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Answering the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question

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“Tell me about yourself”

This, sometimes is a scary question during interviews, first thing you think about is “but you got my CV” but do they really want what’s in the CV?

There are a million answers to this but most times we answer wrongly, sometimes employers want you to introduce yourself and sell yourself

Since it’s often the first question to be asked in an interview, it’s your big chance to make a first impression and if you prepare well enough, you might be able to ace it. It’s an opportunity for you to set the tone of the job interview and emphasize the points that you most want the employer to know about you. You don’t need to give them a long recitation of what’s already in your CV, Instead, try a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job.

The Interviewer’s Perspective

When the interviewer asks you, “Tell me about yourself”, what is he trying to achieve? 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 or something about 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.

This question is almost always asked first, perhaps right after some chit chat about traffic and the weather.

Your answer to this question will dictate the interviewer’s first impression of you, and will set the tone for the entire interview, letting you lead with your strongest selling points.

Planning your answer

Even for common interview questions, it can be hard to get started crafting your response. To keep you on track, here are a few questions to ask as you brainstorm ways to respond and structure your answer:

  • What qualities make you a great fit for this position?
    Think of what makes you stand out as a job applicant for this role. Perhaps it’s your years of experience or some highly desired specialization, training or technical skills. Review the job description closely and note ways that you exceed the requirements.
  • Why are you interested in the role?
    Brainstorm why this position excites you, how it fits into your larger career goals and why you feel it’s the best next step.
  • Why are you interested in the company or the industry?
    After you’ve spent time researching the company and the industry, you should have a better sense of the mission, goals and trends impacting the industry. Do these align with the professional goals that you’ve set for yourself? What do you like and respect about the company as a whole? What excites you about the future of the industry? As you start building your story, tie together similarities among your professional goals, the future vision of the company and industry trends you feel are especially important.
  • What are the positive traits or characteristics you possess that will serve you well in this role?
    For example, have friends or colleagues described you as especially organized? Curious? Entrepreneurial? Generous? Think about how you’ve long thought of yourself or how others have seen you. Then, think of recent examples from your life when you embodied that characteristic.

How to answer “Tell me about yourself”

How you respond to the “Tell me about yourself” question can set the tone for the rest of the interview. Overall, when you practice your answer, you want to tell a great story about yourself that you can share in no more than two minutes. In your response, do the following:

  1. Mention past experiences and proven successes as they relate to the position. Begin by re-reading the job description. Take note of the required skills that you have, and identify recent stories that demonstrate them. Ideally, you should draw primarily from recent professional experience; however, volunteer work can also support your narrative while demonstrating a commitment to your community.
  2. Consider how your current job relates to the job you’re applying for. Is it a more senior role? If so, explain how you are taking on more responsibilities in your current position. If you are making a lateral transition to a role with different skills, describe how your current skills translate into the new position.
  3. Focus on strengths and abilities that you can support with examples. When you start building the script of each example, focus on details and outcomes that you can quantify if possible. For example, stating that you “improved customer service” is less impactful than “increased customer service response rates each quarter by 10–15%.” If you don’t have the exact information, estimate a realistic value.
  4. Highlight your personality to break the ice. Because the “Tell me about yourself” interview question is about getting to know you, it’s a good idea to share your personality with your interviewer—but not personal details. You may want to briefly mention hobbies that demonstrate intellectual development and/or community engagement (e.g., reading, music, sports league, volunteering) or those that showcase personal discipline and achievement (e.g., learning a new skill, training for a half marathon). Discussing personal interests is a good way to wrap up your response while maintaining a professional tone.

Do’s and Don’ts for “Tell me about yourself?”

Do’s

  • Connect personal strengths to supporting examples.
  • Focus on details and outcomes you can quantify.
  • Avoid summarizing your resume word for word.
  • Mention past experiences and proven successes.
  • Align your current job responsibilities to the role.
  • Avoid mentioning personal information related to your marital status, children, political or religious views.
  • Highlight your personality.
  • Avoid rushing into deeper conversations about the role and company.
  • Connect your skills to the job description.
  • Briefly mention hobbies, intellectual development and community involvement.
  • Write down an example answer and practice.

Don’ts

  • Don’t mention highly personal information such as marital status, children, political or religious affiliations, etc. These can be sensitive topics that might work against you as a candidate, not to mention such details should not be factors for the employer in determining your ability to perform the job.
  • Don’t list multiple, vague strengths without supporting examples. Instead, you may want to choose two or three qualities about yourself. Support each with short, polished stories that can be supported by your work experience.
  • Don’t summarize your resume word for word. Instead, discuss high points that are relevant to the position.
  • Don’t rush into conversations regarding what you’re looking for in the role or how the company can benefit you—save such topics for the final stages of the interview process when they are “sold” on you as a candidate and you have more leverage.

Possible questions

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. Why should we hire you?
  3. Describe what you do in your current position
  4. Why did you leave your last job?
  5. What is your greatest strength?
  6. What is your greatest weakness?
  7. Why do you want this job?
  8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  9. What is your management style?
  10. Do you have any questions for me?
  11. What motivates you?
  12. What are your salary expectations and requirements?
  13. What are you passionate about?
  14. How to explain gaps in employment

Fundamentally, “Tell me about yourself” really boils down to “What do you want the interviewer to remember about you?” Answering this opening question effectively gives you the power to make a good first impression and structure the rest of the interview to your benefit.

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