There are so many articles and resources about this question – primarily because it is asked a lot during interviews. Usually, it comes up as one of the first questions and serves as an opportunity for you to introduce yourself. While most people realize it is important to stay relevant and not mess it up, they do not realize the potential it has for you to start with a powerful impact and set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
And I’m going to teach you how to do that today – the secret success formula. But to understand and leverage today’s topic in the proper context, we need to cover of a few fundamental tips first.
When interviewers ask this question, they are not asking for (nor are they interested in) your whole life story;
What they are asking for is to introduce yourself within the professional context – information that is relevant to your career and interview
Therefore, there is no need to talk about your family or where you grew up or went to your high school unless these things are somehow related to the interview.
Instead, focus on your experience, achievements, skillset, and others that describe your career and suitability
Another tip: Keep the answer short. One of the most common mistakes in this kind of open-ended question is to make your answer too long. Speaking too much and rambling on is the fastest way to lose the interviewer’s attention and interest, and this is NOT how you want to set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Instead, you should keep the answer to 1.5 to 2 minutes only (if you can make it less than 1 min, even better).
Now, with the basic concepts out of the way, what do most career coaches and videos advise you to do? They usually ask you to:
Take inventory of your professional experience
Choose 2-3 items you are most proud of from each company
Start with the current or the most recent work and go backward chronologically (around 2-3 jobs), mentioning the top 2-3 points you chose, and then finish with:
Why you are interested in the position you are interviewing for…
Don’t get me wrong. It is a decent approach (certainly, better than most answers). However, this isn’t going to make you stand out, make you memorable, or, again, start the interview with a bang.
If you want to respond with a genuinely unforgettable answer that will impress the interviewer right off the bat, this is what you need to do:
You don’t start with your own experience.
You’ve got to start with the job description.
Let me explain.
When we approach this question (Tell me about yourself), most of us think, “hmm, the interviewer is asking me to tell them about myself. Great! Let me go through what I’ve done, and what I’ve achieved, and let me pick my top 3 things. Oh, of course, I need to begin with my current or most recent work experience and go backward – since that’s how resumes are written, and I should do the same.” And then off we go.
But is that the best approach to position ourselves as the ideal candidate for the job?
An interview, at the end of the day, is a sales meeting!
It’s a sales meeting with a specific goal in mind – to convince the interviewer and the employer that you are the person who can meet their needs and solve their problems.
If people understood this one thing, most interview mistakes would be fixed automatically.
So if we are going to convince the employer that we are the person to meet their most significant needs, we should know what they are first. And what is the best source of this information? That’s right - It’s the Job description.
A JD contains a wealth of invaluable details that’ll help you with your interview preparation. And you should know the JD inside out.
And then, based on the JD, the responsibilities, and requirements, you choose your experience, achievements, and skill set that match these details the best.
If your current experience or work is the best match for the job, you start with that. Is it your previous job or two companies before? No problem – lead with whatever experience matches the employer’s needs the most, followed by other companies, accomplishments, etc.
And then, instead of finishing off with why you’re interested in the job, end the response by explaining why you are the right fit for the job.
Why you’re interested in the role is a useful piece of information, yes. But what’s much more interesting - in fact, what the employer ultimately wants to know is how strong of a fit you are (and why you’re the right person) for the position. Right?
This is why you want to end your response by explaining why and how you’re the person they should hire based on the qualifications you just told them.
Does that make sense?
The secret success formula to master the “Tell me about yourself” question is this. First, understand the job description (more precisely the employer’s needs and problems) and then, based on this information, choose your most relevant work and achievements followed by showing them what a strong match you are to the role, and why you’re the ideal person for the job in question.
Let’s look at an example together:
Below is a random JD I found on the internet. Please read the JD to see if you can glean the keywords to include in your answer.
Customer Service Manager
Our client is an authorized insurer to facilitate retirement financial planning through the provision of annuity products in Hong Kong; they are currently seeking a Customer Service Manager to join their team.
Oversee and manage the Customer Service team, including call center, service counter, and customer relations, through establishing service standards and monitoring key performance indicators
Identify critical areas for improvement, drive and implement changes for the Customer Service team to drive service excellence initiatives
Develop, implement and enhance customer service-related procedures, policies, and guidelines to ensure quality and efficient service deliverables
Provide coaching, guidance, and training to the customer service team to enhance technical knowledge
Degree holder in Business Management, Communications, or related disciplines, with professional insurance qualification (e.g., FLMI, ACS, or IIQE) an advantage
8 years’ relevant experience in the life insurance industry, including 4 years at the management level, solid working experience in customer service and life insurance operations is preferable
Familiar with policies, guidelines, and regulatory requirements for life insurance
Good command of both written and spoken English and Chinese, including Putonghua
Excellent customer-service mindset with effective interpersonal and communication skills
Strong management skills with an excellent understanding of service improvement in quality assurance, control and risk management
Here are my findings:
The primary responsibilities include overseeing and managing the customer service team , including call centre, service counter, etc.
It also includes identifying key areas for improvement, developing/enhancing customer service-related procedures, and providing coaching & guidance.
From the requirements section it says that life insurance domain knowledge, management, and customer service experience are all necessary.
Let’s assume that you have some of these experiences and requirements in your previous and current roles. Also, the most relevant experience you have is at your last company (instead of your current firm).
So we will start with the most pertinent experience and finish with why you’re the person they should hire or how you can contribute.
Based on the JD and the above findings, here is a sample response to the question, “Tel me about yourself.”
My name is Matt, and I have extensive experience in customer service management, especially in the insurance industry. Previously at XYZ, I was responsible for overseeing their customer service team, including the call center. I drove key improvement initiatives, including procedures and policies, to ensure quality service deliverables achieving a customer satisfaction rating of 95%, which was a major increment from the previous figure of 80%. Currently, at ABC, I provide coaching and guidance to the customer service team as a senior service representative. I have a deep understanding of the life insurance business as well as how to run a successful customer service organization. I understand these two areas are critical for the success of this role, and I am confident I can bring immediate contribution to your team if given the opportunity.
As you can see, we started with the previous company experience where you had the most directly related responsibilities to the specific requirements of the position the employer wants to fill. We also mentioned the achievements of improving the satisfaction rating from 80% to 95% (concrete figures) - followed by the current job.
And lastly, based on the experience we just shared, we completed the response by telling them why we can add value immediately and contribute to the specific needs of the employer.
This is how you position yourself as the IDEAL and perfect candidate for any job you interview for. And how you can grab the interviewer’s attention every time.
All the best with your job search!