You walk into the interview and sit down and the interviewer almost without thinking rattles off the classic interview opener “Tell me a bit about yourself”. What you do next can determine the whole course of the interview… your career.. your life… not to put too sharp a point on it.
Now, the great thing about a question like this is that you have an open slate. You can go anywhere with this question – you are not tied down to anything specific.
So you should treat this as your platform to get across to the employer what you are really passionate about, where you go deep in terms of skillset and what typically sets you apart from other candidates. Clearly, that means you must know that before you go into the interview.
The great thing about questions like this is that you can prepare for them. It allows you to talk about the things in your work life that you are passionate about and that drive you and that emotion will come across in the answer.
It should also calm your nerves a little as you’re talking about things that are close to your heart and that can be easier than being put on the spot with a direct question.
What to include and leave out
The key issue with answering this question is, what sorts of things should you include and what sorts of things should you leave out.
The place to start is with your point of difference. A lot of people answer this question by going back to their early childhood and talking about somewhat irrelevant issues about how they got into their first job.
Often their first job has nothing at all to do with the one they are currently applying for. Then the candidate goes into a long and rambling monologue of how they went from one job to another or even one industry to another right down to the present day.
Unfortunately, this can get boring real fast and doesn’t often provide much useful information for the interviewer.
Answering the question as an IT professional
So here is an example of what might be a good response to that question “Tell me a bit about yourself” if you’re going for a technical support or IT engineering role.
“Very early on I discovered I had a technical mindset.
It was the late 80’s, early 90’s and my Dad would bring home reject computers from the office and get me to set them up in our home and I would try to figure out how they worked. As a 13 year old who just wanted to know how things worked I was continually fascinated and worked for hours tinkering away at them.
I would teach myself DOS commands and look for all kinds of hidden files and folder structures within the operating system.
That passion and quest to not rest until I fully understood something has never left me.
Employers constantly tell me that I understand how things work and why they work rather than just trying random things until the problem is solved.
I come across engineers, sometimes quite good ones with plenty of experience that troubleshoot based on experience. They say “Oh I’ve seen this before, I can fix it.” or “I haven’t seen this before so I’ll need to escalate it.”
My troubleshooting experience goes beyond simply knowing things or not knowing them out of experience. I can solve IT problems because I understand the way things work and why they work. And if I don’t know how something works, I find out first, before trying to randomly guess at the problem. This saves me a lot of wasted time in trial and error processes which can go on forever.”
Key things to remember
So let’s recap then on the key things you need to do when answering the question “Tell me a bit about yourself.”
- Don’t spend too much time talking about your childhood. A little example that is relevant to the job you are applying for right now is appropriate. But that is all.
- Don’t do a complete run through of your work history. Allow the interviewer to ask specific questions about your work history or why you left one job and went to another if they want to. Your role is to get across your strengths, passions and point of difference.
- Make sure you talk about what you are passionate about in life, specifically in relation to the job that you are going for. You can talk about your personal life and what is unique about your personality but do it in the context of how it relates to you being a good technical support engineer or whatever role it is that you’re interviewing for.
Finally, remember it is very important in open ended questions like this that you don’t ramble on too much. Keep your answer concise and limited to your passions, skills and personality as it relates to the job that you are interviewing for.