“Tell me about yourself”

Tell me about yourself

As I’m about to start interviews for a Digital Marketing Coordinator to join my team, I thought it would be a good time to share a blog post I wrote a while back in a previous role at Potentia.

The “Tell me about yourself” interview question can be one of the most dreaded questions poised to you in an interview. There is no real right or wrong answer, yet how you answer it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. As it’s such an open question it often throws people, unsurprisingly most people do not prepare for it. So when poised with the question one will think – what exactly do they want me to say here? What do they want to know? And then the panic sets in; some of you will freeze not being able to respond, start reciting every detail in your CV or worse turn into a rambling Michael Scott!

Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way…” – Michael Scott (from the Office).

Whatever you do, don’t be a Michael Scott. So you ask, “what should I share when asked the ‘tell me about yourself’ interview question?”

Why are they asking you the question?

Before we get into how to answer the question, let’s think about why your potential new employer has asked you this question? They could be:

  • testing you to see how you will answer without direction;
  • trying to see how you articulate information about yourself in a few sentences;
  • trying to gain an insight into your personality and how you compare to the other candidates;
    trying to see if you will fit in with their company culture; or
  • ultimately wanting a high level overview of your achievements, knowledge, skills, abilities and personality.

It’s important to think about what they may be looking for so you can put an emphasis on things that you know are paramount in the person they’re looking for.

It’s your time to shine!

Now it’s time to work on how you will answer the ‘tell me about yourself question’, as this is your 5 minutes of glory and a prime opportunity to really position yourself as the right person for the role.

What you need to do in roughly 5 minutes is to explain in a structured approach who you are, what you do and why you’re the perfect candidate – essentially a slightly longer version of an elevator pitch. If you’ve never prepared an elevator pitch consider using the present, past, future formula to structure your response:

  • Start with who you are and where you are now in your career.
  • A little bit about your experiences, successes (relevant to the role) and skills you have gained.
  • Finish with the future – where you are looking to go, achieve and how this fits in line with the job you’re interviewing for.


  • Focus on skills and experience that are relevant to the role.
  • Relax and show your personality.
  • Be concise and enthusiastic.
  • Be prepared to be self-deprecating and/or use humility!
  • Summarise your background, achievements and objectives.
  • Talk about your career goals that are relevant to the interview.
  • Give them your “Unique Selling Proposition” – your biggest strength and benefit a company will get from you.
  • Including a quick mention of volunteer work, interests or hobbies that are relevant to the role or will show a bit of your personality.


  • Share your life story filled with personal information – they aren’t looking to find out if you’re married or what you hate about the city.
  • Badmouth past employers.
  • Talk about what you don’t want in a role i.e. working late.
  • Tell them that your dream or passion is something completely different to the role you’re interviewing for (you’re not exactly going to stick around then are you).
  • Avoid politics and controversial topics.
  • Dive into a long recital of your resume.

Finally, it’s a good idea to make sure what you are going to say is reflected on your professional profiles such as your LinkedIn profile and successes are mentioned in your CV. Employers will check out your social presence just as you will (or should) have checked out theirs! Now go prepare your brilliant answer and practice it with a friend, family member or a recruitment consultant before you head into your interview.

The original version of this post was on the Potentia blog.


Pushing past the ‘sugar coating’ to determine a company’s true culture

Office Safari

You are so fantastic that everybody wants you! Now it’s time to be a bit selective – do you really want to work for them, yes it may be your dream role, but is the culture right for you? After all, it’s imperative to know whether they will appreciate your encouragement of staff to take up the next desk safari challenge.

On a more serious note, it can be hard to determine what a company culture is like, and culture can make or break a job as well as influencing your confidence and drive. When interviewing, your potential new employer (like you), they will put on their best game face. This means that you often won’t get a true sense of the culture in the workplace.

So how can you judge the culture of a potential employer and whether they like office pranks and desk safari challenges before signing on the dotted line? Workplace culture is extremely important to me as I’ve worked for the brilliant, the good, and the ugly – the difference it’s made to my performance and enjoyment is huge. So along the way I’ve devised the following strategies and questioning to help gain an insight into what a company’s culture is like:

  1. Look up company review websites, which feature reviews and ratings by current and former employees. One company review website, which is growing in popularity in New Zealand is Glassdoor.
  2. Check out the company’s social media accounts (and if you can current employees). Look out for what’s going on, if they have fun and if there are any an indicators of what it’s like to work at the company. Several years ago when interviewing for a contract, I noticed the director’s PA had tweeted saying “Ops I just spilt my coffee all over my boss #fail”. I slid this into a conversation in my interview, which to my luck generated a great conversation that not only gave me an insight into how she reacts to situations but also taught me how she interacted with colleagues and those she managed.
  3. Is there a social hierarchy? Find out whether the CEO and managers socialise, meet and connect with people outside of their team. Do they treat staff as an equal regardless of age, position or title?
  4. Ask to meet some of the team members/employees (especially if you are going to be managing a person or team). If the company wants to ensure you are the right fit for the team, they should welcome this request or already have it as part of their recruiting process. Ideally, when you meet it will be in a relaxed environment over a coffee or drink. You are more likely to receive an honest response from team members rather than those who are interviewing you, so it is worthwhile. At my current workplace, we have a peer review process, which involves the potential new employee going out for a casual drink with three or four of us (employees). Not only does that mean that we get to assess if they are right for us and our culture, but whether they see themselves fitting in.
  5. Ask in your interview what the company culture is like. I always ask this question and when I do, I am looking for two things in their answer. First, I want to know how employees work together and support each other. Next, I want to know if employees are sociable and if the company puts some effort into bringing everyone together as a team. Of course, it is unlikely that they will say something negative, however if they answer enthusiastically and spend a decent amount of time describing the culture, it’s likely they like the culture themselves. For bonus points, you could also consider asking, “why did the last couple of people leave?”
  6. Ask your interviewer what do they personally like about the culture, as well as what it’s like compared to the last place they worked at. This will give you a baseline to help understand their view on the company’s culture.
  7. What happens when someone makes a mistake? Are individuals able to learn from their mistakes or are they crucified the first time they make one or something goes wrong? We’re all human after all and things don’t always go to plan.
  8. What is the busiest time of the year or quarter? This will let you know whether they are always busy and perhaps overworked. Take note whether people work together at these busy times and if they are collaborative.
  9. Look out for humour and laughter. When you arrive at the office and while in the interview look out for laughter and humour.
  10. The good and bad statements staff make. Ask what is the most common “great” statement said by staff about the company, and on the flip side, what is the worst complaint heard regularly in the office? Amusingly the most common complaint I’ve heard at my workplace is that one certain colleague keeps leaving half a banana in the fruit bowl!

Finally remember here in NZ we pretty much live in the land of two degrees of separation so do ask your network if they know what the culture is like. There is always a good chance someone will know of someone who can give you their thoughts (although make sure you gain an insight into the context of their opinion to measure its worth).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your best method of determining the culture of a potential employer?


This blog post was originally posted on the Potentia blog.

The bigger picture


Think about the bigger picture – especially when recruiting

Recently I was at a Social Media Club event and started talking to a woman about jobs. We both found it very frustrating and quite simply rude when you apply for a job, have several interviews and consequently never hear back, or if you do it is via a generic rejection letter.

Even though it takes time to personally contact applicants it is still  important that you do. For example, a few years back I applied for a job at an agency and had several long interviews with each of the directors. I knew I was up against some tough competition, and since they weren’t too sure whether to go for a senior marketer or someone with a bit less experience, the applicants they interviewed ranged hugely in experience.

The agency took a long time to say which applicant they were taking on and their form of rejection was a plain generic email. Now the generic email part was a bit of an insult. Fair enough if you hadn’t had an interview then the email was adequate, but as I had several interviews I expected at the least an email saying thank you for coming in for the interviews. Ideally, I believe you should ring everyone at this stage to let them know why. I do understand that they most likely did not have time to ring everyone and probably had a similar excuse for the poor email, but to me it’s an example of their poor communication skills.

Now you might be thinking what does it matter? Well to me it does as in all of my jobs from time to time I have had to find and use an agency. When choosing an agency for a project the one key thing I look for and expect is excellent communication skills. Consequently I wont use that agency and not because they didn’t employ me but for their poor communication skills.

The woman I spoke with at the Social Media Club had a similar experience to mine. She interviewed several times for a position and never heard back. Getting tired of chasing them up she eventually gave up. Her less than perfect impression of the business has now hindered her business from becoming involved with them and the business in question could have benefited from this.

It is more beneficial than you think, looking beyond what is right in front of you and thinking of the bigger picture. Sometimes people will simply hold a grudge no matter which way you let them down, however it’s better to know that you have communicated in the best way that you could. And in my experience, especially when recruiting marketers there is a great chance that they could end up becoming a client and/or a business partner, so always have the bigger picture in mind.