Job interview techniques: How to answer the question "Tell us about yourself"

Peter Botting
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Detailing impressive facts and figures is a great tactic, but not when answering that question (Source: Flickr)

"So tell us about yourself." It's a great question to ask - and to answer.

Great to ask because it can blow up in candidates faces and exclude the ordinary, and great to answer because it is a brilliant opportunity to sell or resell yourself.

“Well I’m 39, married, got a 2:1 in the distant past, have had reasonable jobs since and believe that I am right for this job for the following generic and boring reasons…”
Too often this is the type of dull answer that job candidates give. The interviewer cringes inside and wonders how you ever got a partner in the first place!
This question comes up in job interviews almost without fail, but answering in a way that makes you seem employable, confident and memorable is unbelievably rare. You should be jumping up and down and whooping when it is asked. Do it well and you will stand out. Don't waste this gift of an opportunity by blabbering on about irrelevant and uninteresting information.
Here are some ideas on how to answer the question:
Tell a story
Storytelling in an interview is not about giving your life story or detailing every single aspect of your career since you left school. Storytelling is about telling an engaging narrative which reveals your personality, shows off who you are and explains why you are the one for the job. It should be a case study that shows off your skills and experience. The story has to be true and relevant to the job and the company. Which you have researched thoroughly. Haven't you? Of course you have.
Keep it brief and light
“Well in the last five years at Company Bravo, I took over a division that was set to be axed, brought about an increase of X per cent in sales from doing AB and C, increasing profits by £X. This was at a time when the industry average was decreasing at a rate of X per cent every quarter…”. That is wonderful but... what does the interviewer now know about you that they didn't know before? They read that story in your CV.
Detailing impressive facts and figures is a great tactic, but not when answering that question. Your answer to this question should be brief headline rather than heavy thesis. It should trigger further questions about your amazing achievements, wonderful life and personality and reshape the interview. Stories are exciting, engaging and engrossing and have people in them. People love people stories. Bare facts and figures are uninteresting, unexciting and uninspiring - and if they are too impressive, sometimes hard to believe.
Prepare and practise
Preparing for this question should be a priority. Write down some ideas – including your strengths, your personality traits, possible stories, the reasons you want the job and the reasons you are the one for this job. Research the company and the words they use on their website. Put these ideas together on paper and learn the main elements. You do not want to sound scripted or rehearsed - you want to sound knowledgable and confident. And likeable.

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