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Tell me about yourself: A simple guide to the dreaded interview question

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"So, tell me about yourself."

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Ok, while it’s important to tell a story, the employer is not looking for a novel – even a beautifully written one – when they ask this question in an interview.

So what are they looking for?

The purpose

To answer this question, let’s first consider the purpose of an interview. Interviewers ask all those questions in order to answer three main questions:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Do you want the job?
  • Are you the right fit?

If you’re in the interview, the resume has done its job of answering number 1: Can you do the job? You have most likely done a great job of demonstrating to the employer that your previous experience is relevant to their needs. For more on resumes, click here to read a YWCA blog on the topic.

Do you want the job? has most likely been answered in the cover letter you submitted where you made the connection between what they do and who you are; what you value and what they represent.

You’re on a roll! You are prepped, polished, poised and ready to go. So far, it’s in the bag!

The meeting

While preparing for the interview, it’s important to be nice to yourself. Speak nicely to yourself. Remind yourself that you have done a great job with the application and that you are 2/3’s of the way there. Ok, I may have made the accuracy of that fraction up, but you are definitely more than half way there!

The ‘tell me about yourself?’ question is a great way for an employer to get you in a nutshell and to build rapport. It’s also great for you because – if answered correctly – it can answer all three of the main questions in one beautifully crafted response. Win-win!

There's an acronym for that!

When preparing your answer to this question, you’ll want to include three categories in order to make sure you’re giving a complete response. Answering the question in its entirety should take you about 2 minutes or so.

W – Work

80% of your answer should be focused on your previous experience. It’s important that you don’t just repeat what’s on your resume. Use this time to expand on it. Consider things like accomplishments, what lead you from one job to another or how you contributed to your teams.

A – Academic

10-15% of your answer should reflect your academic background, including any relevant professional development you have done.

P – Personal

The last 5-10% should be about you while still keeping it relevant to the company, the position and/or the team you’ll be working with. Allow the interviewer see a bit more of your personality. Keep it lighthearted, and if you see fit, a bit comical.

It could sound something like: ‘And in talking to Jessica in the marketing department, I understand that ABC Corp. takes its team building exercises pretty seriously and that every Friday, there’s a ping pong competition in the break room. I feel it’s only right to tell you that I not only love ping pong, but actually made it to the regional championships back in high school.’

By considering and including those three factors (WAP) in your answer, you will be answering the three main questions (Can you do the job? Do you want the job? Are you the right fit?) in the first few minutes of the interview.

This article originally appeared on the YWCA Metro Vancouver's blog and is reprinted with permission.

Chantal Rackley is a Certified Career Development Practitioner (CCDP) and career advisor at the WorkBC North Shore. She has over 11 years of advising and facilitating experience. To get free services and support in your job search from dedicated professionals like Chantal, visit one of the YWCA Metro Vancouver's WorkBC Centres.

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