How to respond when your interviewer says, ‘Tell me about yourself’

‘So, tell me about yourself.’ No matter how warm and friendly the interviewer, or how sincere their encouraging smile is, this fiercesome combination of words strikes fear in all our hearts. We don’t know where to start. We stumble, mumble and fumble over our words. And, once we get going, we ramble on before finally, after what seems like an eternity, we just… kind of… well… fizzle out. 


Your interviewer probably finds your verbal wanderings just as painful as you do. So what should you do? How should you answer this frequently asked interview question?


According to Joel Schwartzberg, author of Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter, a little preparation and practice will enable you to respond confidently, clearly and charmingly. Follow his advice, as published in the Harvard Business Review, and get ready to dazzle, impress and wow your interviewer.


  1. Often the first question asked at interview, ‘Tell me about yourself’ is intended as an ice-breaker and for the interviewer to get a sense of who you are and what matters to you. He or she wants to find out if you’d fit into the company, share the same values and are likely to get on with your potential new teammates. Bear this in mind when you develop your answer.


  1. Identify the employer’s needs. Note all the responsibilities, qualifications, attributes and strengths mentioned in the job description. Is the company looking for a highly organised, independent worker or a team player with great communication skills? Make a list of your corresponding experiences, achievements and strengths.


  1. Extend the above list to the company’s values. Do your homework. What is the company’s mission statement? And its CSR? Where is the alignment between your values and goals and those of the company? Again, clearly demonstrate the match.


  1. Keep it short and sweet. Your pitch should last no more than five minutes. Stay focused on what’s relevant to the role and the company you’re interviewing for, and why you think there’s a great match.


  1. Start your answer with something personal, like where you grew up or how you got into your chosen field. This can be an effective way of sparking interest and developing a rapport with the interviewer.


  1. Finish off with a reference to why you applied for the position, even if that seems obvious by this stage. Alternatively, end on a more personal note with an allusion to your favourite hobby or passion.


  1. Practise, practise, practise! Practise with friends and family, practise in the shower and practise before going to sleep. Record yourself and play back the recording to identify any tics e.g., the over-use of fillers such as ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘ummm’. Are your sentences sufficiently short and clear? Do you establish connections between you, the role and the company?


We hope you found the above article useful and informative. Please read on for advice on how to answer other common interview questions, and get in touch if you’d like to brainstorm your next career move. ABL is the UK’s leading multilingual recruitment expert, and we’re here to help!