A Guide To The Most-Asked Interview Question

10 January 2024

By Caroline Graham

A Guide To The Most-Asked Interview Question

​Stepping into an interview can sometimes feel like navigating uncharted waters—exciting yet unpredictable. But there's one question you can almost always rely on, the classic "Tell Me About Yourself”.

It's the opener that sets the stage, the casual-sounding inquiry that is anything but casual. How you respond can set the tone for the entire conversation that follows. Let's understand the weight of this question and consider what the interviewer is asking.

They're not just interested in hearing about your past jobs and education. They want to know who you are as a person, what you're passionate about, how interested you are in the opportunity, and why you're a good fit for the role and the company. Your answer to "Tell me about yourself" is your chance to steer the interview in the direction you want it to go.

Tell Me About Yourself: A Guide

  1. Your Professional Summary: Start with your professional self. Think of your career as a storyline with a beginning, middle, and hopefully, an exciting chapter that includes this potential job. Begin with a snapshot of your highest qualification or defining professional moment, then transition into recent roles and responsibilities. This sets a strong professional foundation for your answer.

  2. Skills and Achievements: Next, it's time to shine a spotlight on your skills and achievements. Pick a couple that are most relevant to the job you're applying for. Maybe you boosted company sales by 30% or managed a team that completed a project under budget and ahead of schedule. Numbers and concrete accomplishments will be your best friends here.

  3. Align Your Experience with the Job at Hand:Now, bridge the gap between your previous experience and the job you're interviewing for. How do the skills and accomplishments you've just highlighted prepare you for this new role? Tailor this part to the job description, showing that you've done your homework and understand what's required.

  4. Keep It Professional: Although you want to express your individuality, remember, this isn't a personal question. It is not the time to discuss your family life, your pet, or your interest in collecting rare stamps—unless, of course, these are somehow pertinent to the job. Keep the focus on your professional self, but don't be afraid to let them see the person who'll be a part of their team.

  5. Be Concise: Aim to keep your response to two minutes or less. Give the interviewer enough information to get to know you, without boring them with a long lecture. Keep it relevant and concise, prompt their next question, and set yourself up to elaborate on the key points mentioned.

Crafting Your Answer

It helps to think of your answer as a brief opening statement for the interviewer. Here's a simple 5-step structure to follow:

  1. Begin with your background in the context of your current professional situation.

  2. Outline your recent career journey and any significant milestones and skills.

  3. Align these skills and your journey to the role you're applying for.

  4. Briefly touch on who you are outside of work in a way that brings value to your professional narrative.

  5. Highlight an aspect of your professional journey that you can expand on strongly.

Think of your answer as a strategic set-up for the next question. By mentioning something intriguing but not giving all the details, you can pique the interviewer's interest so that their next question will prompt you to elaborate. For example, if you say, "One of my proudest moments was when I led my team to overcome a major project hurdle," chances are, they'll want to know more about that.

Once you've crafted your response, practice it. But remember, while practice is key, you don't want to sound rehearsed. The point of practicing is so that you can remember the key points and your response will come naturally to you in an interview situation.

Keep it natural and conversational, adjusting as needed for the specific job and industry.

Sample Answers

Here is an example of a well-structured answer to 'Tell me about yourself':

"I'm currently an Investment Analyst at [company], where I've been for the past three years. My main focus has been on developing robust investment strategies for our high-net-worth clients, which has involved deep analysis of market trends and individual portfolio performance.

Before joining [company], I gained experience at a local credit union, starting as a Financial Advisor. It was there that I really developed a knack for understanding client needs and translating complex market dynamics into straightforward investment advice. This role helped develop my communication skills and gave me a solid grounding in building and maintaining client relationships.

One of my key accomplishments to date was designing a tailored investment strategy that not only stabilised returns for our at-risk accounts during a volatile market period but actually improved their performance by 20% year-over-year. This experience reinforced my belief in a data-driven, client-focused approach to portfolio management.

I'm particularly interested in how technology is reshaping our industry, and I'm always exploring ways to leverage fintech to enhance our service offering. I'm drawn to the innovative work your firm is doing in this space, and I'm keen to contribute to your team with my analytical skills and client management experience."

Here is another example of an entry-level interview:

"I’ve recently graduated from [educational institution] with a degree in Business Administration, where I was fortunate enough to complete a placement with [company] in their personal banking division. There, I learned a great deal about the financial needs of individual clients and the importance of tailored service in finance.

During my studies, I also worked part-time at a local restaurant, where I developed strong customer service skills and a work ethic that I'm really proud of. Balancing work and study taught me how to manage my time effectively and stay organised, even when things get hectic.

I'm known among my peers and managers for my attention to detail and my approachable manner—qualities I found to be invaluable when dealing with customers and clients. Whether it was handling reservations under pressure or managing stock during busy periods, I've always been driven by the challenge of meeting and exceeding expectations.

While my professional journey is at the beginning stage, I bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective, along with a genuine passion for building a career in the financial services industry. I'm excited to leverage my academic background and my practical customer service experience to start my journey in finance, and I'm ready for the challenges and opportunities that this position offers."

Answering "Tell me about yourself" is your moment to set the scene for a winning interview. It's your story, your pitch, and possibly your best opportunity to control the direction of the interview.

Prepare it well, and you'll not only answer their question but also open the door to a conversation that could land you the job.

At Phoenix, we specialise in aligning Financial Services, Accounting & Finance, Legal, Technology and Sales & Marketing professionals with their ideal roles across Ireland, the UK and the USA.

We understand the market inside out, but more importantly, we invest time in understanding you. We are dedicated to supporting candidates at all career stages and levels in preparing for interview success.

If you're looking for support in your next career move, browse our jobs, or get in touch with our team directly.

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