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“Tell Me about Yourself”: A Simple Formula for Answering a Complicated Question

“Tell Me about Yourself”: A Simple Formula for Answering a Complicated Question

by 

Michael Catford

October 3, 2017

Career advice
Development
Companies
Marketing
Sales
Design

You’re sat at the conference table of a tech company. Across from you are two professionally dressed figures, leant forward expectantly in their chairs. After the exchanging of niceties they put forth a predictable, but nevertheless intimidating, proposal.

“Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?”

As sure as the sun will rise in the east, “tell me about yourself” will pass through the lips of your interviewer. But despite its omnipresence it still seems to be a question that stumps a surprising percentage of tech interviewees.

So what exactly about yourself needs to be told? To answer that, we first need to take a look at the impetus behind the question.

Why does “tell me about yourself” get so widely used?

“Tell me about yourself” is a go-to question for a few good reasons.

For one, it serves to highlight your communication skills. This simple question requires a lot of the interviewee. You’ll be tasked with condensing yourself down into an attractive word parcel no more than a few sentences long – the fact is that most people hate talking about themselves, so many will find it quite the challenge.

“Tell me about yourself” also showcases your salesmanship. While the tech job that you’re interviewing for may not necessarily be in sales, any tech position will benefit from the ability to sell. If not a product, you’ll need to sell your ideas, your strategies and your long term vision to others. Selling yourself in an interview will give a potential employer a good glimpse of your sales ability.

Finally, the question – when answered correctly – will offer the interviewers a succinct summary of your credentials. It saves them the time of poring over your resume to find the important bits.

What are tech employers looking for in an answer?

First and foremost, they’re looking for relevance. No, they aren’t interested in your after-hours tap dancing, nor the fact that you love long walks on the beach. They’re looking for the previous experience, qualifications, and accolades that apply specifically to their open position.

They’re also going to be looking for succinctness – an answer that delivers this relevant information in an efficient way. A concise answer serves to demonstrate your communication skills, and also leaves the interviewers with more time to ask other questions.

It’s becoming more and more of a priority in the tech world to find employees that are a culture fit. Thus it’s wise to sprinkle a little bit of personality into your answer to allow the interviewers to gauge whether you’ll fit nicely into their team.

It’s important to realise that a tech employer is also looking to like you. It’s in their best interests to find a good candidate quickly; their life will be far easier if they take a few days to hire a new employee instead of a few weeks. If you’re feeling a little stressed out about the prospect of answering this question, remember that the interviewer has asked it in the hope that they’ll love your answer. See it as an opportunity, rather than an insurmountable challenge.

How do you answer the “tell me about yourself” question?

The great thing about a question that is so widely used is that it allows you to prepare an answer beforehand, which is key to answering the question well. You’ll want what is referred to as an ‘elevator pitch’ – a short summary, ideally less than 2 minutes long, that describes you and outlines your value proposition.

The construction of this elevator pitch can be simmered down to three distinct sections.

1.       Who are you?

Your first sentence or two should serve as an introduction to you as a tech professional. Think of it as a brief overview of who you are professionally; one that focuses on your strengths but that also offers a little bit of personality. As you can see that’s quite a few boxes to tick on the fly, so it’s important that you rehearse this beforehand.

e.g. “I’m a tech sales professional with 6 years of experience selling a wide range of products for some of the biggest names in Australian tech. I’ve got a deep passion for technology, and am driven by working with truly innovative companies.”

2.       Why are you the perfect candidate?

While you may well have clearly outlined your professional highlights on your resume, you can’t assume that your interviewers have read them. Follow your intro with two or three things that make you stand out from the crowd as a candidate.

e.g. “I’ve spent the last couple of years at TechCorp, where I was promoted to the role of key account manager after winning several sales performance awards. I’m a graduate of TechCorp’s renowned grad sales program, and am part way through a bachelor of computer science that I have pursued outside of full time work.”

3.       What brings you here?

Why do you want this position specifically? This is where you’ll require a good understanding of both the role that you’re interviewing for, and the company that’s offering it. You need to present yourself as a solution to their staffing problem. Never represent your current employment in a negative way, or as the main reason that you’re looking for a change.

e.g. “While I certainly love my role at TechCorp, I feel like now is the time for me to take on a more challenging and exciting role. I feel as though your company aligns with my strengths and values, and the position is one that really excites me.”

Putting preparation into practice

You’ll see that there are a lot of opportunities for this short introduction to develop into an interesting and overwhelmingly positive interview. Remember that you’ve got plenty of time to fill in any gaps and answer any questions that this introduction might raise later on, as “tell me about yourself” is generally the first serious question to be asked in an interview.

Take time to practice your answer. Get comfortable with it. And remember that a good interview is about dialogue, not monologue. Tell your interviewers about yourself, sure, but encourage them to interject whenever they feel the need to, and keep your answers crisp and concise.

“Tell me about yourself” needn’t be a sentence that gets the knees wobbling and the voice cracking. With good preparation it would simply be a door to an exciting new chapter in your professional life.

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