In this article, I’m going to walk you through steps and examples of how to answer the “Tell me about yourself” interview question to impress employers and get more job offers.
We’ll also cover the costly mistakes you NEED to avoid if you want to pass this question.
Here’s exactly what you’re going to get:
Let’s get started…
Your goal when answering, “tell me about yourself,” is to give a brief, concise walkthrough of your career story that will show off relevant pieces of experience.
You want to start at a point in the past (like how you began working in this field), and end up at your current situation. So the first thing to decide is where you’ll begin the story…
If you’re a recent graduate: Start with the fact that you just graduated, and explain why you chose this career path or field of area of study.
For example, you might start your answer like this:
“I graduated with my degree in Economics two months ago. I chose that field of study because I’ve always been interested in finance and money, and a couple of family members told me it leads to great career options, too.”
If you have 1-8 years of experience, start with the moment you graduated and walk them through your employment experience since then.
Here’s an example of how you’d start your interview answer in this situation:
“I graduated with my degree in Industrial Engineering six years ago and immediately went to work for a small design firm in Chicago. Since then, I’ve…”
And if you have 8-20+ years of experience, you can start with a mid-point in your career. This will keep your answer from getting too long.
For example, if you’re a manager, you could start with how you first became a manager. If you’ve been working for 25 years but have only been a sales professional for 12 years, you could begin with how you got started in sales.
Here is an example of how to begin your answer to “tell me about yourself” as a very experienced candidate:
“I first started managing people twelve years ago, when I was promoted from Customer Service Associate to Customer Service Supervisor. Since then, I’ve…”
As you tell your career story, explain key accomplishments you’ve achieved, work you’ve done, skills you’ve learned, and key career moves you’ve made.
Were you promoted? That’s always a great sign and worth mentioning.
Did you accomplish something significant like solving a big problem for your last employer? That’s great to mention, too.
Did you build new skills or overcome challenges? Get specific! Tell details.
But random impressive facts aren’t enough. You should be thinking about how this ties in with the company you’re talking to.
You should always research the company before going into the interview. Study their job description in particular so you know what skills THEY care most about.
What does this particular job involve? Is there a lot of leadership? Talk about your experiences leading (no matter how small!), how it went, what you learned.
Does the job involve a high level of technical skill? Talk about how you learned and advanced in that area through each step of your career!
You need to “tailor” your answer for, “tell me about yourself,” for their job description and their needs. Try to talk about experiences and qualifications that are relevant for this job you’ve applied for.
Finally, the best way to finish your story is to bring them up to speed on your current situation.
Why you wanted to apply for their job, what you’re looking to do next, etc.
For example you might end your answer by saying:
“…and that’s why I wanted to interview with your firm. This position seems like a great opportunity to advance those skills I just talked about, and continue building my career and challenging myself”.
When employers ask, “tell me about yourself,” in an interview, they usually want to hear about you as a professional. So the safest approach is to keep your answer work-related and share your career story, rather than personal details.
You can show more personality as the interview goes on, but it’s risky to share too much personal info when answering, “tell me about yourself.”
It could lead to your answer getting too long, or it could cause you to leave out important professional information that the interviewer was looking to know!
When they say “tell me about yourself,” it’s going to be tempting to give a long-winded answer. It’s such an open-ended question.
And we covered a lot above, but there’s something just as important as any of that. You need to be concise.
Your communication and ability to stay on track with your answer is something they are watching closely.
The interviewer wants to see that you can tell your story from Point A (beginning) to Point B (the end) without getting sidetracked, distracted or scattered.
Because it tells them how you’ll communicate as an employee… when there’s a problem, when there’s a disagreement, or when you simply need to share your knowledge or opinion.
If you take this answer beyond 2 minutes you are shooting yourself in the foot. In fact, below 90 seconds is ideal. Practice at home with a timer!
That’s why I recommend choosing a starting point based on your experience (Step 1 above)… because if you have 25 years of experience and you start at the moment you graduated from college, your answer will be too long.
Now that we’ve covered the key steps to answering, “tell me about yourself,” let’s look at some full answer examples to this interview question.
“I graduated with a Business degree in 2010, and was offered an account management position from a telecommunications company I had interned with. I loved working with customers and managing and growing my accounts, but the industry we were in just wasn’t very appealing to me. After that, I stayed a full year and learned a ton about how to build and manage accounts successfully and I ended up becoming a top performer in my group before leaving. I left at the 1-year-mark to pursue a very similar position within an industry I’m much more excited about- healthcare. I’ve been at this healthcare startup space for 2 years with this company and I feel ready to take my career to the next level so that’s why I’m currently looking for a new opportunity.”
That first example showed you how to answer “tell me about yourself” for experienced job seekers (at least a few years of experience).
Now let’s look at an example for entry-level job seekers and job seekers with no experience.
“I graduated with a degree in Engineering two months ago. I chose that field of study because I’ve always been interested in math and physics, and a couple of family members told me it leads to great career options. One of my key accomplishments during my academic career was speaking at a conference on the topic of energy-efficient window design, based on research I had done for one of my senior-level classes. This led to an internship that I just wrapped up, so I’m actively looking for a full-time position now.”
The end of your interview answer is a big opportunity to customize your answer for the company and job you’re interviewing for.
When you talk about what you’re looking to do next in your career, try to mention whatever you see this company providing for your career (leadership, technical challenges, exposure to new areas, etc.)
That shows them why you’re excited about their job, which will help you get hired!
(I explain more about why this is true here).
Before we move on to more tips and a HUGE mistake to avoid, here’s one more example interview answer for this question.
The method I gave you above is the standard way most recruiters recommend answering “tell me about yourself.” It’s how I coached job seekers to answer this question for years.
There’s another way you can answer, though… and it has some benefits. I’ll explain…
Many experts have pointed out that if the interviewer wanted your career story, they could have looked at your resume or your LinkedIn, or asked a question like, “can you walk me through your background?”
So there’s another approach for answering, “tell me about yourself,” that skips the career story and just cuts right to the chase: Why you’re awesome and why they should hire you!
Let’s look at 2 word-for-word templates that accomplish this.
After this, you’ll have two proven methods for answering, “tell me about yourself” in interviews, and in the next section, I’ll reveal how to decide which method is best for YOU.
“Well, I’m currently working at XYZ Company and I specialize in doing ___. The reason I applied for this job is I saw ___ on the job description and I think I would be able to help you ___ and ___. One of my key accomplishments in my current role was helping my employer do ___, and I’m confident I can help your team get similar results here.”
“In my most recent position at XYZ Company, I specialized in doing ___. The reason I applied for this job is I saw ___ on the job description and I think I would be able to help you ___ and ___. One of my key accomplishments in my last role for XYZ Company was helping them ___, and I’m confident I can help your team get similar results here.”
If you have work experience, both options we’ve covered are very good, and it really depends on what you feel most comfortable with.
Choose the one you like best. They’re both excellent ways to answer the question, so don’t stress over it!
However, if you are entry-level and have no work experience… or internships at the very least… then I would go back to the top of this article and use the first, 5-step method for answering, “tell me about yourself.”
This second method we just covered is really best if you want to give a unique, concise answer and you have some relevant work experience to share in the interview!
As a final tip – make sure you go practice everything you plan on saying when the interviewer asks, “what can you tell me about yourself?”
Nothing comes out perfect the first time, and you don’t want to appear nervous and stumble when they ask.
So I’d recommend grabbing a piece of paper and writing down the key points you want to talk about in your answer. I like to write them in bullet format.
Then, use your smartphone’s voice recorder app to record a few practice answers and see how you sound.
Don’t look at your notes as you give your answer. The idea is to try to remember what you want to talk about without reading off the paper. Then glance at the paper AFTER to make sure you covered everything.
Keep practicing until you can give a smooth answer without forgetting anything important.
Note: If you’re having a phone interview, you can use notes/bullet points to help guide you through your answer. Nobody can see you on the phone, so take advantage!
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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