Tell me about yourself!
There are two questions that are most dreaded in interviews. One of them is the infamous “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” To which, of course, we suggest that you do not answer “Fabulously rich and retired on an exotic island.” The other is “What can you tell me about yourself?” A chance for you to finally tell the story of how, when you were 5, you discovered you had the ability to tie your shoelaces twice as fast as the other kids. We are joking, of course, nobody really wants to hear that story.
So, why would an interviewer then ask this question? First of all, what you need to remember is that the interviewer is primarily interested in the job you are being interviewed for. Therefore the answer to this question needs to highlight what in your past is relevant to the position you are pursuing. If the position is for kindergarten supervisor, then maybe the shoelace story is actually useful. That is, if you continued to improve on that ability throughout the years, because nobody is interested in a skill you had 25 years ago.
So the answer should be built around your professional experience, starting from where you are now, picking out something essential from your previous job and ending with the reasons why you are there and you would be fit for the job. There are exceptions, of course: if, for example, you are applying for junior graphic designer, but have been working as an accountant, you might want to explain how graphic design has been your long-time hobby, which you now want to turn into something more profitable.
Basically, the answer to the “What can you tell me about yourself?” question is a custom made elevator pitch, which shows not only relevance, but also preparation. This leads us to the second reason why an interviewer would ask this question.
What the interviewer is also doing is testing your ability to answer an open question, which doesn’t give you the safety and confidence of your long list of prepared answers. What they are trying to see is how well you react and function when faced with a spontaneous “problem”. If you lose your train of thoughts, start sweating and talk about your childhood, then maybe you are not really fit to be a client complaint manager.
The trick is that this question is far from spontaneous anymore, because everyone knows it will be one of the first in the conversation. So you might want to take this opportunity and have your custom elevator pitch prepared before you enter the room.
“But won’t it look and sound pre-tailored then?”, you might ask. Well, we said “have it prepared”, not “have it memorized”.