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It’s an open-ended question which stumps many graduates, but all of us at some point will face the classic job interview question “why don't you start by telling me a little bit about yourself?”
It seems simple, but when it comes down to it graduates often find themselves wondering, what does the interviewer really want to know and how much should I be ‘telling’?
Planning your answer to this common question is important to ensure you are fully prepared on the day. Write your answer down and practice reading over it a few times, adding any key points as you go.
It is a good idea to ask your parents, a sibling or a friend to test you afterwards and give you tips on areas for improvement. Read our complete guide to graduate Interview Questions where we answer other common interview questions, with examples and video guides!
Scroll straight to the bottom of the page to see a quick, summary video of how to answer!
Answering the question "Tell me about yourself" can be a minefield, because it is so broad. We’ve found that the best way to tackle this classic graduate interview question, is to first understand - why does an employer ask it?
While the hours spent poring over your graduate CV means you know it like the back of your hand, keep in mind that an employer won’t be so clued up.
Remember, in the time between first reviewing your graduate CV and inviting you to interview, your interviewer has most probably had a hundred and one other things to consider.
It’s your job to focus their attention back to why they invited you to interview in the first place.
What you should do: Think of it as a short refresher - give an overview of your graduate CV, including a summary of your degree with any key skills learnt, what you’ve been up to since, and what has brought you to the point of wanting this graduate job.
The key to interview success is not just down what you say, but how you say it. Whatever graduate job you go for, you’ll need to be ready to interact with a range of different people.
This could be anything from presenting new ideas to clients and explaining difficult concepts, to chasing up your colleagues on a project or persuading customers to buy.
All of these situations require you to be confident, clear and concise - and an interview is the perfect opportunity to show it. The word 'concise' is key here, be careful not to ramble when answering this interview question, you need to keep the employer's attention the whole time. For tips check out our blog on how not to ramble in an interview.
What you should do: when asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, keep in mind the most important qualities for the job from your employer research - then keep yourself in check throughout the interview. Are you talking too quickly? Are you mumbling? Do your points flow? If you find yourself getting off track, pause, collect your thoughts and continue - it will make all the difference to an employer’s ears! This is a key part of answering all graduate interview questions successfully.
You made it to the job interview - now it’s time to really shine. You need to grab the interviewer's attention by dropping in all of your key achievements. When you're asked the question "Tell me about yourself", it really is your chance to say as much as you can about your achievements.
The interviewer will often use your response as a springboard for the next question i.e. ask you to elaborate on some of the points you just mentioned - this is a great chance to steer the interview in the direction you want. When you're doing your prep for graduate interview questions, make sure that you can talk professionally and in detail about yourself.
What you should do: Highlight your key strengths and achievements - especially the areas you'd like to expand on during the interview. You can add emphasis to these points by having a slight pause after each one, before continuing onto the next. Focus on your skills and attributes that match the job description.
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Seeing an example answer can be helpful when planning your own answers to common interview questions, and although each graduate's response will be very different to one another, it is useful to have a good idea on how best to structure your response. Here is how a Grad student applying for a Digital Marketing Assistant role might answer the question:
"I'm [first name] from [area], I studied Marketing Communications at Bournemouth University and have recently graduated with a 2.1.
I am keen to pursue a career in digital marketing, having completed my dissertation on 'The Impact of Digital Marketing on Businesses Today', for which I analysed the digital marketing strategies of 10 businesses, giving me a sound understanding of key digital marketing tools and the importance of getting your strategy right.
As well as being part of the marketing society at Uni, I also write a blog in my spare time, educating people about ways in which social media can be used effectively. Juggling this with my university work has strengthened my organisation skills, I always plan my week's work in advance, prioritising tasks to ensure that I work efficiently to complete everything on time.
Last year I gained work experience within a digital marketing agency which reinforced my desire to get a job in this sector. I love maths and have a very analytical mindset so I am keen to build on my SEO and digital analytics knowledge. I think I would really enjoy the job role and I believe I could bring significant value to your team; it's always easy to market something you're passionate about!"
The employer does not need to know that you went to beavers, cubs and scouts when you were younger - try to only talk about skills and experience gained within the last 5 years.
This will demonstrate to the employer that you have continued to progress throughout university, improving your strengths along the way.
This is one of the common mistakes that many graduates make when telling the interviewer about themselves. Don't just read from your CV, you don't want to send the employer to sleep! Make sure you explain key points clearly, demonstrating your passion and enthusiasm.
It might be an idea to prepare some notes with bullet points to ensure that you cover the main points, whilst avoiding relaying exactly what the employer already sees in front of them on your CV.
Whilst it is important to build a rapport with the interviewer, they don't need to know your partner just moved to the area and you want to as well. This might suggest you’re not committed to the job itself.
As this is one of the first questions you are likely to be asked at the interview, try to concentrate on telling them about your work-related skills as opposed to your home life. Share your personality with the interviewer, but not personal details.
Towards the end of the interview, after you have answered some more questions you will be able to make a judgement on how formal or informal the interviewer is. Once you have a better idea of how the interview is going, then you can really let your personality shine!
When answering this interview question, your response should follow a clear structure. Having your points all over the place suggests you have a muddled brain and doesn’t set you up well for the rest of the interview. Although "Tell me about yourself" might sound open-ended, remember to keep your answer structured and concise.
Take your time when answering and try to stay relaxed. Use some of the techniques outlined in our blog on how to relax before an interview.
It is easy to go off topic when answering this interview question. Try to focus on the experience which is directly relevant to the job you’re going for. Don’t lead by saying you’re a shoe maker if you’re sat in an interview for investment banking!
Tip: Win extra points for relating your experiences, both from education and extra-curricular, with things you have learnt about the employer from your research.
Tip: Change the playback speed in the settings at the bottom right corner, to suit your learning requirements!
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Next up, find out what graduate employers are really asking for in the job description. Ready to put it all into practice? Search the latest jobs over on our Graduate Jobs board.