Most of us will try to second-guess what our interviewers might ask us. Whatever the interview is for, you can put your money on it starting with the age-old question that isn’t technically a question:

“Tell me about yourself.”

It may seem a simple request, but what is a recruiter actually looking for in your answer?

Avoid preparing for it at your peril! This isn’t a fluff or filler question – it could stand to shape the course of the whole interview.

Why do interviewers ask, “Tell me about yourself”?

It’s natural to wonder! Surely a recruiter will know everything they need to know about you from your CV?

Though CVs help interviewers see the skills and experience you have identified in yourself, they also want to know that you can walk the walk.

By asking you to tell them about yourself, they’ll see if your CV is an honest reflection of you.

How should I respond to the question “Tell me about yourself”?

Think of it as the cover letter to your interview!

If you took our advice, you will have used the language and ‘desirables’ from the company’s job spec to write your cover letter in your application.

Work these principles into your response, and work backwards. What do they want to see in their candidate? Someone who knows how to lead a team? A self-motivator?

Make sure you mirror their language by using the same keywords they included in their job spec.

This isn’t to say you should just rattle off a list of skills without context! Choose two or three related to the job spec, and weave them into your career history. If they want someone who knows how to lead a team, for example, you’ll definitely want to talk about your past experience of fostering relationships in a positive light. How did your work history help shape your approach to leadership?

Here are three ways that you can work their language into your response:

For all of the above, make sure to stay positive about your previous employers! Even if you can’t wait to get away, you don’t want to start on a negative note.

Apply the rule of showbusiness: Always leave them wanting more!

We did say it’s like a cover letter, but it is just a bit more complex – a great response will also leave breadcrumbs for conversation later on in the interview.

You’ve given them part of the story of ‘you’; a story that will hopefully continue at their company, so end your response on a bit of speculation. What inspired you to apply to this role, and how do you see the trajectory between this new role and the one you have currently?

“Tell me about yourself.” A model response

I am currently working as a personal assistant at Google. I have been there for three years, and during this time my exposure to several projects gave me a lot of practice with supporting groups of people across teams and departments.

As part of my role, I have to check and publish error-free reports to tight deadlines. This work, coupled with personnel support, has given me strong organisation skills that I think every good PA needs!

Google gave me some great experience working as a PA, and now I feel ready and prepared to use these skills in a more senior role. One skill that I have but didn’t need to use so often at Google was self-motivation. Whether I’m learning to crochet or teaching my niece how to play basketball I never sit still; I love to keep myself challenged. While I love my work and the team at Google, I know I would really enjoy a more active rather than a reactive role. This is when I saw a great potential fit for me in your team.


What questions seem to come up again and again for you at interviews? Are there any that you never feel prepared for? Contact us, or follow us on social media, and let’s keep the conversation going!