"Tell me something about yourself." Most job interviews start with this seemingly innocuous phrase. You must answer this question wisely, however, or you will risk not getting the job. Not only does this question give the employer that all-important first impression of you, it can also set the tone for the entire interview and either encourage or discourage the interviewer from wanting to learn more.
Focus on the Position
Focus on the job for which you are interviewing and consider what qualities you have that the company needs in that position. For example, if you are applying for a job as a nurse in a nursing home, say, "I've been a registered nurse for 15 years and have most enjoyed working with elderly patients the most." If you're applying for a financial position, reply, "I've been a financial manager for 20 years and have been successful by making logical, well-thought-out, responsible decisions. These decisions help the company increase revenues by 10 percent over the past several months, even in a tough economy."
Keep Your Answer Brief
The response to "tell me about yourself" question has often been called an "elevator speech" or 30-second ad. The answer to that question is only meant to be a very brief summary to introduce your skills and interests.
Make Your Answer Enticing
Although most of us don't have glamorous careers, you can use the "tell me about yourself" question to gain the employer's interest. Possible responses could be: "I started out my career in construction, but I soon discovered that I have a real flair for sales. I made some suggestions with my employer that helped them to set new records in housing starts." or "I like working in health care because I like thinking on my feet and working with people. For example, recently I was able to figure out that one patient who was particularly listless wasn't depressed as we had thought. He was having a reaction to a medicine."
Avoid Personal Details
Your response to this question should be brief and related to the job in question. The employer will likely not care where you were born, how many siblings or children you have or that you enjoy knitting or woodworking. In addition, discussing personal information could unwittingly cause the employer to be biased against you, even for a minor issue. "He likes fishing?" the employer may think. "So was the last guy in that job. He didn't work out--he was gone all the time. This guy would probably not fit here."
There is a distinct difference between confidence and bragging. Answering the "tell me about yourself" question is a chance for you to state your skills and achievements, not to tell the world how wonderful you are. "I was fortunate enough to have been the top seller in my region for the past 10 years," sounds a lot better than "I singleihandedly pulled the firm from bankruptcy."