Icebreaker questions are used in interviews to, well, break the ice. Many, however, think they’re only designed to help interviewees settle and help interviewers get in the groove.

Often there’s more to icebreakers than that. This includes the commonly asked question: ‘Tell me a bit about yourself’.

This expert article provides ideas on how to answer this question. It also provides ideas on how to leverage your answer to your advantage by focusing on career interests.

Thinking behind the question

Many interviewers ask ‘Tell me a bit about yourself’ to test communication skills. They’re also testing confidence levels. Interviewers might also be seeking information on why you want the job.

Be prepared

Be prepared before your interview so you make your response really count. Develop an answer covering important points employers will want to know. This could include:

Write down what you want to say. Be clear and organised in your thinking.

Be succinct

Avoid droning on. Don’t start at the beginning of time, with your first job and work through every other job you’ve held.

If you cover your whole career, the interviewer may doubt your communications skills. They may also have to interrupt to get to other interview questions. This could throw you off guard.

Think about time

How long should your answer be? Two minutes maximum. Any longer and it becomes problematic for the interviewer. After all, they have other questions to ask.

Conduct research

Research position specifications online. Also research the company’s profile. Choose what to highlight that supports your ability to do the job.

Be relevant

Relevance is putting your strongest foot forward. Relate everything you say to the position. If the job requires organisational skills, for example, and you’ve worked in hospitality, focus on time management.

Be interesting

You don’t need to repeat everything that’s in your resume. Interviewers are looking for highlights. They’re also looking for interesting detail that’s not in your resume.

Since you’ll sound passionate when talking about interesting content, think about addressing these types of questions:

  • What motivates you?
  • What exciting things did you learn?
  • How proud were you of a mega accomplishment?

Be positive

Don’t whinge about an employer or position. Interviewers find this irritating. It’s best to keep some things to yourself, like how you’re unhappy at work. Instead, show prospective employers your positive outlook.

Avoid risky topics

‘Tell me about yourself’ isn’t about diving deep into your personal life or talking about sensitive topics like politics. It’s about shining the spotlight on your professional life and giving insights into who you are.

Practice your answer

Don’t wait until interview day to develop your answer. Practice in advance, even in front of friends or family. You can also try recording yourself. This will build confidence and give you an idea of timing. Whatever you do, don’t memorise your response word-for-word. You’ll sound stiff, formal and unnatural.

Examples to ponder

Example 1

‘I’ve worked for seven years in customer service, including in busy call centres. It’s rewarding work because I provide people with information they need to make decisions about government payments. In my current job, I manage around xx calls a day, always with a professional approach.

Before this role, I developed high-level customer service skills as an Admin Assistant to a senior manager. Within four months I was promoted to Executive Assistant of the CEO.

I love handling multiple priorities. It’s motivating. I’m a strong time manager and passionate about arranging meetings, agendas and following-up to get things done. A major accomplishment was organising an event with 100 guests and a keynote speaker.

These are skills I’d bring to this role. I’d also bring my ability to strike productive relationships and work on high-performing teams.’

Example 2

‘I’ve been a high school teacher for xx years. During my teaching career I’ve developed strong communications and time management skills which I leverage to organise class structures and schedules. I believe these transferrable skills are of value to the project management role I’m applying for in government.

As a teacher I’ve developed other important skills relevant to government. This includes the ability to research and absorb new information quickly.

I also have strong administrative skills and establish productive relationships in team environments. Another skill of use to government is my ability to conduct interviews, as I do in teacher-parent meetings.’