How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”

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While the prompt to “tell me about yourself” would be casual and low-stress in the average social situation, it can be a challenging one in a job interview. The open-endedness of this question often makes candidates wonder what the interviewer is really looking for in an answer. What should you share to show that you are the right person for the job?

This is usually the opener in an interview, so it sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. However, don’t let this freeze you up. Every other question will be more specific, so use this opportunity to take control of the interview, focus on your strengths, and sell yourself.

Why interviewers ask this

There are a few reasons interviewers like to hear job candidates’ responses to this question. Sometimes, it’s just a convenient icebreaker and a way to get you to start talking while they get organized. Most often however, the purposes go a little deeper:

 

Definitely Don’t…

There are definitely some poor ways of answering this question that will prevent you from getting the job. Before getting to some good ways to tackle this question, carefully review and avoid these tragic mistakes.

Ways to tackle this question

The key to answering this question well is to focus on what most interests the interviewer (hint: that’s not your love of bowling or that you grew up in a family of 6). The interviewer wants to know the qualities you have that make you the perfect person for the position.

Melanie Szlucha, a coach with Red Inc., says to think of your response like a movie preview. “The movie preview always relates to the movie you’re about to see. You never see a movie preview for an animated flick when you’re there to see a slasher movie. So the ‘tell me about yourself” answer needs to directly fit the concerns of your prospective employer.”

The purpose of a movie preview is also to catch the audience’s interest through a short clip so that they want to see the movie in full. Similarly, you need to give a positive glimpse of the employee you would be so that the employer wants to hire you and see your work in action.

An interview is essentially a sales pitch in which you sell yourself to an employer. In order to close the deal, you need to sell what the employer is looking to buy. How do you know what they want? First, look at the job description for the skills. qualities, and experience they prefer. This is your study guide! Also take the time to talk to current employees and research as much as you can on the company website and the internet. Once you know what they’re looking for, you need to show you are the perfect fit, focusing on qualities the company puts a lot of value in.

Here’s a formula to help guide your response:

  1. Start with your most recent employment, then mention past employment briefly if applicable. (“I’m currently a [position] at [company], where I [briefly explain relevant and impressive job duties].”)
  2. Mention your strengths and abilities. (“My real strengths are____.)
  3. Highlight 1-2 of your most important accomplishments/success stories that demonstrate the qualities they are looking for. (I think the best way to demonstrate these qualities is through a couple of experiences I’ve had…”)
  4. Finish with enthusiasm about this particular opportunity and explain why you want the job. (“Now I’m looking to…I’m very excited about the [name of position] position at this company because…”)

 

Your answer does not have to fit this format exactly, but do try and use a story or anecdote; demonstrating your quality through an experience is much stronger than just saying you “have great problem-solving skills.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

Prepare a script that includes everything you’d like to say, and practice!!! It’s not worth the risk of winging this answer, since it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Don’t memorize your script word for word (you want to sound natural and conversational), but you should be able to remember key points that you want to say, find the words easily, and give a smooth response. Time your response as well to make sure you don’t exceed 90 seconds.

Even on the off chance the interviewer doesn’t ask you to “tell me about yourself,” this preparation will help you feel more comfortable talking about what you have to offer and you will be better prepared when answering other interview questions as well.

 

For help with other common yet intimidating interview questions, click here.

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