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“Tell us about yourself” and “Why do you want to work with us?”. They sound such straightforward questions, but the interviewer will hang on every word you say.

“Tell us about yourself.”

It’s an open-ended question that always comes up, usually near the beginning of the interview. It sounds like an easy one to answer – But it isn’t.

You have only a few seconds to create an impression to the interviewer and engage. If you get off to a shaky start, that first impression can be difficult to change. So make your story interesting and upbeat. You can start by saying which city you grew up in if you want, but focus on what is likely to be most relevant, such as your recent career.

If there is no interaction from the interviewer, nor body language signals to suggest you should keep talking, I wouldn’t spend any longer than one minute to tell your ‘story’. Don’t make this a long, drawn out monologue; only continue if the interviewer interjects and clearly shows interest.

“Why do you want to work with us?”

Can the interviewer envisage you working for their company and fitting with their corporate culture? Too many candidates give a standard ‘I want work for XYZ company because it has a great reputation and a friendly atmosphere’ And they regurgitate similar words for every job they apply for.

This is your chance to shine and stand out from other candidates. Do some thorough research on the company and try to find a hook that can give you a great answer. eg. ‘I’m very excited about XYZ’s expansion plans announced last month, and I want to join a company where I can develop my career and contribute to your company’s successful growth.’

The interviewer will probably take more note of your answers to these questions than any other in the interview, so make sure you are well prepared.


Video interview - Tell us about yourself - detailArticle by Rupert Sellers

It’s the opening interviewing question that all employers want to ask: “Tell me about yourself”. As a professional recruiter or hiring manager, you will have many structured questions to ask the candidate that relate to their current job, such as how they cope in certain situations and what value they can bring to your organisation, but the great ice-breaker question that has stood the test of time is: “Tell me about yourself”

There is good reason for this question as it tends to work well for both interviewer and interviewee. The candidate has the opportunity to pitch herself and effectively present her case for ‘Why me’, while the interviewer can use this time to evaluate the person.

In less than 2 minutes of answering the question the interviewer will have subliminally processed information about what they see and hear. This quick evaluation is more on the presentation, inflection, body language, enthusiasm and mannerisms of the candidate than the actual words spoken.

It may seem unfair, but the substance of the answer to this opening question is not particularly important; it’s the delivery that counts. The content becomes more critical later on in the interview process, possibly in a 2nd or final interview.

93% of communication is about what you see and hear

Nonverbal communication is extremely powerful, and the model devised by psychologist Dr Albert Mehrabian (below) has become one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications:

  • 55% of communication is visual (your body language)
  • 38% of communication is your voice (tone, inflection, etc)
  • 7% is verbal (your words)

Furthermore, according to psychologists Willis & Todorov, it takes just one-tenth of a second for someone to judge and make their first impression (See “First Impressions” 2006). Of course, professional recruiters will spend more time to decide if a candidate should be selected or eliminated, but not much more time.

In the early stage screening process, a couple of minutes should be sufficient. There’s no need for a full blown interview.

To save time, ask the classic question in a Video Interview

When you are next screening candidates (beyond the CV), think about how much time you actually need to spend. Your 2 minute evaluation on candidates answering “Tell me about yourself” can be just as effective via a recorded video interview as it is in a live face-to-face interview.

The advantage of recorded video is that it can take you just 2 minutes to review one candidate, before clicking to the next candidate, and then the next.

You can’t achieve this speed and efficiency when interviewing candidates in person.