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How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself"

"Tell me about yourself" is one open-ended question that always surfaces in most job interviews. Interviewers mostly ask this question at the beginning of the interview.

"Tell me about yourself" is one open-ended question that always surfaces in most job interviews. Interviewers mostly ask this question at the beginning of the interview. So if you have a job interview coming up, learning how to answer "tell me about yourself" can significantly increase your chances of getting hired and also create a great first impression. 

Why do recruiters ask this question?

Recruiters ask this job interview question for many reasons, but the most common is to initiate a conversation with you. Most people don't actually realize that, like many interviewees, some interviewers also struggle with breaking the ice in such situations. Therefore, it becomes easier to initiate a conversation by asking this question. 

Another reason for asking this question is to evaluate your communication skills. Most jobs require individuals with great communication skills. By asking such a question, interviews assess details such as your ability to communicate clearly, confidently, and connect with the other party during a conversation. For instance, you may need to communicate with customers regularly when you get hired, depending on the specific role you're applying for. Therefore, having excellent communication skills makes you even more eligible for that role. 

Thirdly, this question helps create transition when communicating with the interviewing panel. For example, a hiring manager may develop follow-up questions, further breaking the ice during the interview. 

An example of a follow-up interview question that derives from the 'tell me about yourself question is:

"I used to know someone by the name of ABC who also worked at YXZ around the time you were employed with them. Did you by any chance know him?"

A simple formula to answer the "tell me about yourself" question

You don't need to overthink to find the perfect answer to this question; here's a simple formula to guide you. We'll call it the past-present-future formula. 

Mention the past

Briefly discuss your previous employment experience. It's also advisable to focus on the kind of work experience relevant to your job. For instance, if applying for a role as a receptionist, having experience in customer service or a related industry could boost your chances of getting hired.

Talk about the present

Then, discuss your present position careerwise. For example, you can mention your employment status and any big accomplishment in your career. 

Discuss the future

Conclude by discussing your future plans. Remember to mention why you're interested in that particular role and explain why you believe you're a great fit.

10 Tips on how to answer the question

You'll need more than the three-step formula provided earlier to answer this question. So here are some additional interview tips on how to answer 'tell me about yourself' in an interview.

Be honest

As mentioned before, one of the reasons behind this question is to establish whether you're the right candidate for that particular position you wish to apply for. Understandably, it may be tempting to include extra qualifications, hobbies, personal interests, or any other relevant information that'll increase your chances of getting hired. However, this could backfire terribly weeks, months, or even years down the line. The last thing you want is to get caught in a lie during a job interview. That's a major red flag. 

Don't be overwhelming

While your response to this question could determine your eligibility for a specific role, don't forget that the question itself is a conversation starter. Therefore, don't provide too much information, especially if it's not relevant to the job interview. Alternatively, you can take advantage of such a great opportunity to highlight your experience in a related field. 

Mention your expertise

Do you have around two to three skills relevant to the job? If so, mention them in your answer. For best results, create a list of your professional skills before the interview, and then narrow it down to those relevant to the role you're applying for. 

Highlight your personality

When highlighting your personality, think more about your character than your skills. You can mention your hobbies, interests, and anything along those lines. For best results, focus on the kind of personality relevant to the job. For example, a customer service representative should be friendly - that's a personality worth mentioning.

Stay professional

Even though the 'tell me about yourself question' is widely considered an ice breaker, it's very easy to find yourself off-topic. This isn't a bad thing, just as long as the conversation doesn't turn unprofessional. We'll discuss more on what not to say later in this article. 

Demonstrate passion

Have you ever come across a job description that says, "looking for a passionate, motivated and self-driven individual to assume the role of [insert role] in our company." Such a description tells you one thing; interviewers love job candidates who are passionate about their roles. This is, therefore, one of the best opportunities to express your passion.

Be time-conscious

It's advisable to keep it under a minute, although there's no standard time to respond to this question. Some interviewers are more specific, for example:

"In 30 seconds, tell me about yourself."

However, if no time length has been specified, it's safe to assume that one minute is more than enough to describe yourself. This brings us to the next point.

Don't memorize

Memorizing your answer could create the wrong impression early in the interview. To put this into perspective, think of this question as a brief conversation starter. Speak as freely as you can while staying on topic. 

This is not the time to explain everything in your resume; you might have time to do that later during the interview. Another problem with memorizing your answer is that you risk losing your train of thought when you walk into the interview room, especially if the interviewer is not as social or interactive as you would expect them to be. 

Read the job description

Before answering this question, reading the job description can help you identify specific talking points to include in your answer. For example, if the job description requires a self-driven and passionate candidate, those two keywords give you an idea of how to structure your response. However, don't read the job description during the interview; you don't want to create the impression that you're not familiar with the position you're applying for. 

Stay positive

This is not the time to discuss how you got fired from your previous job or complain about any other negative aspect of your life or career. For example, even if your former boss was not your favorite person on the planet, any negative talk about them creates a negative impression about you. Additionally, recruiters prefer employees who can maintain a positive mentality even during challenging times. 

Example answers to the 'tell me about yourself' question

Now that you know how to prepare for this question let's check out some practical examples of great answers. 

"I've been working as a cashier for four years at Company XYZ. I manage cash registers, resolve customer issues, answer questions, process return transitions, and provide a positive customer experience. I also work with ten other cashiers and report to the senior accountant at the end of every shift.

"I am a detail-oriented, self-driven, and highly motivated individual. For this reason, I have never received complaints about my work. In fact, I recently won the Employee of the Month award at my current role."

"Based on my experience, I'm looking for an opportunity to grow my career to the next level. I'm hoping to achieve this goal working with your organization, which has a solid history of supporting ambitious and dedicated employees through initiatives such as the college sponsorship program."

The answer works because:

The interviewee mentions their professional background: "I've been working as a cashier for four years at Company XYZ." Mentioning the job responsibilities also demonstrates that the interviewee is familiar with what's expected from them. In addition, the use of quantifiable information captures the interviewer's attention: "team of 10 other cashiers."

The interviewee also mentions their personal traits that relate to the specific job they're applying for: "detail-oriented, self-driven, and highly motivated individual. Finally, by mentioning the Employee of the Month award, the candidate captures the attention of the interviewing panel and develops their interest. 

In the last paragraph, the candidate explains why they would be a great fit for the new job and also demonstrates familiarity with the company's programs: "through initiatives such as the college sponsorship program."

Here's an additional example of a great response to the "tell us about yourself" question:

"I have been passionate about computer programming since I was a child. I built my first web application when I was 11 years old. I got my first web development job right after college, working for [insert company name], where I built web applications such as [insert examples] for [insert relevant info]."

"I've learned so much over the past [insert number] years, thanks to my hard work, critical thinking, self-motivation, and problem-solving skills. I have also collaborated with fellow web developers, most recently when building the [insert software or application name]. Additionally, I was featured on Tacoma Business Daily as one of the Youngest Techies to Watch in 2012."

"Currently, I am looking for an opportunity to work with like-minded individuals in your innovative tech company. I believe that my experience, professionalism, and ability to work both as an individual and with a team is critical to your agency's success and long-term vision of helping small businesses grow through technological inventions."

What not to say

Looking at the other side of the coin, there are certain things you should avoid saying when asked this question. One wrong answer could end the interview right away or make both you and the interviewer uncomfortable throughout the interview. Given that the primary goal of this question is to break the ice by initiating a conversation, it's important to get it right the first time. 

Here's what not to say:

Avoid providing unnecessary information, such as extremely personal details. This includes marital status, political affiliation, religious beliefs, your personal life story, etc. Instead, focus only on information that's related to the job.

Don't go on a strength-naming spree. You only need to mention three skills relevant to the job. Most importantly, try to connect these skills with a positive outcome. For example, if you're a critical thinker, mention a particular situation that demonstrates your critical thinking skills.

Although we've mentioned this before, avoid memorizing your answers. This does not have anything to do with your inability to remember the answers during the interview. Instead, look at it from the interviewer's perspective. They've probably interviewed hundreds of job candidates for that particular role and came across all types of responses. As a result, they can easily tell if your response isn't natural or when it sounds too generic. 

Another important reminder is to avoid sounding like a 'bitter' employee or someone who complains too much. This is because interviewers don't really care about your previous employer; they're only concerned about your suitability for the role you're applying for. 

This mistake mostly pops up when employees feel underpaid or unappreciated at their current or former jobs. Telling the hiring manager that you disliked your last job because you worked long hours and got paid peanuts won't increase your chances of getting hired, even if you're telling the truth. This does not necessarily mean that you can't mention that you're looking for a better opportunity with a better salary, health benefits, etc. Timing is the most important thing. 

Don't regurgitate your resume. You can be sure that interviewers have an idea of what your resume looks like by the time you get an invitation for a job interview. Even if studies show that interviewers take around six seconds to review a resume, this is enough time to decide whether or not to have you scheduled for an interview. So the fact that you're sitting in the interview room means you've already passed the first test, so there's no need to regurgitate your resume when asked to describe yourself. 

Don't mention unrelated jobs. Many interviewees think that providing a list of companies they've worked with in the past will boost their chances of getting hired at a new job. While your work history might demonstrate great work experience, that's usually not the case with every candidate. So, for example, if you're applying for the role of a web developer, and you worked as a cashier a decade ago, there's no need to mention that, especially after the 'tell me about yourself question."

Follow up questions for "tell me about yourself"

This, and many other common job interview questions, can make you feel a little bit cornered during a job interview. However, asking follow-up questions is one of the best ways to ease the stress or pressure. But, don't overdo it. 

It's advisable to keep in mind two or three questions to ask further down the interview. Alternatively, you may spread out the questions throughout the interview.  

Another thing you need to remember is to avoid generic questions. Instead, focus on job-specific questions, particularly those that will impress the interviewer. You don't want to seem like you're asking questions just for the sake of it. 

Some possible follow up questions include: 

  • How long have you been working at this company?

  • How did you get to this point in your career?

  • What challenges have you experienced working here so far?

  • What inspired you to work in this industry?

You may also ask questions that focus on the company's culture. Again, it creates the impression that you're really interested in learning more about the company and its culture. 

Examples of such questions include: 

  • What's the company culture like here?

  • What do you love about working here?

  • Do you have any team-building activities?

  • Does your company have any fun traditions or events?

The Bottom Line

Knowing how to answer the "tell me about yourself" question could make or break the interview process. First, remember to practice and research well in advance before your next interview. Secondly, don't memorize your answers. Instead, let everything flow naturally. Lastly, take a deep breath, maintain good body posture and stay confident even when bombarded with questions. 

Katy Boyles |
Categories: Interviewing
Katy is our Social Media Manager at Snagajob, where she loves talking to hourly workers and employers all day long. Her first hourly job was as a hostess.