“Tell me about yourself.”
It’s one of the most-frequently-asked job interview questions, just behind “What are your strengths?” and “What are your weaknesses?” Even so, many job seekers don’t take the question seriously, thinking it’s just an icebreaker meant to put them at ease.
But they should carefully consider their response because it’s more than a throwaway opener for most interviewers. When hiring managers pose this question, they’re hoping candidates will give them some insight as to why they think they’re a good fit for the job. They’re also using it to learn about applicants’ priorities, which gives them a better sense of who each candidate really is.
And that’s not all: Interviewers also ask this question to judge how articulate and confident interviewees are, which in turn gives them a view of how new hires might present themselves to customers, clients and colleagues if they get the job.
As a job seeker, your answer will give you a great opportunity to spotlight the skills and experience that make you the ideal candidate for the job. And because it’s the question most hiring managers lead with, it can also help you to get the job interview off on the right foot. Here are a few tips to help you nail your response:
What you shouldn’t say
Many job candidates make the mistake of answering this question with talk of something personal — their family, kids or hobbies. Some even launch into their life story, starting with their hometown and continuing on through their college graduation.
Alternately, others share descriptions of the problems in their current job, explaining that they applied for this position because their commute is horrible, their boss is a jerk or their employer won’t allow them to work a flexible schedule.
And some job seekers simply summarize their resume, going point-by-point through their work experience and education history.
All three of these responses can quickly send your new-job dreams down the tubes. If you answer with either of the first two, hiring managers see a red flag — an indication that you’re not that serious about the position or simply trying to escape a bad situation at your current job.
And if you go with the third approach, you’re throwing away an opportunity. The interviewer read your resume before inviting you in for the interview, and they don’t need you to walk them through it. They’d rather hear you highlight what makes you an ideal fit for the job.
SEARCH OUR OPEN JOBS
Craft a great answer
The best answers to this question succinctly and clearly explain how you’re qualified for this particular job and — just as important — why you want it. So before you start crafting your answer, spend some time reviewing the job description in the recruitment ad for the position and researching the company. That way you’ll have a good understanding of what the hiring manager is looking for as far as qualifications, experience and fit with the workplace culture.
Next, prepare a short script that highlights the skills, strengths and expertise you have that make you especially qualified for the position. Follow that with the reasons you’re applying for the job, focusing on career-related motivations such as the desire to build your experience and take on added responsibilities. Conclude with a short statement explaining why working for this specific company appeals to you.
A strong sample answer
Here’s an example of an excellent response to “Tell me about yourself” for a job seeker applying for a senior administrative assistant position with a clean-energy company:
“I’ve been working as an administrative assistant for three years. At my current job in the finance department of a midsize company, I handle scheduling, meeting and travel planning for four executives and 20 staff members. I also help prepare correspondence, presentations and reports.
“I’m known for being a detail-oriented, well-organized team player. I never miss deadlines, I’m a good communicator and I can juggle multiple tasks at once. In my performance reviews, my supervisor always notes that he appreciates my professionalism and enthusiasm for the job.
“With this experience under my belt, I’m looking for an opportunity to take the next step in my career. I’m hoping to do so in an organization like yours that works to improve the environment, which is something I’m passionate about.”
A final word of advice
No matter how you answer this question, don’t take up too much time with your response. You don’t have to tell the hiring manager every single thing that makes you a great fit for the position. Just give a few important details that will spark their interest in learning more and you’ll get the interview off to a great start.
Everyone says that applying for a job is the tough part. But job interview questions are the worst. Talking about yourself should be easy, right? But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you have the answers that recruiters want to hear. Job interview questions and answers can be tricky and none more so than the classic, “So tell me about yourself.”
Recruiters don’t want to know everything about you. They don’t care about your life story—who your parents are, what they do, your religion and where you live. It’s probably the most common mistake I see people making—spending too much time talking about personal information, rather than painting a picture of their professional background and career aspirations. Just because you are unemployed now doesn’t mean you’ll be unemployed tomorrow, or next week, or next month. It all starts with telling me about yourself.
If you answer this poorly, you set yourself up to get grilled by the interviewer. You’ll be a nervous, rambling wreck. We’ve seen it many times and its entirely avoidable if you’re prepared. By answering this question well, you set the tone for the interview and immediately begin the process of selling yourself to the interviewer.
And that’s what you’re doing here—you want to start the interview by essentially saying how awesome you are and why you are the right candidate for the job.
“So tell me a little bit about yourself.”
The next time you face this interview question, make sure you cover this core theme in your answer:
How does your personal and professional background relate to you being an extremely good candidate for the position you’re interviewing for?
Any information that doesn’t make a strong case for you isn’t important here. Your sales pitch starts here and the clock is ticking. A good answer shouldn’t be more than 60-90 seconds and should cover these main points:
- Where you went to school (and what you studied)
- A very short summation of your career / background
- The last job you had, what that company did, key responsibilities and one important contribution or impact you made in that organization
- Why you’re there interviewing for this job
Here’s what I would say if I were interviewing for a call center agent:
Hi, my name is Paul Rivera. I graduated with a Political Economy degree from UC Berkeley and have spent the last 10 years working for and starting internet startups. I’m currently the CEO at Kalibrr. Kalibrr is talent matching platform based in the Philippines with global investors like Y Combinator and Omidyar Network. My key responsibilities there include management of strategy, sales, customer success, marketing, finance and legal. I spearheaded the raising of $2M in venture capital funding for Kalibrr in 2013, which was a record for a seed round for a Philippine startup. I’ve also directly managed product before creating a product team overseen by our COO. Though I enjoy the work I do at Kalibrr, I see a tremendous opportunity to leverage my skills and experience, especially with excellent communication ability, to be an outstanding call center agent at Accenture and that’s why I’m here interviewing with you right now.
Practice makes perfect
The best thing about this interview questions is you almost always know that it’s coming. That means you get it so practice it, rehearse it, and memorize it so that you can start off your interview in control and with momentum. Your answer and how well you tell your story will drive the rest of the interview. In my opinion, the better you start, the better you finish.
What if you have no professional background and just graduated from school?
Not a problem. Here are the core points you should cover:
- Where you went to school
- What was your course and how is that going to be useful for you for this job
- Key coursework, an internship/OJT, or work experience and what they taught you
- Why this company + this job to start your career?
If I was graduating from Jose Rizal University with an HRM degree and was interviewing for a Recruitment Assistant job at Globe, here’s what I would say:
Hi, my name is Paul Rivera and I’m a fresh graduate of Jose Rizal University. I studied Human Resources Management because I really enjoy working with people and I’m fascinated with the role of people in building and operating companies. Without the people, you don’t have a business. While in school, I was an OJT during my fourth year at Jollibee Corp where I worked with their recruitment team and helped coordinate the interview of candidates for cashier roles at Jollibee restaurants. I really understood the role and value that recruiters create and how they help ensure a company always hires the best talent. I saw an opportunity on Kalibrr to be a Recruitment Assistant at Globe and after doing my research, I saw that Globe was one of the best companies in the Philippines and I feel my experience and work ethic will make me a valuable contributor at Globe.
So there you have it—a template for you to answer the ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ question. Write this down on paper and practice it until you have it memorized and can say it without looking like you’ve memorized it. Also make sure you customize it for every interview you do—so research the job and the company and really understand what they do and how you could add value to them.