. There’s no need to come across as a saint. People want to see the real you, warts and all. Furthermore, even if you are a bit tempted to exaggerate your true skills, don’t over-egg it. An employer will lookout for this and, if you can’t live up to the hype, it won’t end well.
Employers are interested in your genuine passions and interests, whether that be sports, culture, conservation, working with charities, or something close to heart – these can be ice breakers. Be enthused when you’re talking about them, tell employers why you enjoy them as it can push the interview in a completely different direction. It can also open up a relaxed dialogue and may benefit you as you’ll get to see the real person behind the, often rehearsed, interview questions.
Focus on aspects of your life that portray you as someone that is candid, and someone who can add true and real value to a company. Without doubt, the main things they will want to see is how you get along with others, how well you will take direction, and where your work ethic is at. They will also want to know about your commitment, they will not want someone who will jump ship the first time a potential new employer dangles more money in front of your eyes. Conscientiousness and work ethic come way up the list of traits an employer will look for – even if you are at the start of your career journey, use other experiences that you’ve gained from placements or Saturday jobs to give examples of when you’ve gone that extra mile. It will serve you well, and believe me when I say that people will take notice.
It genuinely does not matter if you don’t have all the right skills and experience. By being truly honest about the depth or range of your ability will most definitely win people over. For example, a recent graduate being interviewed for a Content Editor role had limited commercial experience but, gave numerous examples of writing for student guides and various other websites as well as personal blogs they’d created. The employer valued the altruistic and thoughtful answer rather than a promise of being the next poet laureate. They were also extremely candid on why they’d flunked their A levels and that innate courage to be themselves and level of candidness did win over hearts and minds. Needless to say, she was offered the role. This does not happen all the time and I wish it did, but it does demonstrate that by being aware of your true worth will maybe encourage an employer to take a chance.
Ultimately, interviewers want to ensure they are hiring the real you, someone who will bring harmony to the team and not the opposite. Equally, the culture of a business may not be right for you so it’s best to be upfront about who you really are. I always tell my children to be true to themselves and if go along these lines – you won’t go far wrong.
So, big yourself up by all means but never lose sight of the truth, who you really are, and what you are capable of. You won’t win over every interviewer just as much as you won’t succeed in every challenge you face in life, but by having the bravery and courage to show the best version of you, people will respect and admire you.