When it comes to job interview questions, there are some that are definitely more feared than others. From the tricky “Why should we hire you?” to the complicated “Where do you see yourself five years from now?“, these questions are enough to turn even the most confident candidate into a mumbling mess – and we hate to say it, but these questions don’t tend to get any easier the further into your career you get.

Now, while the questions I mentioned above have some pretty obvious right and wrong answers, there are other common interview questions that have less clear-cut answers, particularly when they relate to you as an individual – and the dreaded “So, tell me about yourself…” invitation definitely falls into this category.

The problem with this invitation (it’s not really a question is it?!) is that it’s pretty vague which means it falls into a bit of a grey area. Does the interviewer want to know about you as a professional? Your employment history? Your personal life? Your interests? Your background? With this one, it’s hard to tell… which is why it normally sends candidates into a bit of a mild panic.

common interview questionsYou see, right here and now it’s easy to reel off all the things I mentioned above but when it comes to an interview situation, the dreaded mind blank seems to appear from nowhere – and you’re left fumbling about for an answer, any answer which doesn’t make you sound like a complete weirdo or a robot who does nothing but work 24/7.

So, how do you begin to pre-plan for this kind of situation? Well the first thing I’d say is that with this kind of question, it’s best to keep it professional. OK, so it might be pretty cool that you were the UK’s under 16 table tennis champion or that you lived in California until you were 11 – but, unless you’re applying for a job as a table tennis coach or a job as an American/English copywriter, how’s that really going to help the interviewer or the end company?

In this kind of situation, the interviewer is looking to get an insight into who you are as a candidate and what you can bring to the company – so I’d say it’s worth making your professional profile the main focus of your answer.

When preparing your answer, try to think about your employment history, your major achievements and what you’re most proud of. Think about your unique selling points and what you can bring to the company that other candidates can’t. Also consider what parts of your professional life are going to interest the interviewer the most – and how your skills and experience can benefit the company.

With this answer, it’s best to keep it short and concise – no one likes a rambler, and besides, the interviewer can always ask you to expand on a point if they want more information. Because this situation tends to crop up at the beginning of an interview, with this answer you almost want to ‘hook’ the interviewer so they’re intrigued and want to find out more about you as a candidate.

When it comes to the question of whether you should comment on your life outside of work at all in this answer, I’d be inclined to say yes – but only briefly! While it’s best to keep your answer to “Why should we hire you?” question purely professional, with the “Tell me more about yourself” answer there’s more scope for comment on your background – so I’d say it’s OK to briefly mention your personal life if you feel it could add to the interview and your application eg. you’ve recently moved back to the area because you’ve just had a baby and you want them to grow up in the area.

So there you go; just like any other interview question, when it comes to the “Tell me about yourself” answer, preparation is key. Remember, with this one, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer as such – but having no answer at all can never be a good thing, particularly when this question is bound to appear in one guise or another – so try and think this one through ahead of time to ensure the dreaded mind blank doesn’t take hold and leave you speechless.

As ever I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this. Do you have any top tips for candidates when faced with this kind of situation? Leave us a comment below.