Career & Education

'Tell me about yourself'

Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith

Sunday, August 27, 2017

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Dear Joel:

Last week we responded to your question about how to answer when a recruiter asks you about your weaknesses. This week, as promised, we address your second interview question: “Tell me about yourself”.

It is, perhaps, the most dreaded of all statements made by an interviewer. It is the request all expect, but few hope to get. We suggest that rather than hold negative views about this unavoidable question, approach it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths (relative to the position, of course) and to give focus to the qualifications that make you the perfect fit.

Note well that this “question” may also be presented in other ways such as, “Who really is Joel?”, “Tell me more about you”, or “Give us an insight into your background”. Whatever the presentation, the interviewer's intent is the same. He/she is looking for strong indications that:

1. You can do the job (person-job fit)

2. You will fit into the organisation (person-organisation fit)

3. There are accomplishments you can speak of which substantiate your claim to being the right person for the job

4. You have what it takes to help the organisation achieve its goals

Do not use this as an opportunity to tell your life story or merely present a list of personal attributes. Also, there is no need to restate your name; the interviewer already knows that. If in the past your response was along the line of Mary Sue's below, it's time to re-consider.

“Well, as you know, my name is Mary Sue. I live in Clarendon but I'm originally from a small district in Hanover called Askinish. I am kind, compassionate, eager to learn, highly motivated, a team player and I can hit the ground running. I love to cook and make pastry. And later in the future I would like to own my own catering company.”

Your response to “Tell me about yourself” is your 30- to 45-second commercial or elevator sales pitch that will have the employer interested in learning more about you and that will assure him/her that inviting you to interview was a good decision after all. The golden rules to responding well are:

1. Focus on what interests the employer

2. Highlight your most significant accomplishments

3. Don't make a long speech

We are recommending a three-step approach to constructing your personal commercial/elevator sales pitch.

Tell who you are professionally

What is most impressive about you as a potential employee. Do not give too much detail or a chronology of all your experience and accomplishments. Instead, highlight what is most impressive about you as a professional. It's okay to make reference to how your competencies are being applied to your current position. For good measure, mention personality traits that may have direct bearing on the position you are seeking.

Say why you are qualified

Highlight two to four of your attributes that will convince the interviewer that you are the perfect fit. This could be a classic reverse chronological summation of your accomplishments in your last two positions. Again, bear in mind relevance to the position.

SAY Why you are here

Express enthusiastic interest in the position. In one or two sentences, show that you are fully aware of the company's needs and that you are more than prepared to help them meet those needs.

Even as you follow the golden rules and our three-step approach, try not to sound rehearsed as your respond. Your confidence, enthusiasm and true personality must shine through for the message itself to be convincing.

All the best.


Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith is associate vice-president of student services at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Manchester. Submit your questions to her at




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