While the interviewers might be interested in your favourite breakfast cereal or the breed of your new puppy, it’s unlikely that these kinds of personal details are what they’re looking for.
In fact, knowing how to answer the “tell us about yourself” question well in a job interview could be a key to setting you apart from other candidates.
And while you might find out you share a common love of Labradors, the risk your interviewer is a cat person is real.
So let’s start by asking why employers ask the “tell us about yourself” question in job interviews, then explore how you can answer it well to give yourself the best chance of winning them over.
The key to answering the “tell us about yourself” question in a job interview is understanding the ‘why’ behind the question.
So why do employers ask interviewees the ‘tell us about yourself’ question?
1) They want to get to know you – and why they should choose you
Firstly, interviewers want to get to know you – that’s the purpose of a job interview. They want to know whether you’re the right fit for the organisation.
Employers are also keen to see why you stand out from the competition. Whether it be your experience, your transferrable skills or your goals for the future, the highlights you give will help them understand why they should choose you.
2) They want you to feel more comfortable
Secondly, they want to make you feel more comfortable. Starting the interview with “tell us about yourself” gives you the opportunity to ease into the interview, starting in what should be very familiar territory to you.
As you begin to share your answer, they can hear what you’re saying about yourself, but also how you’re saying it.
Is your body language open? Are you able to form coherent responses to more benign questions? Are you relaxing as the conversation begins to flow?
3) It helps the interviewers feel more comfortable
The “tell us about yourself” interview question also provides interview panel members with the opportunity to ease into the interview too. While some people are seasoned at conducting interviews, many are new to it or find it uncomfortable.
They also know you are interviewing them, just as much as they are interviewing you. So, giving you a chance to talk about you gives them time to ease into the flow of questions and answers.
The “tell us about yourself” interview question gives you a good opportunity to say in your own words why you believe you’re a good fit for the role and organisation.
It’s the perfect time to highlight the skills and experience you have that are relevant to the role you are applying for.
There are several key things interviewers are looking for when say “tell us about yourself” in an interview:
- Where you are currently (in your career)
- How you got to this point (education, previous relevant roles, strengths)
- What your future career goals are
- Why this role will help you achieve those goals
- Why you’re a good fit for the organisation (eg. Do your values align? Is your interest in that particular industry?)
Some common mistakes to avoid when answering the “tell us about yourself” question include:
1) Giving too much detail
Remember why employers ask this question. It’s more about helping everyone settle into the interview and to give the employer an opportunity to start to get to know you.
The idea is to give a snapshot, highlights – not your whole personal or career history.
Keep it brief – stick to talking about roles that have provided relevant experience. Talk about any study you’ve done that might help you perform the role well.
2) Focusing on too many personal details
While it’s great to reveal a little about who you are when answering this ‘tell us about yourself’ question, it’s important to focus most on role-specific information.
When covering why you’re a good fit for the organisation, you might reveal more about yourself – values that align, your expertise and interest in the particular industry and so on.
However, it’s not the time to reveal where you grew up, the car you drive or your favourite hobby (unless any of those are relevant to the role!).
3) Speaking negatively about your current employer
As with answering all interview questions, it’s best to steer clear of any complaints about your current role, team or employer.
Employers will always be drawn to candidates with a positive attitude over those with a negative attitude.
To answer the ‘tell us about yourself’ question you will always need to focus on you and the specific role you’re applying for, however these examples might help guide you along the way.
Anna, applying for a role as a retail manager
I’m currently working as a full-time retail assistant for Fashion Company X. I’ve worked at Fashion Company X for three years, since I completed my Certificate III in Retail.
During my time at Fashion Company X I’ve been given greater responsibilities over time and have filled in as shift manager on many occasions.
I really enjoy the different aspect of management including helping team members, problem solving, ordering stock, bookkeeping and opening and closing the store.
I am currently studying a Diploma in Retail Management and would like to move into management full time.
I believe my skills and experience in helping managing Fashion Company X would transfer well to the retail management role here at Fashion Company Y.
Tom, applying for a role in warehouse logistics
I’m currently between roles having worked in a warehouse for 18 months before being made redundant.
I have a forklift licence and a high-risk work licence from Safe Work Australia.
I have experience in unloading trucks and receiving goods and in my previous role I unloaded up to 15 trucks a day.
I am currently studying a Certificate III in Warehousing Operations and would love the opportunity to get back into the industry.
Gino, applying for a role in a call centre
I have just finished a three-month contract as a call centre representative. I really enjoyed the experience and would like to continue working in this field.
During my contract I enjoyed working in outbound calls and speaking with people from all walks of life.
I once achieved the team record of 48 outbound calls in one day. I was also taught how to use Database X and am familiar with this system which I note is helpful for this role.
Although I am new to the call centre environment, I am confident that I would like to continue in this field and work towards becoming a supervisor in the future.
Just like preparing for any interview, practicing answering questions beforehand will give you the confidence you need to answer with ease.
Document the main points and practice saying it over and over again.
Avoid learning it word for word – it always sounds more natural (and less robotic) if you’ve practiced from points rather than a script.
Try recording yourself and/or practicing in front of a friend or family member. You will no doubt fine tune both your delivery and your answer as you practice.
Remember, this question is designed to help the employer get to know you. The more relaxed and open you are as you answer, the more likely they are to see the real you – and that’s sure to make you stand out.