Seasoned interviewers will have a profusion of key questions they ask you in interviews. The statement "so tell me a little about yourself" is probably one of the most common. It's always asked at the beginning of an interview to learn more about your experience and how you can add value to the position. It should be easy right, as if anyone knows a "little" about you, it's YOU? Wrong!
The reason this request often unnerves the very best of people is simply because they aren't prepared and / or uncertain as to how to answer it. As it's a very open-ended request, the interviewer is inadvertently testing your ability to choose what's relevant from your professional or academic life and relating it to the position at hand. It isn't a call to find out what your earliest childhood memory is or how many siblings you have. Interviewees should be aware of what this questions means so don't ask for clarification. That portrays you as incompetent from the outset.
So what should you focus on? Start off with an introduction and then refer to your key strengths and skills. Provide examples of professional accomplishments that substantiate your skill set. Next emphasize the importance of these skills to your future employer and how you plan to develop them further. For most graduates that possess little or no work experience at all, it's sufficient to draw on your experiences from part-time work, volunteering or academic life. The intention is to present a solid case as to why you are the best candidate for the position.
Many career experts will tell you to avoid mentioning your personal life, but I disagree. I believe making reference to some personal interests can be useful if you tie them back to your professional attributes. This strategy works better for recent graduates, as employers are more interested in the whole package compared to lateral hires.
Here's an example:
"I'm a recent graduate from the National University of Singapore, where I studied a bachelor in Communication majoring in Journalism. My passion for news and current affairs has led me to a number of opportunities including an internship with Channel News Asia and as a Volunteer researcher for the Asian arm of Reporters Without Borders. I'm now pursuing roles as a junior writer for news publications in Singapore.
I'm a confident and articulate communicator; I show initiative and demonstrate strong interpersonal skills to build relationships and get to the heart of a story. Recently in my role as a researcher for Reporters Without Borders, I was charged with the responsibility of interviewing a group of monks in Chiang Mai that were displeased with the local authorities' push to build casinos and nightclubs in a move to cater for increasing tourist numbers . At first their spokesperson was rather reticent and I had to overcome some initial skepticism as he was not confident about our motives. After establishing some common interests such as football and telling him about my family, he opened up about his feelings. It was through my ability to communicate appropriately and build a rapport with the monks, that I was able to capture the essence of the story.
I was also particularly inspired by the electrifying atmosphere of working in a prominent media house such as Channel News Asia. I learnt a great deal about the production of news content and the far-reaching impact that the propagation of these stories have. I'm now looking to harness my strengths reporting for a prestigious news publication like yourselves and I feel my communication and fresh approach to journalism will provide compelling literary content. In my spare time I'm also an avid photographer, and this skill enables me to complement my written work with powerful visual images. I therefore relish this current position on offer as it conjoins my previous experience with my desire to grow as an accomplished journalist ".
If you examine the above, it should read very similar to a cover letter appropriate for that position. Hence you can consider the answer to this vague request as a verbal interpretation of your cover letter. You might also consider this as an elevator pitch about yourself that you tweak according to the position you are interviewing for.
Preparation is of paramount importance also. While you may naturally be an eloquent speaker, it's best to be prepared for this question by knowing exactly what you're going to say. Rather than memorizing the answer and regurgitating it as a boring monologue, I would advise capturing the above in a few bullet points and memorizing these instead. That way when asked, it won't sound like it has been rehearsed but rather natural and fluid as you'd expect with any conversation.
So in summary, remember it's important to be familiar with the requirements of this statement and preparing a pithy response.