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The Interview Answer You Didn't Know You're Messing Up

29th November 2016

“So tell me about yourself”. Few interview questions sound so simple, and yet, this unremarkable icebreaker is one that our recruiters say people mess up the most.


On the surface, it might look like a fairly straightforward question, one that’s almost impossible to get wrong. But what most candidates fail to realise is that the interviewer isn’t really asking you to talk about yourself; they’re asking you to talk about your professional self, and there’s quite a difference between the two.

Avoid Getting Too Personal

Interviews & first dates share a lot of similarities: forced smiles, hope, an endless stream of questions, and a lot of nerves. One thing they do not have in common however is the answer to this question. Misinterpreting this question as an open invitation to talk about yourself is one of the easiest ways to drop the ball and get the interview off to a bad start.

As enthralling as your life-story may be, interviewers are looking for you to focus on your professional self with this one. While there’s no harm in telling them where you’re from, or how many kids you have, they really don’t want every candidate they meet to tell them that they like movies, books, football, eating, sleeping, breathing…. Our own research has found that over 40% of employers dislike candidates who are overly familiar in interviews, so keep it professional.

Don’t Repeat Yourself

Imagine you’re shopping around for an item online, and hit “More Info”. A little box with text pops up, but when you read it, it’s just the same information rephrased. This frustratingly useless course of action is unfortunately all too common in interviews.

When answering this question, you should bear one thing in mind: you’re sitting in an interview. Why? Because you sent in an application, they read it, and asked you to come in. By the time you’re sitting in front of a hiring manager, they already know what you studied, and that you worked in your last role from Apr 2014 – Nov 2016. Regurgitating this information is not only a waste of time, it’s a waste of an opportunity for you to tell them your professional story. What made you decide to switch to your last role? What were the main things you learnt and achieved there? And why are you looking to move on now? Rather than just telling a hiring manager what’s on your CV, fill in the blanks and tell them what’s not. Nobody else can do that for you.

Show Your Enthusiasm

When we asked our recruiters for the number one piece of advice they would give to candidates, many of them came back with the same answer: show your enthusiasm. As much as employers love to see a candidate with a great education and solid experience, enthusiasm for the role can make or break the interview.

This advice is supported by our own research: our Q3 2015 Employment Monitor found that 96% of employers would choose a candidate with a good attitude over one with more experience. This is because it’s easier to teach enthusiastic people what they need to know than it is to instil enthusiasm in someone who is more complacent, so make sure you show off your passion. 

This deceptively simple question is all but guaranteed to come up in your interview, which is why it can be so offputting if you get it wrong. Failing to understand what a hiring manager is looking for from this question not only means you waste time talking about irrelevant subjects like pets and kids, but also tells the interviewer that you don't really "get it". So as much as you may want to talk about your cats, your cradles, or your silver spoons, save it until you've got the job. I'm sure your new co-workers will be just fascinated to hear all about them then.

Ready to tell them about yourself?

Now that you how to answer this question, let's find someone to ask you. 

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About the Author

Simon Griffin

Marketing Executive

Marketing Dept.

I have worked as a writer since I began attending university, and have been working in marketing ever since I graduated. I aim to provide well-researched, fact based, original work that people will find useful and interesting. I have written hundreds of articles as both a freelancer and a marketing executive, and look forward to writing for Cpl. 

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