Even though it’s one of the most common interview questions, “it almost always stumps them,” Merrill says. It might seem like an easy win—after all, you know all about yourself!—but responding to this invitation to talk about you in the context of a job interview can feel stressful and complicated. “It’s challenging because it is broad, open-ended,” Merrill points out. You might be thinking: Um, what do you want to know? How am I supposed to pick what to share out of my entire life story right now?

Luckily, you can prepare in advance and use this common opening prompt to your advantage, setting the stage for a successful interview

Why Interviewers Ask It

As with any interview question, the key to crafting an impressive answer is understanding why people are asking in the first place.

“It lets them ease into the actual interviewing,” says leadership development coach Jay, founder of optimized resume. “Often when the conversation starts it’s a lot of small talks and it’s a way to transition into it,”, especially for less seasoned recruiters or hiring managers. “The interviewee’s nervous but the interviewer’s trying to get their bearings [too].”

It’s also a great starting point that can help inform the direction of the interview, says optimized resume career coach and top remotely founder Jay: “Depending on what you say it’s going to help them figure out the next question,” which might help start a chain effect of follow-up questions and lend an easy flow to the conversation.

Beyond serving as an icebreaker and transition, Dea says, this introductory question also helps recruiters and hiring managers to accomplish what’s often one of their major goals in the hiring process: getting to know you.

If you answer it well, the interviewers will begin to find out why you’re the best candidate for this job, in terms of hard skills and experience as well as soft skills. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly and effectively, connect with and react to other humans, and present yourself professionally.

There are plenty of times when you’ll hear these exact words: “Tell me about yourself.” But interviewers might have their own versions of the prompt that are asking pretty much the same thing, including:

  • I have your resume in front of me but tell me more about yourself.
  • I’d love to hear more about your journey.
  • Tell me a little bit more about your background.

“Tell Me About Yourself” Sample Answers

That’s all great in theory, but what would a solid answer actually sound like? Check out these examples from Zhang, Dea, and Campos.

  • Well, I’m currently an account executive at Smith, where I handle our top-performing client. Before that, I worked at an agency where I was on three different major national healthcare brands. And while I really enjoyed the work that I did, I’d love the chance to dig in much deeper with one specific healthcare company, which is why I’m so excited about this opportunity with Metro Health Center.
  • Sure! So I’ve always enjoyed writing and public speaking, even going back to high school. This led me to pursue writing-related passions, for example in college, where I was an editor for our school newspaper. In addition to writing, I got to learn how to manage a team and the writing process. After college, I took a job at Acme as a social media manager, writing copy and social content for the company blog, but I raised my hand to work on the communications plan for a product launch which is where I discovered my interest in product marketing. After switching to a product marketing role and managing the two most successful new product launches last year, I realized I’m excited to take on a new role. I’ve learned I work best on products that I love and use and given that I’m a big user of your company’s products I jumped at the chance to apply when I saw the open posting.
  • I’ve been in the marketing industry for over five years, primarily working in account and project management roles. I most recently worked as a senior PM for a large tech company managing large marketing campaigns and overseeing other project managers. And now I’m looking to expand my experience across different industries, particularly fintech, which is why I’m so interested in joining an agency like yours.

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“It nearly always stumps them,” Merrill says, despite the fact that it’s one of the most typical interview questions. It may appear to be a simple win—after all, you know everything there is to know about yourself!—but responding to this offer to talk about yourself at a job interview may be difficult and complicated. “It’s difficult because it’s broad and open-ended,” Merrill says. You might be wondering, “What exactly do you want to know?” How am I expected to choose what to share right now from my complete life story?

 

Fortunately, you may prepare ahead of time and take advantage of this typical opening prompt, ensuring a successful interview.

Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?

Answering “Tell Me About Yourself” with a Simple Formula

 More “Tell Me About Yourself” Answering Strategies

Customize your response to the role and company.

 

Maintain a Professional Attitude

However, inject some passion into your response (if You Feel Comfortable)

Keep it short and sweet (and don’t recite your resume)

(But don’t memorize) Practice

Understand Your Target Market

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Keep in mind that this is frequently your first impression, and it matters.

 

 

Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?

 

Understanding why people are asking in the first place is crucial to generating an impressive answer to any interview question.

“It eases them into the real interviews,” explains Alina Campos, founder of Rising, a leadership development company. “Often when the conversation begins, there is a lot of small talk and it’s a way to move into it,” says one recruiter or hiring manager who is new to the job. “The interviewee is nervous, but the interviewer is attempting to figure things out as well.”

According to a Top Resume career counselor and CareerSchooled founder Al Dea, it’s also a wonderful starting point that can assist shape the path of the interview: “Depending on what you say, it’ll help them figure out the following question,” which might create a chain reaction of follow-up questions and make the conversation go more smoothly.

This opening question, according to Dea, serves as an icebreaker and transition while also assisting recruiters and hiring managers in achieving one of their primary aims in the interview process: getting to know you.

If you respond successfully, the interviewers will begin to understand why you are the greatest candidate for this job in terms of both hard and soft talents. It’s a terrific chance to show off your ability to speak clearly and successfully, connect with and react to other people, and present yourself professionally.

 

You’ll hear these identical phrases a lot: “Tell me about yourself.” However, interviewers may have their own variations of the prompt that ask similar questions, such as:

 

I have your resume in front of me, but I’d like to learn more about you.

Please go over your resume with me.

I’d be interested in learning more about your adventure.

Please tell me a little more about yourself.

 

Answering “Tell Me About Yourself” with a Simple Formula

 

Lily Zhang, the MIT Media Lab’s Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development and a writer for The optimized resume, suggests using the present, past, and future formula to structure your response.

 

Present: Tell me about your current role, its scope, and potentially a significant recent accomplishment.

Past: Tell the interviewer how you got there and/or discuss any previous work experience that is relevant to the position and organization you’re looking for.

Future: Explain why you’re interested in this job and what you want to accomplish next (and a great fit for it, too).

 

Of course, this isn’t the only method to construct your response, and you can alter it as needed. If you have a very compelling tale about how you got into this profession, for example, you might want to start with that “past” story before moving on to what you’re doing now.

 

Make sure that whatever sequence you choose is ultimately tied to the job and organization. “I think a nice place to end it is to say, ‘This is why I’m here,'” Dea says. You want your interviewer to leave with the idea that “it makes sense that [you] are sitting here talking to me about this role.”

 

8 More “Tell Me About Yourself” Answering Strategies

 

So, you’ve got an interview coming up, and you’re pretty sure it’ll start with some variation of “tell me about yourself.” Here’s what you’ll need to finish your answer.

Tailor Your Response to the Role and Organization

 

“When an interviewer asks you to tell me about yourself, they really mean tell me about yourself as it relates to the job you’re seeking and this firm.” Tina Wascovich, an optimized resume career coach, believes “they’re giving you an opportunity to express precisely why you have the proper qualifications.”

Take advantage of this chance! To do so, comb over the job description, investigate the firm, and figure out how to convey your narrative in a way that makes it crystal apparent why you’re interested and what you bring to the table that resonates with the role and organization.

“This is your finest opportunity to be really direct and convey your goal. “However, your purpose must be to achieve their objectives,” says optimized resume career consultant and recruiter Steven Davis.

 

For example, one of his clients was leaving a job where she had been part of a team developing a new antibacterial lotion and preparing it for clinical trials. The new job she wanted required her to work on an entirely different product, so the most important thing she could say in this case was that she’d never worked on antibacterial creams before, but she was able to come in and figure out how to move the process forward, just as she could in this new role.

 

So, if you’re looking for a specific type of work, you might have a basic template that you use for every interview, but be sure to customize it to meet the firm. “It’s a chance to show them right immediately that you understand,” Campos says. “If they talk a lot about culture,” she says, “weave it into your answer,” and if the firm or even a specific team promotes something different, see if you can incorporate that.” Individual terms might sometimes indicate that you’ve done your homework and are a good fit, according to Campos. Is the company a tech firm or a startup, a consumer brand or an internet store, a publication or a zine, for example?

 

“The [answers] that usually resonate with me show that they truly understand the role,” she says, as well as why they applied. “I become more involved because I realize that it is going somewhere.”

Maintain a professional demeanor

 

Keeping in mind that this question has an unspoken qualifier—”as it relates to this role and company”—it’s important to make your response professional. Wascovich says that, while it may be customary in certain nations to provide personal information at this point, it is not recommended in the United States. In other words, unless you know anything extremely particular about the organisation that leads you to suspect differently, this is not the time to talk about your family and interests.

However, inject some zeal into your response (if You Feel Comfortable)

 

Keeping your response professional, on the other hand, shouldn’t prevent you from discussing why you’re passionate about your job or this company, even if it goes into little more personal terrain.

 

“It helps engage the interviewer and set them apart if they feel comfortable expressing their experience from a passionate standpoint,” adds Wascovich. Wascovich, for example, recently collaborated with a special education administrator who had previously been a special education student in elementary school. Her teachers encouraged her to pursue her chosen profession. “So that could be a great hook in telling your tale of how you got started.”

 

You don’t have to go into great detail, but if your aim at an interview is to stand out from the crowd and be remembered, injecting some passion into your response will help you do so.

“People prefer to speak with humans rather than machines,” Dea explains. “I love it when people tell me they knew they wanted to work in marketing since they were kids.” I’ve always had a passion for writing.”

Campos concurs. “This is a fantastic location to bring that in if a person is truly connected to their mission and what they want to go after in their future career and this firm really aligns,” she says. You may say something like, “I’m incredibly enthusiastic about x and y, so I was really drawn to your company…”

Keep it short and sweet (and don’t recite your resume)

 

Don’t waste this time regurgitating every detail of your professional life. “Most people answer it as if it’s a dissertation on their résumé,” Davis says, but it will just bore the interviewer to tears.

 

According to Campos, it’s not just about amusing or engaging your interviewer. You’re also indicating how you’ll conduct yourself in meetings with coworkers, employers, and clients. Will you talk for ten minutes every time someone asks you a question that isn’t completely closed?

 

This or any other interview question has no scientifically confirmed ideal duration. Some trainers and recruiters may advise you to keep your speech to 30 seconds or fewer, while others will advise you to strive for a minute or no more than two minutes.

 

“Everyone has a different approach,” Dea says, noting that candidates have spoken for one minute or five. However, in his experience, after 1.5 to 2.5 minutes of uninterrupted talking, people begin to lose interest. You’ll have to evaluate what seems right for you in any specific situation, but if you’re talking for more than a few minutes, you’re probably going into too much detail too quickly.

 

While you’re talking, make sure you’re also reading the room. If the other person appears bored or distracted, it may be time to end the conversation. If they seem particularly interested in one aspect of your response, it can be worthwhile to expound on that subject further.

Remember, however, that you don’t have to tell your entire life story here, according to Dea. Consider it a teaser that will stimulate the interviewer’s attention and allow them to ask follow-up questions regarding whatever has piqued their interest the most.

 

Rehearse (but not memorize)

 

You don’t want to wait until you’re asked this question in a live interview to practise your response. Before each interview, think about what you want to say about yourself and practice expressing it out loud.

 

To give yourself some distance and perspective, Davis suggests leaving yourself a message or recording your response and then waiting an hour or more before listening to it. When you’ve finished, listen to it again to check if the answer seems strong and genuine.

If possible, go beyond solo practice. “Practicing with other people allows you to hear yourself say it and receive feedback on how other people interpret what you’re saying,” Dea adds. You can improve your answer by having a trustworthy colleague, friend, or family member listen and react to it. If your practise partner is up for it, you may even ask them what they would say if they were being interviewed, and attempt to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer to see what you’d look for on the other side.

 

Practice will undoubtedly strengthen your answer and increase your confidence in delivering it. However, Dea advises avoiding memorizing and speaking your pitch word for word. “Practicing and memorizing must be balanced carefully. “It has to come across as really genuine,” he explains.

Recruiters may be more forgiving of fresh graduates in their first few years in the job who sound like they’ve memorized their answer, but it’s likely to be a red flag for anyone with more experience, according to Wascovich. “You don’t want to come across as overly prepared,” she advises. She adds, “You should be able to hold a discussion.” “Imagine yourself telling a good friend a story.”

 

Understand Your Target Market

 

As with every interview question—or conversation, for that matter—ensure that you know who you’re speaking with. You may be asked to “tell me about yourself” at every level of the job interview process, from the phone screen to the final rounds, but that doesn’t mean you have to provide the same answer each time.

If you’re talking to a recruiter who isn’t familiar with the hard skills of the team you’ll be joining, you might keep your answer broader, however, if you’re talking to your potential boss, you might become a little more technical. If you’re in the last round of interviews with a C-level executive, you should mention why you’re interested in the company’s overarching objective.

“When I talked to so-and-so, it really resonated with me that your purpose or value is…”, Campos says. You can also improve your answer and make it more relevant to the role and company depending on what you discover as you progress through the interview process.

 

Maintain a positive attitude

 

This is probably not the best time to disclose that you were fired or laid off from your previous work. “Everything has its time and place—you don’t have to squeeze everything into this answer,” Campos explains. “If you want to make a professional first impression, offer them a glimpse but don’t give them everything.” That’s not the right time for that.”

Things become more comfortable as the interview progresses. So, if someone asks you why you’re looking for a new job or why you have a gap on your CV, wait until you get a specific question to answer those topics.

And you know how you’ve undoubtedly heard a million times not to criticise your previous employer? This is also true here. Particularly here. It’s a big turnoff if the first thing you tell an interviewer is how dreadful your boss is and how you’re trying to get away from their micromanaging clutches.

 

Keep in mind that this is frequently your first impression, and it matters.

 

“We only get one shot to make a good first impression,” adds Davis. “In my perspective, most hiring choices are decided in the first minute,” which includes your welcome, handshake, eye contact, and the first thing you say, which may be your answer to “tell me about yourself.”

Even if the powers that be aren’t making an irreversible decision right away, the first impression can influence the rest of the dialogue. If you have to spend the remainder of the time making up for a poor first impression, you’re in a far worse situation than if you respond quickly, confidently, and appropriately.

“Be prepared for this question and demonstrate to interviewers that you are,”

According to Campos. “The self-assurance that comes over in this is a fantastic place to start.”

“Explain Yourself to Me” Answers Examples

That’s all well and good in theory, but how would a solid response sound in practise? Consider the following examples by Zhang, Dea, and Campos.

Well, I’m currently an account executive at Smith, where I’m in charge of our most profitable client. Prior to that, I worked for an agency where I worked on three major national healthcare brands. And, while I appreciated the job I did, I’d like the opportunity to work with a single healthcare organization in greater depth, which is why I’m so pleased about this opportunity with Metro Health Center.

 

Sure! So, even as far back as high school, I’ve always enjoyed writing and public speaking. This prompted me to explore writing-related interests, such as being an editor for our school newspaper in college. I learned how to manage a team and the writing process in addition to writing. After college, I worked at Acme as a social media manager, creating text and social content for the company blog, but I volunteered to work on a product launch communications plan, which is where I discovered my passion for product marketing. I realized I’m enthusiastic to take on a new role after transferring to a product marketing role and leading the two most successful new product launches last year. I’ve discovered that I work best on items that I enjoy and use, and because I use your company’s products frequently, I leaped at the chance to apply when I spotted the open position.

I’ve spent over five years in the marketing sector, particularly in account and project management roles. I most recently worked as a senior project manager for a large software firm, where I oversaw other project managers and managed large marketing initiatives. And now I’m looking to broaden my knowledge across industries, notably fintech, which is why I’m interested in working for a company like yours.

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