Ahh, the good old ice-breaker interview question. Tell me about yourself. Whether your interviewer is planning a behavioural interview or not, usually they will start off with one or two ice-breaker questions to warm you up for the main event.
As an interviewer, I love ice-breaker questions, because they do exactly that. They break the ice and allow a candidate to start by talking about the topic they know the most about. Themselves.
My attitude to interviewing is a little different to some others. In an interview, one of my primary objectives is to get a feel for a candidate’s personality and whether or not they will fit the culture of the organisation and team.
I know other recruiters may use an interview to see how a candidate thinks on their feet and copes under pressure. Personally, that is not my style. I don’t think you achieve much by putting a candidate on edge or making them feel uncomfortable in an interview, but I warn you, there are people out there who believe in this philosophy.
Back to ice-breaker questions. Usually, ice-breaker questions are asked at the beginning of an interview. This is ideal as they serve their purpose far more effectively at the start, than they do once the interview is almost over. But be prepared for either approach.
So, how can you respond to ice-breaker questions like, “tell me about yourself”, effectively? Here are my best tips for you to impress your interviewer and score well with your responses.
1. Don’t start at the beginning of time
The question is pretty open ended, so you’re not really sure when to start, or how much information to give. A response of a couple of minutes is usually sufficient, so it’s best to keep this in mind. This means, there is no time for you to start your response at the beginning of time.
Although it can be worthwhile to explain how you ended up on your chosen career path, you should ideally focus your attention on the last five years of your career history; less if what you were doing earlier in your career is not relevant to the role you are applying for.
You don’t want to bore your interviewer with the story of how you came out of your mother’s womb – be realistic and stick to talking about the roles that shine a light on the skills and experience that directly relate to the position you are interviewing for.
2. Focus on your achievements
Everyone loves a good achievement, and as I have mentioned previously, achievements don’t lie. By talking about what you have done, completed and achieved in your career, you are demonstrating your capability.
You’ve probably heard me say before that you need to be specific and this is one of those cases. But remember, as you are providing an overall summary, you don’t want to get bogged down into the tiny details. There will be further opportunities in your interview to talk more about your achievements.
One trap that we can fall into, is to start giving a shopping list of the responsibilities or tasks we did in previous roles. This can certainly be valid information, but if you only have a couple of minutes, you want to get right to the good stuff. Save the STAR model for your behavioural questions; in this case you can provide a brief description of your actions, but emphasise the result you achieved.
Want to know how to respond when asked, "Tell me about yourself"? Look no further!
3. Tie your responses to the job you have applied for
Relevancy is key in everything you do to secure a new job and an ice-breaker question is no different. Some of the best responses I have seen for the “tell me about yourself” question, directly tied the candidates experience to the work they would be expected to do if they were successful. This is powerful stuff, but don’t worry, it does take practice.
The trick here is to find a balance between talking about yourself and talking about the role you are interviewing for. This can be a difficult balance to find, because you don’t want to talk too much about the role; if you do this, you won’t have answered the question. One way to successfully tie your experience to the job, is to use linking phrases. Here is an example of a linking phrase:
I noticed in the position description for this role, that one of the key responsibilities is XYZ. I was quite interested in this, because in my previous role I did XYZ. (Then you can provide more information about what you did and what you achieved.)
4. Allow your personality to shine through
When your interviewer asks an ice-breaker question, usually they are like me, and want to get to know you a little better. You still want to keep your career as the focus, but you should definitely let your personality shine through and don’t be afraid to tell a bit of your personal story too. (If your personal story relates to the role, all the better!)
I can’t tell you how to show off your personality during an interview, because everyone is different and what seems natural to one person could be the complete opposite for someone else. For me, my sense of humour is one of my super powers, so if it seemed appropriate, I would make a couple of joking statements and try to build rapport with the interviewers over some shared views.
For you, this could be as simple as mentioning your interests outside of work, showing off your bubbly personality by making eye contact, laughing and engaging with your interviewer or talking about where you went on your most recent holiday.
Don’t go too overboard though. This is not an opportunity for a ten-minute-long diatribe about why you only eat organic vegetables. A couple of sentences about your personal life is plenty. If your interviewer is interested in knowing more about your hobby of restoring vintage motorcycles, they will ask!
5. Use the opportunity to sell yourself
Finally, when you are asked an ice-breaker question, use the opportunity to sell yourself. I know that for some, particularly in an interview situation, it can be difficult to talk about yourself and what you have achieved in your career. But don’t shy away from the spotlight!
I am a huge introvert and would much prefer to sit at home with my laptop, than engage in small talk. But I don’t mind talking about myself when the time is right. It’s like a switch I can turn on; all of a sudden I morph from being a shy and brooding hermit, into the ultimate charmer. If you struggle with this though, practice is key.
Take some time out before your interview to think about what you would say if asked an ice-breaker question like this. Don’t over-rehearse it - you don’t want to sound like a robot. Make some dot points about your career and personal life that might be interesting and relevant in an interview scenario and practice delivering them. You will only become more and more confident, the more practice you get.
How do you cope when asked ice-breaker questions in an interview? Have you ever had a real doozy? Let me know in the comments. We can workshop your responses and see how you can improve your response for next time!