“Tell me about yourself” is the interview question reportedly most feared by early-career candidates. But it needn’t be.

While it is important, it’s certainly not the one question on which all your chances of getting a great job are precariously hanging – as some ‘advisors’ would have you believe.

Little gems like: “The way you respond to this question will decide the success of the interview and ultimately whether or not you will get the job” are poppycock.

As for “If you can successfully answer the Tell Me About Yourself question, your chances of getting the job increase tenfold” that’s hogwash too. Like ten times? Who says?

An ice breaker with punch
Originally intended as a way of breaking the ice and gently getting nervous candidates to focus on the task in hand, this question has assumed monster proportions. Don’t let it haunt you. Grab it, develop it and turn it around to become another powerful tool in your interview armory.

But where to start? Well, like any other project, this one needs a plan.

But even before you start to build your ideal answer, you need to know the space you have to build it in. In this case, the space is time. And the time is how long you can reasonably spend in answering that question under interview conditions.

Now, that’s easy. Most interviewers would expect you to spend between one and two minutes addressing that question. Still no better off? Okay then figure this; on average, people will speak up to three words per second or 150-180 words per minute.

So, now you have a window – a space of between 150 words (one minute) to 360 words (two minutes) in which to craft your little story about Brand You … a story which – by the way – will be about Professional You and not the personal version.

Begin with what brings you here into this interview room today – and that is, the role you currently hold, your back history and your reasons for wanting this particular role you’re interviewing for. For example:

“I began in administration but I’ve now been in the recruitment sector for the past five years in a what’s really a combined customer service and business development role. I love the work – and the challenges that go along with it – because the product is people. And I have the opportunity to use my skills to help many of them change their lives. Having a job makes all the difference in the world to most people.

Stress your strengths and commitment

But it has to be the right job. So I’m meticulous about the candidates I put forward. I work hard to make good matches. My clients are consistently happy with the people I place in office support roles. And the candidates tend to stay on for an unusually long time.

Mention why you are ready to move on

But now I’m about to graduate as a Bachelor of Business in Human Resources, it’s time to move forward into an Executive Search role. I have an understanding of the industry, solid experience, a reputation for good work and I’m quick to learn new skills. Also I think I’m now old enough to have gained a bit of credence.

I really care about my clients and customers and have no reservations about always going the extra mile. I think an innate curiosity, interest in business and my real delight in meeting new people and forging relationships all serve to make me good at my job.”

And what it is you’re looking for

“What I’m looking for now is a company that values its personal, clients and candidates where I can join a specialist team with a high reputation and continue to learn as I contribute to the company’s growth”

That’s 269 words – well below your upper limit.

There you are – it’s that easy.

Write your own story based on the guidelines (in bold) above. Polish it until you’re really happy with what you’ve said. Time it to make sure it fits. Practise it – over and over again with anyone who’ll listen.

Remember to always deliver this mini-biog with a smile and enthusiasm.

And the next time someone says to you “Tell me about yourself”, you’ll be ready, willing and very able to do just that!