How to Answer the World’s Most Common Interview Question

Interview question

Making a strong first impression is critical in connecting with your interviewer and achieving interview success.

Your interviewer’s impression of you is based on a number of factors: your punctuality, your attire, your handshake, and even your smell. All of these factors are important and create the impression. But what reinforces the impression is your answer to the first question your interviewer will inevitably ask, “Can you please tell me about yourself?”

This question is both difficult to answer well, and easy to answer poorly. Because the question is so open-ended, people tend to subconsciously switch on autopilot and then recite anything and everything about their career and academic history without any structure or reason.

A disciplined approach to answering the “tell me about yourself” question pays dividends, and allows you to:

  • Set the tone of the remainder of the interview;
  • Highlight the most important parts of your CV; and
  • Display your confidence and passion.

It’s important to be mindful of the following when preparing and delivering your answer to the world’s most common interview question.

Explain the ‘what’ and the ‘why’

Get straight to the point and share your professional story, through which you are able to convey to the interviewer your strong communication skills, your ability in synthesising information, and your passion for your area of study. Tell the story chronologically:

  • Start with school and university - what you studied and why?
  • Touch on your relevant professional experience if you have some - why did you pursue that opportunity?
  • Add any volunteer work which demonstrates your initiative and enthusiasm
  • Touch on your present ambitions and future goals - what do you aim to achieve in your career?

Tailor your strengths to the role

Draw out nuggets of gold from your CV which make you well-suited to the opportunity. This requires you to study the job description and identify where the requirements of the role match your expertise and experience. What’s your unique selling point and how can you best integrate it into your professional story?

End your answer with a question

Don’t fall into the trap of finishing your otherwise strong answer poorly and without confidence. A great tactic is to finish your answer with a question such as “Is there anything you’d like me to expand on?” This facilitates the interview becoming less of an interview and more of a conversation. If you don’t ask a question, include a confident closing statement such as “I’m excited about this opportunity and discussing it with you.”

Remember that less is more

Keep your answer within 1 and 2 minutes. Any less and your answer may appear to be lacking, and any more and your interviewer may fall asleep! If you’re struggling to fill in the time, talk about what it is that you love about a certain programming language, for instance, or a certain accounting software.

Bear all of this in mind and remember that your answer to the “tell me about yourself” interview question can help you stand out from the crowd and secure that job or internship. Your future self will thank you for taking the time to develop, practice and refine your answer.

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