This question and its close relation “Can you walk me through your CV” are two of the most common interview questions used, yet many people struggle to answer succinctly. They’re often one of the very first questions you’ll be asked, as they’re widely used by recruiters as an icebreaker to open the interview.
Because these questions are very general, it can be tricky to know exactly what to say, but the thing to remember here is that the interviewer already knows quite a bit about you: they’ve read your cover letter, they’ve seen your CV, and they’ve probably checked out your LinkedIn page if you have one. They’ll have already formed an opinion of you before picking up the phone.
What they’re trying to do by asking you to talk about yourself is to assess your verbal communication skills. You may come across as eloquent and confident in your cover letter – but are you like this in person? Do you have the composure and self-assurance required for the role? Are you positive and do you radiate energy? These are the types of things that an employer will be looking to find out over the phone.
“What I generally look for is someone who is at ease with themselves,” says business leader and The Apprentice star Claude Littner. If you’re calm and self-assured, it’s likely that you’ll be good to work with.
But of course, what you say is also critically important. The interviewer wants to find out more about you in relation to the role you’re interviewing for. They want to understand not only what you’ve done in your career, but why you’ve done it too.
Try using the “Present-Past-Future” formula to answer. First, talk about where you are now and your current situation, then explain how you got there, and finally, end with what you’re hoping to do in the future. The end of your answer should tie in with why you’re interested in applying for the new role you’re interviewing for.
“Well, I’m currently working as a copywriter at [current company name] where I manage all content for a wide range of clients – from writing company newsletters to creating new pages for websites.
Before that, I worked at [past company name] and I’ve worked within the writing and communications industry for 20 years.
I really enjoy what I do, but I’d love the chance to work in-house and dedicate myself to one company. That’s why I’m so excited about this opportunity to work with you at [new company name].”
Example answer for someone who’s returning to work after a long period of unemployment:
“Well, I’m currently not working because my role at [past company] was unfortunately made redundant last year. I’ve worked in this industry for 20 years [give specifics here] and am really passionate about what I do.
I used the time off work to think carefully about the direction I want my career to go in and I’m really keen to step into a role where I can develop my skills and take on more responsibility – that’s why I’m so interested in this role at [new company name].”