Of all the tricky questions that can trip you up in an interview, the deceptively simple ‘So tell me about yourself…’ is a request that is rarely fretted about, but can have a pretty major impact on how your interviewer sees you.
Other questions may say more about your experience and skill, but this one has the potential to reveal plenty about your personality. In an interview situation, everyone is very keen to present themselves as the reliable worker bee, but this facade can slip when faced with questions. Suddenly you are an imperfect human!
What are the dangers?
Not convinced you are in any danger of making yourself look silly? An interviewer will not know you very well, so whatever you answer first is what they can assume you are ‘all about’. So while a deep love of knitting, time spent at your local pub and passionate support of Pompey may be big parts of your life, mentioning them among the first things in your response certainly gives you an unusual aura…
Essentially, whatever you say is what they will add to their understanding of who you are and what your personality is like, so there is real potential to read a lot into responses. If you mention an award you have won then you can come off as egotistical, while if you say you have spent the past few years in living in different places then the interviewer may suspect you lack focus.
There is no guarantee that this is how they will interpret what you say, but when competition is fierce there is no harm in utilising every part of an interview to push yourself ahead of the pack.
So how do you answer it?
Ultimately it depends on the job in question and how much you want to pander to your prospective employer – but be careful… If your response comes off as too rehearsed then you will come off looking false. The best way to approach this issue is to think carefully – before the interview – about your life and see if you can boil it down to almost a Twitter bio, briefly explaining in a positive manner who you are and how you arrived at your current point in life. With this written down, you have the points that you would like to convey to the interviewer, which you can reel off naturally on the day.
While it may feel authentic to just think of an answer off the top of your head, there is room for real embarrassment if you are not careful. Even a minor slip can make a difference – for example, it is fine to tell a friend that you loved university life because of the socialising side of things, but to a prospective employer this could spell out ‘party animal’ in neon letters.
At the end of the day, there is no harm in revealing who you are, but be slightly careful about what comes out of your mouth first…