“So, tell me about yourself.”

It’s usually the first question the hiring manager asks in a job interview. And despite its seemingly simple, nonchalant nature, it’s worth giving this question some serious thought before you head to the interview. After all, your answer to this question forms part of your first impression, and can set the tone for the rest of the interview.

Here are some quick dos and don’ts to help you prepare the perfect answer, plus an example response you can use.

DO: Be prepared. Many people head into the interview expecting this question to come up, and assume they’ll be able to brush it off easily. However, it’s actually a lot different when you’re on the spot and trying to piece together a succinct, coherent answer. The best way to get around this is to prepare an “elevator pitch” beforehand, summarising the value you bring to the employer and why you’re applying for the job in the first place. Write down some notes, keep your answer no longer than 30 to 60 seconds, and practise it over and over.

DO: Tell a story. Everyone loves to hear a story, so I find this the best way of looking at it. Follow a simple past-present-future format, talking about your most recent career exploits, where you are now, and where you want to be in the future. That last bit is the most important – you want to emphasise why you applied for this particular role and where you fit into the picture. Check out the model answer at the end and you’ll see what I mean.

DO: Talk about your skills and fit for the job. Is it ever too early to start being confident in a job interview? I think not. This opening ice-breaker is the perfect chance to slot in some info about your key skills and why you’ll be the perfect candidate.

DON’T: Ramble on and on. I’ve mentioned the importance of telling a story, but try not to go overboard with it. One of the most important things to realise is that the interviewer does not want to hear your entire life story. Many candidates, unprepared for this question, launch into a vague and sloppy summary of their life, focussing on irrelevant and/or far too personal highlights. Simply put, the interviewer does not want to hear about how you played for your primary school’s rugby team or how you went soul-searching in Barcelona in the summer of ’07. By remembering the first two points on this list and preparing (and sticking to) your elevator pitch, you can avoid the rambling trap.

DON’T: Regurgitate your CV. Rule number one of writing a cover letter is to avoid simply repeating what’s on your CV. The same principle applies when you’re telling the interviewer about yourself. Don’t use your CV as a script to rattle off your past roles and achievements. You’re a storyteller – you can answer the question in a much more interesting way.

DON’T: Answer with a question. Please don’t be cheeky and answer their question with your own question. You know, along the lines of “What do you want to know?” or “Um, where should I begin?” At best you’ll look unprepared and unconfident; at worst, you can look arrogant.

So, with all that in mind, here’s how a candidate applying for a marketing role could respond when faced with this question:

I finished uni two years ago and since then, I’ve been working at ABC Agency. After just six months as Account Executive I was promoted to my current role as Account Manager. Through these roles, I picked up lots of digital marketing skills such as Google AdWords, SEO, and social media marketing, which helped one of my biggest clients increase sign-ups by 140% this year.

I’m now looking for a new challenge in a larger organisation, and I see XYZ Corporation as the perfect place where I can apply the skills and knowledge I’ve gained over the years.

Notice how this person told a relevant story about their career, highlighting their key skills and a major achievement, and tying it all into the job they’re applying for. In just a matter of seconds, the interviewer now has some good context and background about this candidate, knows exactly why they’ve applied, and has a taster of the skills and experience they bring. Who in their right mind wouldn’t be intrigued and want to find out more about this person!

So there you have it. By simply keeping the employer’s needs first and sticking to a plan, you can turn a tricky opening hurdle into an irresistible first impression.

– John

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