Interview icebreaker: ‘Please tell us about yourself’

From all the interviews I have attended, the first thing that the panellists will do is to welcome you to the interview session, introduce themselves and from there, they will kick off with a deceptively simple question: “Can you please tell us about yourself?”

Emmanuel Zvada

This is one of the questions that seems to be very easy to many people, but it is not as easy as one might think.
During an interview, your first impression matters most and, as such, failure to answer it correctly will distort the whole process.

Ultimately, your goal on how you answer this question is to get interviewers to see you, not as a potential candidate, but as a future employee.

An interview is really just a long sales pitch in which you are selling yourself and you want the company to buy your skills, experience and your attitude.

On the face of it, “tell me about yourself” is an innocent question, designed to break the ice and put you at ease before the actual interview starts.

Yet, I think it is one of the most difficult questions to answer. When an employer asks; “tell me about yourself”, they want to get a sense of who you are — the person behind the interview mask.

A lot of people are caught off-guard when asked this question and are struck out in evaluating themselves before the interview even gets started.

A good response to that first question will set the tone for the remainder of the interview.

What do interviewers want to hear?

Telling the interviewer who you are means selling yourself or giving interviewers an overview of who you are professionally and also your recent accomplishments in relation to the job you are looking for.

More so, the other reason why it is asked at the opening of an interview session is to enable them to see if you are really the actual person they are looking for.

In other words, when an interviewer says “tell me about yourself”, he or she really wants to know how your experience is pertinent to the job you are being interviewed for.

When you prepare to respond to the question, you are supposed to weave the following information into your response.
You are to include a brief introduction of your experience and education, your key strengths as they relate to the position you are being interviewed for.

In responding, you do not have to be too long, but to be straight to the point.

It is also very pertinent to mention your relevant past accomplishments that demonstrate your understanding of what needs to be accomplished in the position you are being interviewed for and your track record of success in this area.
In responding to the question, you can as well allude to the panellist how you see yourself contributing in the position you are applying for.

Common mistakes by interviewees

The question “tell me about yourself” in reality does not mean you have to utter everything about yourself in our outmoded sense.

Many candidates, unprepared for the question, will carelessly respond by summarising their life story, delving into their personal matters that have nothing to do with the job they are looking for.

An interview is not an invitation for you to simply list off your past accomplishments as some people might think.
Yes, it’s important for you to highlight moments in your past when you were successful, but the real power lies in highlighting the accomplishments that are most relevant to this specific position.

The other biggest mistake that job seekers make is of telling their life stories when asked during the interview.
This is probably the most common mistake that people make, as they will be delving on their own personality that has nothing to do with the job they are being interviewed for.

Additionally, it is important to avoid any topics that could be controversial.

Politics and religion should be left out of your response, unless if it is directly related to the position.

The main barricade for applicants facing this question is focusing too much on the question.

They tend to overthink their answer and fear giving the wrong information or making a “tell me about yourself” interview answer mistakes.

It is not the question that is difficult, but, rather, it is the anxiety of doing something wrong that causes us to sweat when we are asked the question.

Remember you are selling yourself

I have learnt one crucial thing that in each and every question that you are asked during the interview, it is an opportunity to differentiate skills, experience, personality and other attributes that will be critical for that job.
Selling yourself is a skill which needs to be learnt. During an interview, when that question is asked, it is wise to start with the present accomplishments and tell them why you are well qualified for the position.

Another factor one has to consider is that successful responses during the interview is about matching your qualifications with what the interviewer is looking for.

Before selling yourself in response to the question “tell us about yourself”, you have to know a complete description of what the position entails so that you will be in a position to uncover the employer’s wants and needs and match them with what you have in terms of your qualification and experience — that’s selling yourself.

Talking about yourself must be the easiest thing to do. After all, who knows you better than … you? But for some strange reason, nearly every interviewer can agree that giving a good answer to the question “tell me about yourself” during a job interview can be one of the hardest and most challenging thing to do.

Before going for an interview, you should be well equipped so that you get the job you have been hunting for.

 Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant / international recruitment expert and author: For comments inbox to emmanuelzvada@webmail.co.za or call +263771467441. He writes in his own capacity

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