“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most common interview questions you’ll receive at the start of the interview. As a leading job candidate for a great opportunity, you may be asked this question over the phone or in a face-to-face interview.
It sounds like an easy question until you think about it carefully and realize that responding with the correct answer can be challenging, especially when unprepared.
One thing that makes answering this question complicated is it’s an open-ended question that can go in many different directions. You may not know whether to start talking about your past experiences, professional achievements, years of experience, previous roles, current role, or personal experiences.
The good news is that there’s a great way to answer this question, start your interview on a high note, and prove you are the best candidate for the job. Similar to our post on strategies to answer behavioral interview questions, this article explains how to answer the tell me about yourself interview questions without squashing your chances of landing your dream job. We provide “tell me about yourself” example answers that work best in just about any potential employer and interview process. Further, we asked leading career coaches, HR managers, and respected experts and counselors for their feedback and insight.
Why Do Interviewers Ask the Question?
Understanding why interviewers ask this question is the first step to helping you give the right answers. Some interviewers use it as an icebreaker to help you relax before transitioning into the actual interview.
Others ask to establish the interview’s direction. Your response to the question helps them determine the next question they’ll ask you.
On top of that, an interviewer may ask this question to know you better and find out whether you’re a good candidate for the job. They may want to further understand your skills and experience and see whether you’re a good fit for the position you’ve applied for.
Erica Buchholz, Ph.D., a career coach from Job Burnout Life Coach, added the following comments concerning the interview question.
Tell me about yourself” is often the first question asked in an interview. So, candidates should reply with something positive and interesting about themselves that speaks directly to a bullet point in the job description.
Erica gave the following example:
“I’m Erica, and I’ve been writing my own short stories since I was eight years old. My first story was titled ‘Elephant and Giraffe are buddies.’ The story focused on building relationships and connecting with others. I guess I’ve always really cared about connecting authentically, which is why I love working in Sales.
Being able to get to know someone on a deep level quickly, then matching them with the service that is exactly what they need … I love doing that.
Regardless of why an interviewer asks this question, use the opportunity to create an excellent first impression that makes the rest of the interview go on smoothly. Giving the correct answer can also increase your chances of being hired.
Tips for Answering the “Tell Me About Yourself” Question
During an interview, you want to increase your chances of being hired as high as possible. Moreover, what you say can either improve or lower the stakes. Therefore, you need to formulate and give suitable answers. We talked to some experts who gave insightful tips to help job seekers answer this question correctly.
1. Know Who You Are Answering
You need to be aware of the person asking you this question. Is it the HR, CEO, or business manager? Knowing whom you are answering to helps you give relevant answers.
For example, let’s say you are applying for a technical role in a construction company. If the interviewer is the hiring manager, you don’t need to give technical details when talking about your skills. They might not even have any idea of what you’re talking about. In such a case, give generic answers about your career. However, if the interviewer is the construction team leader, you can provide technical details comfortably since they understand what you’re discussing. Actually, it can be a plus for you; it shows you possess skills and experience that can add value to their company.
You can ask for the interviewer’s name, role, and title from the person scheduling the interview. If you can’t get these details ahead of time, don’t fret. You can still get them from the receptionist or the person who welcomes you on the interview day. If the interview is being held remotely, the interviewer will introduce themself before the interview commences, which will guide your responses.
2. Maintain Professionalism
Maintain the highest level of professionalism possible when answering the question. An interviewer wants to gauge your professional life when they ask this question. To be on the safe side, keep the responses work-related, and it helps you give only the relevant information and saves you time. Maintaining professionalism also prevents forgetting essential details.
However, it’s not wrong to share something about your personal life, as long as you don’t overdo it. For example, you can briefly talk about a previous experience that helped you venture into your career.
Don’t share too much about your personal life. It’s advisable to avoid touching on personal issues such as family issues and financial status. Talking about such topics can raise some red flags about you. Additionally, you don’t know whether your interviewer has some biases and can judge you based on the answers.
On top of that, some of these details might have nothing to do with your ability to work. Talking about them is a complete waste of time since they aren’t relevant to the role you applied for.
You also need to mind your language. Only use professional language and avoid slang, filler words, and profanity.
Nelson Sherwin, a manager at PEO companies, shared more on maintaining professionalism.
As an HR manager for a company that helps businesses find PEO solutions, I like to ask job candidates to tell me about themselves when I interview them. When answering this question, don’t take it as a license to tell the wildest, most outrageous episodes from your life.
Keep it professional and think it through before going into the interview to know what you want to say if and when the question gets asked. You don’t have to give the perfect answer so that it comes across as polished.
Jordan Wan, the CEO at CloserIQ, a talent recruitment firm specializing in working with tech companies, added the following suggestion.
Don’t get too personal. It’s important to give unique details about yourself but keep things professional. If you provide too many personal details, you could unintentionally lead the interviewer to make a biased judgment.
3. Structure Your Answer
Format your answer for it to be organized and clear. To do this, use a present, past, and future formula. When using this formula, start by talking about where you are. This could be about your current job. Then, talk about how you got to where you’re right now, and close by touching on some of your future goals.
You also need to have a good structure when answering the question. Lori Ginsberg, a job search strategy and interview preparation coach with Interview Ace-Coaching by Lori, recommends the following.
I recommend developing a 3-part response:
The structure will quickly and concisely convey who you are as a professional, why you are drawn to this position, and show that you are a good fit.
A. Open with a very brief overview of your career journey. For example, for an interview for a position that would be a promotion from senior marketing manager to marketing director: “throughout my career, I worked my way up at company X, from a marketing analyst testing different brand messaging on the content team to a senior marketing manager leading the marketing and product management of a multi-million-dollar hotel rewards program.”
B. Give an example of relevant experience and briefly connect the dots of how it aligns with the role you’re interviewing for. “I have always been passionate about offering customers products that provide a strong value proposition and can positively impact their lives. As the manager of the hotel rewards program at company X, I have the opportunity to lead a team of cross-functional partners. In this role, I ensure that all facets of the program operate flawlessly for a superior customer experience and convey the program’s benefits in alignment with the company brand. That is why I am so interested in the role as director of the premier travel rewards program at your company”.
Close with what about you (your qualities and passions) will help you help the company.
“As the hotel rewards senior program manager, I have gained and sharpened skills that will help me thrive in this position. Just as required for the open director role, I oversee the technology, marketing, rewards certificate production, partner management, and complete customer experience. Under my program management, we had the first flawless rewards certificate distribution in over five years. I am very interested in this role because company XYZ is an essential player in the industry, and not only does this position allow me to pursue my passion of helping to provide a best-in-class customer rewards program, but I also feel ready to jump in from day one. I am equipped to lead all facets of the program using the skills I’ve developed through my most recent position, and I hope to have the opportunity to bring my skills and passion to your organization”.
Put these three sections together for a powerful yet concise introduction that immediately lets the interviewer know your background and capabilities and that you are prepared to make a valuable contribution to the organization very quickly.
4. Give a Relevant Answer
If you’ve applied for a job in several companies and have been invited for interviews, you might have some template for answering the “tell me about yourself question.” However, you need to tailor your responses to fit an individual company.
When a recruiter requests to know more about you, they want to see whether you’ve got the right qualifications for the vacancy you’ve applied for. That’s why you need to provide an answer relevant to the company and the role you’re applying for.
To do this, read the job description to understand what the company expects from you. You also need to research more about the company before the interview.
Jordan from CloserIQ added the following about giving an answer relevant to the role you are interested in.
Focus on the role. This question is an excellent opportunity for you to talk about your strengths and how they make you a great fit for the position. Instead of focusing on non-relevant details about who you are, use this question to explain why you should be hired.
Lori from Interview Ace-Coaching by Lori also gave some insights regarding the subject and added the following.
Constantly tailor your “tell me about yourself” answer to the role you are interviewing for! That means focusing on the experience and skills that add value to the position. If you are applying to roles that are a good fit for you, you will be able to construct a “tell me about yourself” tailored for each specific opportunity that is authentically true to who you are and conveys why you are the right person for the role.
5. Highlight Some of Your Impressive Accomplishments
If you have made some impressive accomplishments in your previous job, this is the time to talk about them. These may include getting a promotion and solving a very challenging problem.
It even gets better if your achievements are relevant to the company you are trying to get into. That’s another reason you should read and understand the job description before the interview. Check the skills the recruiter is looking for and talk about accomplishments that are relevant to the role.
Do they need good leadership skills? Or technical skills? If you’ve accomplished great things as a leader or tackled a challenging technical task and succeeded, this is the time to show off your accomplishments. You’ll prove to the recruiter that you’ve got the skills they need and have already put them into practice, and that alone can increase your odds of being hired.
You can also throw in some personal accomplishments. Don’t just focus on career accomplishments.
6. Highlight Your Personality
Highlighting your personality when answering the “tell me about yourself” interview question is okay. For example, you can mention your side hustle or some of your hobbies, especially if they demonstrate personal discipline, intellectual development, and achievement.
Avoid talking about time-consuming hobbies or side business. It can turn off an employer since they can feel like you’ll spend a considerable amount of time practicing the hobby or taking care of your side gig when you should be working for them.
Talking about your personality is a good way of wrapping up your response while maintaining professionalism.
Jordan suggests saying something that’ll make you stand out.
This question is often first, and you want to leave a good impression. Whether it’s a unique story or a personal triumph, you need the hiring manager to remember you. Plan before and prepare some concrete examples to leave that impression.
7. Keep Things Positive and Be Polite
When answering tell me about yourself, it is not the time to talk about negative experiences. Keep things upbeat and avoid any negative comments when answering the question. For example, avoid anything that insinuates you complain, such as bad weather and how horrible traffic has become.
Additionally, avoid talking negatively about someone else. For example, if you had problems with your previous employer, you don’t need to say it to your interviewer, even if your employer was at fault. The interviewer may see you as a hard-to-get-along with employers and deny you the opportunity to work for them. Additionally, they might think you will do the same to them if you’re fired in the future.
Lori puts it this way about keeping things positive.
Stay away from anything negative about your employer. Focus on the positive of where you’re going, not what you’re leaving from if it’s terrible because that’s a big turn-off.
Another statement you should seriously avoid is “as seen on my resume.” Although something is on your resume, avoid that phrase when you want to highlight it. It gives a wrong impression about you, and the interviewer can take it as arrogance.
You also need to have a positive mindset when talking about yourself. For example, if you have just graduated, don’t focus on talking about how you don’t have much experience. Instead, talk about something like having solid skills that will help you carry out your roles well.
8. Be concise
With the several tips given on how to answer this question, it might look like you will say too much about yourself. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. Being concise is vital when answering the question.
The secret here is giving details without veering off track or getting distracted when answering tell me about yourself. Be direct to the point and avoid using too many words to communicate a single point. Start giving details based on your experience. For example, you don’t need to start talking about things that happened decades ago because it’ll make your answer too long. Additionally, leave the not-so-important details out as they’ll only take your precious time to respond and not add any value.
Remember, recruiters, use this session to learn more about your communication skills too. They don’t want to know which kindergarten or school you attended. They want to see whether you can deliver a point clearly without getting scattered. They also want to know how you can communicate as an employee and give you the chance to sell yourself.
If you feel like you can end up taking too much time answering the “tell me about yourself” question, practice at home. Set a timer and start giving answers assuming you are with your interviewer. If you take more than two minutes, you are taking too long.
Shahzaib Arshad, the co-founder, and editor at the Balance Work, gave the following remarks concerning being concise when answering the question.
First, keep it brief. The interview isn’t the time to give your life story; instead, focus on providing a snapshot that gives the interviewer a sense of who you are and what you can bring to the role.
Practice answering the question before the actual interview. This is particularly important if you’re feeling nervous, and practicing also helps you keep your answer concise.
As you practice, don’t memorize. Imagine memorizing an answer and then forgetting some information during the interview. That would mess up the entire answer and make you uncomfortable. In addition, this is for a good reason.
Memorizing can also result in your responses coming out as unnatural, which is a turn-off for interviewers.
Practicing gives you the confidence that you’ll answer the question correctly. To practice, you can assume you have been asked the question, record your responses, and listen to yourself later. You can also do a mock interview with someone.
Nelson said the following about being prepared:
If you stammer through it or don’t have an answer ready, it can make you seem unprepared and hurt your chances of getting the job. I prefer candidates that are prepared because it shows me that they will carry that quality with them into the position if I hire them.
Debby Carreau is the founder of Inspired HR. She has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 25 HR Professionals and is a regular contributor to multiple TV shows, Entrepreneur Magazine, and other online publications add the following:
Also, avoid writing every word out and memorizing it. “This will make your story sound unnatural, rehearsed, and overworked,” the experts note. First impressions are made quickly, so make sure you present yourself as a confident, self-aware professional.
More on How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” According to Yale Career Experts
According to the advisors at Yale University’s Office of Career Strategy, the best answers to “Tell me about yourself” all include a “motivational story.” (Think of it as a short narrative that illustrates how and why you first became interested in your area of work.)
There isn’t a standard rule for how long your answer should be, though a general guideline is to keep it under two minutes. According to research from Yale’s career experts, one version of a perfect answer might look like this:
“I graduated last year from Yale, where I majored in Data Science and Environmental Engineering, with a specific interest in fashion and sustainability. The field is so aligned with everything I loved doing as a kid: Volunteering at Street Care events, joining a community garden, thrift shopping, and making my own clothes.
I first became interested in sustainability because I wanted to work with a company whose mission is to promote a new textile economy — one that will protect the future of our planet. When I learned that the fashion industry will consume a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050, I decided to organize a campus fundraising event to help fight textile waste.
We raised more than $10,000 and donated an entire truck of unwanted clothing to a local homeless shelter. It was one of my proudest accomplishments. At my last job, I helped develop a new technology that turns cotton waste into new materials that can be used for many industrial purposes.
I’m very excited about this opportunity at your company because it would allow me to use my knowledge and experience to educate people about how their actions — like their shopping habits and what brands they support — can make a serious impact on our environment.”
Summary on How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
When going for an interview, it’s almost guaranteed that your interviewer will ask you one of the most common job interview questions, tell me about yourself, to make sure you’re the ideal candidate for the position. By practicing, using the simple formula above, and the sample answers shown, you can give the best interview answer to this question and increase your chances of getting the job.
The best way is to know your audience before the interview and understand the job specification and make sure it matches your career goals. Next, you’ll need to develop an appropriate format for answering the question and avoid giving too many personal interests. Showcasing a bit of your personality, however, is allowed but don’t forget to be concise to avoid overwhelming the interviewer with too many unnecessary details. And of course, practice how you will answer the question to build confidence and ensure you give the correct information.
At MatchBuilt, we are passionate about helping job seekers succeed in interviews. For more interview tips from the experts, check out our posts on similar interview questions and topics such as, how to talk about your weaknesses, job interview mistakes to avoid, and how to answer the “what makes you unique” interview question.