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"Tell me about yourself" interview question - Simple ways to follow

Nimish Goel 
on 13 October 2014

LinkedIn


“OK. So tell me about yourself”

This seemingly simple question generally makes everyone sweat like a pig and can create a nerve-wracking situation for any candidate who is not prepared.  Well, there is no need to panic since it is not at all difficult to answer this question. 

However, before I start to help you find answers to this question, I would like to tell you that the hiring manager could ask this question in very different ways, such as:

- Tell me about yourself; or

- Can you take me through your CV; or

- Can you walk me through your CV; or

- Tell me something about yourself that is not written in the CV; or

- Is there anything not mentioned in the CV that I should be aware of.

In all the above questions, the hiring manager typically tries to break the ice with the interviewee so that he/she is able to gauge how well the candidate is organized in answering this unstructured question.  

In my personal experience of interviewing more than 100 candidates whilst I was with PwC or EY or in my current organization (IBA), the real purpose of asking this question is to judge how articulate the candidate is when he’s asked to answer a non-technical question.  This is because for technical questions, you may have prepared well in advance, but for such unstructured questions, you are generally unprepared, and therefore, a good way to judge your confidence and ability to handle such situations.    

The basis idea of asking this question is to talk to the candidate and enquire more about him, about his skills, his experience and his interests.  Now, you can ask me that all these things are generally mentioned in the CV, so what’s the need to ask it again. But then what you should also remember is that the HR manager may not have time to scan your complete CV and he might be more interested to speak with the candidate and test his communication skills.

Before I go further, I would like to share my personal experience of handling this question for the first time.  I went for an interview to a firm called RSM & Co (this is where I did my articleship).  The HR manager looked very smart and the moment I entered into the room and sat down he shot this question to me:

“Imagine that Nimish Goel (i.e. me) is sitting in another room and you are his friend.  On this assumption tell me about Nimish Goel”

For a moment I was completely ripped off by this question, because someone was asking me to describe myself but not as me but as my friend.  This was an absolutely googly and I would have got completely bowled over if I had not prepared well.  Basically, he was asking me the same question – “Tell me about yourself, though in a different way”.

Please note that this question is the best way to maneuver your thoughts and discussions in the way you want it to go.  This is an opportunity to talk about your achievements, interests and letting the HR manager know about your strengths.  This is probably your first and best chance to pitch to the HR manager on why you are the right one for the job. Be prepared to deal with it, it is unavoidable.

Don’t Say This

Although, there is no one single way to answer this question but there is something definitely which one should avoid saying.  If upon being asked this question you ask the HR manager – “What do you want to know” or “I have mentioned everything in the CV, please see it”, this would mean almost death of your candidature right away.  Such an answer to me personally would mean the candidate is not ready for the interview and perhaps, not ready for the job either.  To avoid such situations, you can also read my article on “Three things never ever to say to a recruiting manager”.

This is how you can try to answer this question

The interviewer is not asking about you as a person

Generally, the candidates start to answer by saying things like “My name is __ and I stay in… and I have so many brothers and sisters...”.  This is a completely wrong way to answer.  The HR person actually wants to know about your skills and achievements, what have you accomplished in your previous job and how you can help the organization achieve the desired results.   

If you are a fresher, then he is perhaps interested to know about your articleship experience, the kind of companies you did audit for, the kind of work you have handled etc.  This will also give him/her an opportunity to understand whether you have done your articleship properly or did you go for dummy. 

Use the Present-Past-Future formula

I read somewhere about this formula and quite liked it, so sharing it with you.  You can start with talking about your present job, the work you are doing and your achievements. Gradually you can tell about your previous employment and the work you do and why did you leave that job and then finish off with the future of why you need this job and how best you are suited for it.

It is important that you tell how you are the right fit for this job. Try and match the desired skills with your skill-sets and then sell it vehemently to the HR manager.  But, please don’t over sell yourself.

Let me give you an example:

If someone asks you, “walk me through your CV”, then you could say:

“Well, am currently working as an audit executive with ABC & Co where I handle audits for XYZ & Co and other similar companies.  I did my articleship from ABC & Co for three years and because of my excellent performance, I was offered a job post qualifying as a CA.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed working with ABC& Co, I personally feel that my skills and knowledge acquired over a three year articleship period would be quite useful to your company and therefore, I feel am a god fit for this position.”

This way you have mentioned about your skills, articleship experience, audit exposure and why they should hire you.    

Show them a movie trailer

The best way to answer this question is to remember that you need to show the interviewer a trailer of your professional and a little bit of your personal life.  The trailer should act as a teaser, forcing him/her to think about you more and more and enticed to ask you more questions.

Remember, the movie trailer always shows bits and pieces of the movie and if you carefully analyze, it shows the best scenes.  The reason is to entice the audience to come and watch the complete movie.  That’s exactly you want to do with yourself.  Talk about your strengths, talk about your relevant experience and talk about how you can exponentially add value to the organization.  The key to successful interviews is to match your qualifications to what the HR manager is looking for.  Sell them the stuff that they are looking to buy.

Narrate a story about yourself

The best way to have a meaningful engagement with the interviewer at this stage is to create a story around your those achievements that you want to highlight.  This question is the best time to have the conversation styled in your way and in your direction.  Because, at this point of time the interviewer is asking you speak rather than he speaking. 

In my personal experience of giving and taking interviews, I have always tried to maneuver the discussions in my favour whenever I was asked this question.   Telling about how I have executed projects single handedly, how I was felicitated on my achievements, telling about my performance rankings and eventually telling them why they should hire me.

Don’t take more than 2-3 minutes to answer this question

Trailers are not complete movies, they are brief.  So please be brief in answering this question.  At this stage of the interview, the HR person is not interested to listen to long story; rather he wants to know a little bit about you. 

Ideally answering this question should not take more than two to three minutes and to ensure that it doesn’t take much time, I would suggest you practice is question very well.  Write down the answer and rehearse it a number of times.

So, don’t fear this question.  Rather use this question as a weapon to shield yourself with any other dreaded question that may be coming your way.  I think you should feel really lucky if this question is asked, because answering this question allows you to set a tone to the entire conversation and if answered properly, it puts you in the driver’s seat.  This is an opportunity to sell yourself and thus, conquering the interview.

I hope I have been of service to you and these suggestions help you craft a wonderful life for yourself.  You can keep visiting my blog www.nimishgoel.com for more insights and tips.

Wishing you the best and green lights…

Authored by Nimish Goel (www.nimishgoel.com), a chartered accountant with more than 12 years of experience and who’s passion is to coach and help young chartered accountants and aspiring students achieve the best in their life.  Nimish used to work with EY and PwC in India and has also worked with KPMG in Europe.  He now runs his own consulting company and runs a blog www.nimishgoel.com.  He can be reached for any queries and issues on his blog and on his Facebook page “Nimish Goel Blog”.


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