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HOW TO ANSWER: Tell Me About Yourself

HOW TO ANSWER: Tell Me About Yourself

There are some job interview questions that are guaranteed to come up in most (if not all) of your job interviews — regardless of your industry, your experience level, and job type.

At the top of this list is the universal and much-dreaded classic: “Tell me about yourself.”

This question (or a variation like “Walk me through your background”) comes up in just about every job interview and many job searchers hate it.

They hate it because they get frustrated trying to decipher exactly what the interviewer is looking for. However, if you prepare properly, there’s no reason to dread this question.

In fact, this question is an opportunity — an opening for you to set the tone of the job interview and emphasize the points that you most want this potential employer to know about you.

Don’t waste the opportunity by simply diving into a long recitation of your resume. This also isn’t the time to mention that you love flamenco dancing and bingo (yes, I have seen candidates ramble on about hobbies and personal preferences many times and it’s a surefire way to make a weak first impression).

Instead, try a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. This is also a good opportunity to share some information about your proudest achievements and goals.

The Interviewer’s Perspective

Scary Businessman
What is the interviewer trying to achieve by asking you to “tell him about yourself”? Well, for the interviewer, it’s an easy and open-ended way to start the conversation.

His ultimate goal for this interview is to find out enough about you to decide if you’re a good fit for the job opening that he is being paid to fill. In most cases, he wants to like you. His life will be easier if he can find a great candidate quickly. However, he is also on guard because a bad hire will reflect poorly on his judgment and possibly be a mark against him when it comes time to ask for a raise or promotion or bonus.

He is hoping that this question will get you talking. This question is almost always asked first, perhaps right after some chit chat about traffic and the weather. As a result, his first impression of you will be all about your answer to this question. Your answer here will also set the tone for the interview and let you lead with your strongest selling points.

How to Nail “Tell Me About Yourself”

Tai Chi Man
Think of it as your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or business and its value proposition. It answers the question: “Why should I buy/invest?” It should be concise enough to be delivered during a short elevator ride (to the 5th floor, not to the 105th floor).

You need an elevator pitch for yourself as a job candidate — and it should be customized for different opportunities. You must keep it focused and short, ideally less than a minute, and no more than 2 minutes.

You won’t be able to fit all of your great qualities and resume high points into 2 minutes, so you’ll have to spend some time thinking about how to present yourself in a way that starts the interview on the right note.

A great answer will address the following:

  • What are your primary selling points for this job? This could be number of years of experience in a particular industry or area of specialization. You might also highlight special training and technical skills here. Focus on the qualifications in the job description and how you meet and exceed the requirements.
  • Why are you interested in this position right now? You can wrap up your answer by indicating why you are looking for a new challenge and why you feel this role is the best next step.

The Skillful Formula for Answering This Question

success formula
I’ll share the “Tell Me About Yourself” formula that I teach to my interview coaching clients (and Big Interview members). There are three components:

1. Who You Are — Your first sentence should be an introduction to who you are professionally, an overview statement that shows off your strengths and gives a little sense of your personality too. This is not easy to do gracefully on the fly. It pays to prepare a bit in advance.

Good: “I’m an innovative HR manager with 8 years of experience managing all aspects of the HR function — from recruiting to training to benefits — for Fortune 500 companies.”

Concisely summarizes diverse background.

Bad: “Well, I grew up in Cincinnati. As a child, I originally wanted to be a fireman, then later became interested in dinosaurs. I excelled in the sciences from early on, placing first in my fourth-grade science fair. Funny story about that…”

Way too much information.

2. Expertise Highlights — Don’t assume that the interviewer has closely read your resume and knows your qualifications. Use your elevator pitch to briefly highlight 2-4 points that you think make you stand out.

Good: “I have spent the last six years developing my skills as a customer service manager for Megacompany Inc., where I have won several performance awards and been promoted twice. I love managing teams and solving customer problems.”

The emphasis here is on experience, enthusiasm, and proof of performance.

Bad: “My first job was as an administrative assistant for Macy’s in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I learned a great deal in that role that served me well over the next 12 years. At the time, I wasn’t sure about my career path, so I next took a position selling real estate. It only lasted for six months, but I sure enjoyed it.”

Zzzzzzz. Nobody cares about your first job 12 years ago. You are starting with the least impressive part of your career and the interviewer is likely to tune out before you get to the good stuff.

3. Why You’re Here — End by telling them you want the position and why.

Good: “Although I love my current role, I feel I’m now ready for a more challenging assignment and this position really excites me.”

Concise and positive.

Bad: “Because of the company’s financial problems and my boss’s issues, I’m worried about my job’s stability and decided to start looking for new opportunities.”

Don’t be too candid or you risk coming across as negative. This answer also makes it seem like you’re interested in a job, any job — not this job in particular.

Remember: You will have time later to walk through your resume in more detail and fill in any gaps. Don’t try to squeeze in too much information or your interviewer WILL start to tune out.

A good interview is a dialogue, not a monologue. Keep it concise and give your interviewer the chance to dive in and ask questions.

Example Answer for “Tell Me About Yourself”:


“I have more than five years of experience as a technical project manager at top Wall Street companies. Most recently, I led the development of an award-winning new trading platform. I’m a person who thrives in a fast-paced environment so right now I’m looking for an opportunity to apply my technical exp and my creative problem solving skills at an innovative software company like this one.”

Notice that the first line sums up her experience and name drops “top Wall Street companies.” It’s always good to mention high-profile employers by name. Most hiring managers will perk up because they assume that if you made it through the hiring process at other well-respected companies, you must be pretty good.

She then describes an impressive recent project that we can assume is very relevant to the work required in the open position. Next, she spends time talking about why she’s interested in this company/role, using the terms fast-paced, creative, problem solving, and innovative. This is great if those words are used in the job description and/or company values.

With this answer to “Tell me about yourself,” the candidate is leading with some of her top selling points — experience at top firms, recognized stellar performance (award), technical expertise, problem-solving skills, etc. This will help him grab the interviewer’s attention and make a strong first impression.

It bears repeating that a strong first impression is critical in a job interview situation. Start the interview strong and end it strong and you might even get away with flubbing a few questions in the middle.

How Not to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”

Man Singled Out
Don’t make these common mistakes when responding to “Tell Me About Yourself”:

1. The Resume Rehash — Many candidates respond by launching into a recitation of their resume from the very beginning. That can turn into a very long monologue that starts with one’s oldest — and probably least relevant and impressive — experience. By the time you get to the good stuff, your interviewer has zoned out and is thinking about lunch.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to prepare a brief summary of the high points of each of your past positions. It is likely that you will be asked about your accomplishments and day-to-day responsibilities in previous roles. Ideally, this should come out in an engaging conversation, though, not a long monologue at the beginning of the interview. You’ll only confuse your interviewer with information overload.

Even if the interviewer specifically asks you to “walk him through your resume,” don’t take the suggestion too literally. You can still lead with your elevator pitch and then segue into an overview of your most recent position, leaving plenty of opportunities for the interviewer to jump in and engage with you.

2. Mr./Ms. Modesty — Many of my interview coaching clients make the mistake of being too modest. They reply with a humble or vague introduction that fails to clearly communicate their strongest qualifications for the gig.

Some of these clients are just humble people who aren’t comfortable with “selling” themselves. Others have never really had to worry about a strong pitch — they were always courted for new opportunities when the job market was stronger.

Today, the competition for any good job is fierce. Don’t rely on the interviewer to see past your humble exterior and figure out how great you are.

If you take time to prepare, you can find a way to present yourself to full advantage while staying true to your personality. For modest types, I recommend focusing on factual statements.

You don’t have to brag, “I’m the best salesperson in the world.” Instead, you can state, “I led my division in sales for the last three years and had the opportunity to bring in more than $18 million worth of new business during that time.”

3. The First Date Approach — This is not a first date. Your interviewer does not want to hear that you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Many recent grads misconstrue the question and talk too much about their personal lives and hobbies.

This is probably because many only have admissions and other school-related interview experience (clubs, programs, etc.). For these types of interviews, there is much more interest in who you are as a person. In job interviews, focus on who you are as a professional unless asked about hobbies or outside pursuits.

4. The Clueless Ramble — I have watched a surprising number of smart candidates totally flub this question because of overthinking. Their answers sounds something like this: “You mean about my job experience or about my schooling or what kind of information are you looking for?”

I know that these candidates are aiming to please and that “Tell me about yourself” can be interpreted in many different ways. However, asking for too much clarification only makes you look hesitant and confused. Dive right in with the approach that we outlined for you above. If they are looking for something else, they will ask you for it.

Good Rule of Thumb – Don’t pull a Michael Scott on your interview.
michael scott interview

Craft Your Pitch

So now that you know how to approach it, I have a feeling that you’ll learn to love hearing the “Tell me about yourself” question.

Take a few moments now to sit down and plan how you will respond in your next interview.

And please stay tuned for in-depth advice on answering other critical job interview questions in future posts.

BONUS: If your job search has got you down, enjoy the Sesame Street Job Song:

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Photo Credit: Dunechaser

About the Author

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase.She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York.She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

Connect with Pamela

86 Comment to HOW TO ANSWER: Tell Me About Yourself

  • Stephanie

    Ha ha, the ‘clueless ramble.’ I’ve seen that and I’ve done that. It’s easy to do if you’re unprepared and I think your post here has great advice in it. But I do like to ‘break the ice’ with an interviewer by finding something ahead of time we have in common. If both our kids play soccer, for example, a hiring manager loves the opportunity to talk about his child.

  • Kim Rawks!

    Unfortunately for most job seekers, the resume rehash is like a reflex – they can’t help themselves. But you’re right – preparing for the question will help you avoid awkward moments like that.

  • @stephanie – very true. Also, if you have an opportunity to meet the person in their office (as opposed to a conference room), you may noticed other things (family photos, awards, hobbies), that could help spark some of the initial rapport building.

    There’s a fine art to the chit-chat at the start of an inerview. It allows the interviewer to get more comfortable and get used to hearing the sound of your voice (and body-language).

  • @kim – it’s all a matter of practice, and getting comfortable with story-telling. It’s a skill, and like anything else, you need to spend concerted time and effort to refine it.

  • Dean Kelly

    This is probalby the best and most accurate and detailed response to a “killer” question that has sank too many job candidates. Thank you Pam !

  • @Dean – thank you for the kind words. Always happy to help.

  • Allan

    Once again Pam, you have offered up some great advice. Great work!

  • @Allan – thank you. I aim to please.

  • eric

    Pam your are truly a guru, thank you very much

  • Buzwani

    I think you have given an very important solution because i have always struggled to figure out what the interviewer wants from asking that question,

  • C

    This article is nice… For those who have previous job experience to speak of. What about those of us just going into our first (or perhaps second) job? I have no accomplishments worth mentioning but a soon-to-be-completed college degree. No leadership roles in clubs or teams, no awards. I worked at a grocery store for about a year in high school; nothing significant there. What am I supposed to say?

  • Hi C,
    For new or soon-to-be grads, the focus should be more on school. If you don’t have extracurricular activities that you feel are worth mentioning, you can talk about the quality or rigor of the school/program, key classes or projects, etc. (whatever is most relevant in showing that your schooling has prepared you for the position at hand). You could also talk about internships, volunteer activities, etc. Work with what you have.

  • Hassan

    Pamela,

    I am a fresher and I am applying for Mahindra Group. Do I start on with my achievements at University Level? I have applied for the Powerol Sales Dept. of this company and I am currently in my 7th Semester pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering?

  • Janis

    Well put together article that has really helped me scale down my opening statement (“tell me about yourself”) and I hope that 30 seconds isn’t selling myself short. I feel like I have followed your formula and have a winning intro!

  • @Janis – That’s great – glad to help.

    it doesn’t need to be 30 seconds, but it should ideally be under 1 minute and definitely no more than 2 min.

  • Angela

    Hey Pamela, thanks for the advice. I am going for my first job interview next week and your advice here certainly helped!

  • @Angela – that’s great. Glad the advice helped. Good luck, and let us know how things go.

  • Madhukar

    Thank you very much Pam! You rock! I feel blessed to read through your post

  • Leena

    Hi Pamela, what should be the answer if someone had an average experience history, not remarkable achievements but still have considerable years of experience.

    Thanks in advance.

  • isanyonestillfollowingthispost?

    what if i’m trying to change career paths? my education is in mental health, and my first real job was in the mental health field. i was there for 4 years and got laid off due to budget cuts. i’m trying to step into a sales career (basically for monetary purposes, but also because i believe i will thrive in a goal-oriented environment [i’ve got friends and relatives in sales], and i believe in excellent customer service). like the last guy, i can’t think of any (relevant) “accomplishments.” i’ve got the “who i am” and “why i’m here” down pat, but the middle part has me lost . . . i have an interview tomorrow . . . any suggestions?

  • Srikiran

    Just Wow…! this had helped me a lot, and i think this article is a must read for all the people out there. Cheers to Pamela!

  • Albertina Nande

    UUUhm PAm,i am preparing to go to my first medical school interview,i just finished high school so are there any specific answers to the tell me about yourself question for me or?

  • Mohammad Haidary

    Thankyou Pam, This your piece of writing saved me a job. You are indeed an expert. I wish you good luck with future endeavors.

  • Chumba

    Great advise. Thanks for that Pam

  • lilu109satyajit

    Hi Pamela, what should be the answer if someone had an average experience history, not remarkable achievements but still have considerable years of experience in hr executive post.
    Thanks in advance.

  • basha

    Thank you Pamela

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  • Michele

    I think you should discuss the college degree completed as an example of your ability to complete a goal. By the way, it IS life experience to spend years of your life working toward that. It shows organizational skills, time management and an ability to complete a project. Explain how much that has helped you grow and mature as a person since the grocery store job you held in high school.

  • Michele

    I think you should discuss the college degree completed as an example of your ability to complete a goal. By the way, it IS life experience to spend years of your life working toward that. It shows organizational skills, time management and an ability to complete a project. Explain how much that has helped you grow and mature as a person since the grocery store job you held in high school.

  • Teguh Hartono

    hi pamela thank you. this article seems a windows for my tomorrow interview

  • Teguh Hartono

    hi pamela thank you. this article seems a windows for my tomorrow interview

  • Teguh Hartono

    hi pamela thank you. this article seems a windows for my tomorrow interview

  • Teguh Hartono

    hi pamela thank you. this article seems a windows for my tomorrow interview

  • Stacey Harper

    how do i answer this question tell me about yourself i work in retail i have over 12 yrs experience

  • Stacey Harper

    how do i answer this question tell me about yourself i work in retail i have over 12 yrs experience

  • Stacey Harper

    how do i answer this question tell me about yourself i work in retail i have over 12 yrs experience

  • Everson Kadethe

    very fantastic; i have removed all the fear about interviews now. thanks Pamela

  • Everson Kadethe

    very fantastic; i have removed all the fear about interviews now. thanks Pamela

  • Everson Kadethe

    very fantastic; i have removed all the fear about interviews now. thanks Pamela

  • Thank you for the great advice.

  • Thank you for the great advice.

  • Thank you for the great advice.

  • Thank you for the great advice.

  • Thank you for the great advice.

  • Saurabh Sharma

    Hi Ma’am! Thanks for this article. I am a newly graduated student, and didn’t attend any interviews. I want to know if I should mention my family background also while introducing myself?

  • Saurabh Sharma

    Hi Ma’am! Thanks for this article. I am a newly graduated student, and didn’t attend any interviews. I want to know if I should mention my family background also while introducing myself?

  • Saurabh Sharma

    Hi Ma’am! Thanks for this article. I am a newly graduated student, and didn’t attend any interviews. I want to know if I should mention my family background also while introducing myself?

  • Saurabh Sharma

    Hi Ma’am! Thanks for this article. I am a newly graduated student, and didn’t attend any interviews. I want to know if I should mention my family background also while introducing myself?

  • Eve

    Hi Pamela, please give me an idea what should be the answer tell me about your self.

  • Eve

    Hi Pamela, please give me an idea what should be the answer tell me about your self.

  • Eve

    Hi Pamela, please give me an idea what should be the answer tell me about your self.

  • Eve

    Hi Pamela, please give me an idea what should be the answer tell me about your self.

  • Eve

    Hi Pamela, please give me an idea what should be the answer tell me about your self.

  • Eve

    Hi Ma’am what is your idea about why do you like to work in a call center agent.

  • Eve

    Hi Ma’am what is your idea about why do you like to work in a call center agent.

  • Eve

    Hi Ma’am what is your idea about why do you like to work in a call center agent.

  • Eve

    Hi Ma’am what is your idea about why do you like to work in a call center agent.

  • Eve

    Hi Ma’am what is your idea about why do you like to work in a call center agent.

  • Eve

    Hi Ma’am what is your idea about why do you like to work in a call center agent.

  • Shah Naveed

    Best answer for “First tell about your self” should include following three point:

    Present, Past and Future.. Present means what you are doing right now, your responsibilities relevant to the job applied for. Past means what you were doing before your current job duties and then tell them about your interest and vision for Future job opportunity.

  • Shah Naveed

    Best answer for “First tell about your self” should include following three point:

    Present, Past and Future.. Present means what you are doing right now, your responsibilities relevant to the job applied for. Past means what you were doing before your current job duties and then tell them about your interest and vision for Future job opportunity.

  • Shah Naveed

    Best answer for “First tell about your self” should include following three point:

    Present, Past and Future.. Present means what you are doing right now, your responsibilities relevant to the job applied for. Past means what you were doing before your current job duties and then tell them about your interest and vision for Future job opportunity.

  • Shah Naveed

    Best answer for “First tell about your self” should include following three point:

    Present, Past and Future.. Present means what you are doing right now, your responsibilities relevant to the job applied for. Past means what you were doing before your current job duties and then tell them about your interest and vision for Future job opportunity.

  • Shah Naveed

    Best answer for “First tell about your self” should include following three point:

    Present, Past and Future.. Present means what you are doing right now, your responsibilities relevant to the job applied for. Past means what you were doing before your current job duties and then tell them about your interest and vision for Future job opportunity.

  • Shah Naveed

    Best answer for “First tell about your self” should include following three point:

    Present, Past and Future.. Present means what you are doing right now, your responsibilities relevant to the job applied for. Past means what you were doing before your current job duties and then tell them about your interest and vision for Future job opportunity.

  • arnab

    Hi mam, I wanna ask one question. Mam i am from Metallurgy branch but due to some health issues i cannot persue metallurgy anymore.this Aug IT n FINANCE cmpanies are knocking the doors. What should i say to the HR if he/she asks me that WHY YOU ARE OPTING FOR IT IF U ARE SO GOOD IN METALLURGY AS U HAVE A HEALTHY CGPA??

    Plzz if u can help me on this issue…….

  • arnab

    Hi mam, I wanna ask one question. Mam i am from Metallurgy branch but due to some health issues i cannot persue metallurgy anymore.this Aug IT n FINANCE cmpanies are knocking the doors. What should i say to the HR if he/she asks me that WHY YOU ARE OPTING FOR IT IF U ARE SO GOOD IN METALLURGY AS U HAVE A HEALTHY CGPA??

    Plzz if u can help me on this issue…….

  • arnab

    Hi mam, I wanna ask one question. Mam i am from Metallurgy branch but due to some health issues i cannot persue metallurgy anymore.this Aug IT n FINANCE cmpanies are knocking the doors. What should i say to the HR if he/she asks me that WHY YOU ARE OPTING FOR IT IF U ARE SO GOOD IN METALLURGY AS U HAVE A HEALTHY CGPA??

    Plzz if u can help me on this issue…….

  • arnab

    Hi mam, I wanna ask one question. Mam i am from Metallurgy branch but due to some health issues i cannot persue metallurgy anymore.this Aug IT n FINANCE cmpanies are knocking the doors. What should i say to the HR if he/she asks me that WHY YOU ARE OPTING FOR IT IF U ARE SO GOOD IN METALLURGY AS U HAVE A HEALTHY CGPA??

    Plzz if u can help me on this issue…….

  • arnab

    Hi mam, I wanna ask one question. Mam i am from Metallurgy branch but due to some health issues i cannot persue metallurgy anymore.this Aug IT n FINANCE cmpanies are knocking the doors. What should i say to the HR if he/she asks me that WHY YOU ARE OPTING FOR IT IF U ARE SO GOOD IN METALLURGY AS U HAVE A HEALTHY CGPA??

    Plzz if u can help me on this issue…….

  • Jesuraj J

    Hi I m Jesuraj, pursuing my MBA(HR). I m a fresher with engineering as my bachelor’s. I would like to know, how to answer ” tell me about yourself”. I ve already checked your website for same, but it answer for experienced person rather than a fresher. Please help me with same.

  • Udaya Vani

    Hi Pamela,

    If interviewer ask “tell me about yourself?”, How to answer for this?. Actually I have around 4 years experience in software development. I have joined in one company as a intern guy during my academic project, after intern i continued there as s regular employee in the same company. right now i am working with freelancer for the last 2 years. Now i planned to search a job for Contract. Could u please help on this?

  • go4glory

    Explained nicely. It’s very useful. Thank you.

  • JAYMARK LAAG

    HAI maam pamela:)
    can u give me a idea of”WHY DO YOU LIKE TO WORK AS A CALL CENTER AGENT?;

  • Kasozi Ronald

    tell me about your self when you are applying for telesales job any one to help me

  • Manish Sharma

    Hello,
    I have 15 years experience of sale & Marketing. This is my 1st company only. i have not changed company. Now what should be the answer about myself. actually in an interview? I have joined this company as sales executive & promoted Sr.Exec. (after 2 years). than got transfer to different region as branch Manager (after 4 years) than Manager eastern region (after 5 years). pl. suggest me how to handle this question.

  • Hortensia

    Hi, what should be the answer if i am working as a secretary for 9 years and i was called for an interview for HR because i have a degree in Hr. What should be my answer. Tell me about youself.

    Thanks in advance

  • Shivonia Brantley

    Hi Pamela, how can begin my answer about “tell us your work history, including your interest to apply for Section Leader of Transportation?

  • Tamara

    Hi Pamela, how should I answer the question what work do I like completing? The have tasks, planning, brainstorms, projects as an example.

    Thanks for your help!

  • aune

    Tell about yourself for the examination officer job..

  • rekha

    Hi pamela..i completed my mba. In 2010.but after that gone for cancer treatment and other health complications..now im perfectly alright..now i want to start my career with a good job..but i dont know how to face the interview.y because i dont have any experience and im not a fresher also..so please guide me how to handle this..

  • Chrissy

    Do these questions ever receive a reply ???

  • سارة حنا دخان Hanna

    Hi Pamela,

    I wanted to apply as a Trainer. What are the things that I need to remember during my interview?

    Thanks in advance.

  • I love this site. I needed this refresher and it was effective to the very end.

  • Luke Ebuka Ofojebe

    This is the best approach I’ve come across so far.
    I love you Pamela.

  • Vibha Gupta

    HI PAMELA , How does some one answer if talked about why no promotion in last 6 years