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HOW TO ANSWER: Tell Me About Yourself

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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- click here for a 7 day free trial of my interview preparation tool). 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.

blog_ad_1xRemember: 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.

Inside Big Interview, our complete training system for job interviews, we give you video lessons, more sample answers, and an interactive practice tool to perfect your answer to “Tell me about yourself.” Click here to grab your own 7 Day Free Trial of the program.

 

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.

Then, sign up for a Free 7 Day Trial of Big Interview. If you have an interview coming up (-or if your fingers are crossed!), there’s a lot more to prepare for after introducing yourself and your background. Big Interview combines a complete video course on interviewing taught by myself with a powerful Mock Interview Practice tool that will get you ready and confident for the real thing. It covers thousands of different job roles and industries, from entry-level to C suite. Click here to give it a try.


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

Written by

Pamela Skillings

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.

97 Comment to HOW TO ANSWER: Tell Me About Yourself

  • 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

  • rahul

    awesome post.. grt…

  • Cecília SOUSA

    Hello! Congratulations for your website and tips. I have an Online English Course and would like to use some of the content (some text and the videos) in a class. Of course, we would put all credits and share the website with our students. Do you allow us to do so? Best regards.

  • Cecília SOUSA

    Euh, I have no idea why it shows your photo oO

  • Majid Sajjadi

    Hi Pamella
    It was simply the best description for acing this infamous “Tell me about yourself”. I definitely love to hear it in my incoming interview.
    Thanks

  • Charles Russell

    Get you loan today at 3% interest rate on charlesrussellloancompany@gmail.com

  • David C

    I am a Lead Process Operator in small Chemical Plant looking for Bigger and better Chemical Plant jobs ! I had a phone interview yesterday for Gulf Coast Water authority not exactly what i am looking for, but i wanted to see how i would do ! Let me tell you, i wasn’t prepared and failed miserably. She asked several behavioral questions that i was hoping they wouldn’t ask.Anyway can someone tell me if this is a good answer for this behavioral question “Tell Me About Yourself…” I have 10 years’ and more than 4 years as a Chemical Plant Lead Operator, I oversee the entire production process at “my plant name”. I supervise the workers and maintain the equipment within our plant. My goal is to ensure that the production process runs safely and smoothly and that the plant produces quality results. I coordinate with Plant Manager on special projects and to get all plant workers on the same page. Thanks for any help! I am preparing myself for next interview so i don’t embarrass myself again..

  • Robert Smith

    Too much info. It’s disorganized.

  • Alex Baby

    Great read. Introducing yourself might seem like not a big deal but trust me it is. Because one knows you better that you yourself. Get that information across precisely and not as vague data.

  • Anazoh Neirhc

    what if you’re a fresh graduate? how do you answer this question confidently with having so little experience?

  • Hi Anazoh – take a look at the interview I did discussing new grads: https://biginterview.com/blog/2015/04/how-not-to-bomb-a-job-interview.html

  • Aditya

    Hello Sir/Madam,

    Although you have my resume, But thanks for giving me opportunity to introduce myself.

    I’m Seema, I have Post Graduat degree in ______ &________ from XYZ private institute.

    I belongs from a joint family. My husband is working as a supervisor in a technical firm. I hav two child both are studying.

    I did my schooling from ABC school and UG (11th and 12th) course from DEF college.

    presently i m working with a private colllage as principle, as teacher of ________. so i have an experience of admin and teaching both.
    I am also preparing for competitive exams so i used to keep my self updated as per current trends.
    My hobbies are readings books, cooking, communicating with new people, music

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