Quite a few interviews open with an invitation to talk about yourself. While “Tell me about yourself” may sound off-the-cuff, it’s not. Don’t answer this question in an informal sense. After all, you are not at a casual meet-up with a friend or a business associate.
Just like with other common interview questions the recruiter poses this question with an agenda in mind. Likely, they want to assess your ability to handle yourself in an unstructured situation, your interpersonal skills, and your general abilities to discern what’s important. In addition, the interviewer also wants to gain a better sense of who you are and how your personal values align with the company’s culture.
Considering all of the above, you should also get strategic and think through how to answer the ‘tell me about yourself’ question. Below we prepared several quick & actionable strategies for framing your reply.
How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview
While there are several ways to respond ‘tell me about yourself’ interview question correctly, there’s just one surefire way to get it wrong: ask “What do you want to know?”.
This response will poise you as being only one thing – unprepared. If you’re unprepared for the job interview, the other party is likely to assume that you are equally unprepared for the position. So you need a good answer that is delivered with confidence. Here’s how you come up with one.
1. Understand the ‘Why’ Behind This Interview Question
Did you know those first impressions can make or break your entire job interview? It’s a fact proved by research.
The initial impression you make during the first few seconds of the conversation prompts the interviewer’s further assessment of your qualifications as well as your overall personality. In essence, the way you present yourself within the first several minutes will determine the final interview ratings. Your subsequent changes in behavior will have little influence over how the interviewer perceives your abilities and personality.
That’s why giving a solid answer to the “tell me about yourself” question is so important.
So skip the general bits such and don’t go into recapping your life story. Instead, focus on what really interests the interviewer:
- If you are a good cultural fit for the team
- Whether or not you can do the job
- Your prior job accomplishments
- How you can help the company.
These are the four talking points that should be included in your reply. Now let’s break them down a bit further.
2. Identify the Company Need
To present yourself as an ideal hire, you first need to understand the employer’s criteria behind that ‘ideal’. That’s relatively easy to do.
First, go back to the job posting and look into the “Requirements”, “What are We Looking For”, “Qualification” sections. Scan further to the “Extra” and “Preferred” qualifications sections to see how you stack there too.
Then, head to the “About Us” or “Corporate” section of the website and browse information about the company culture, mission, and current agenda.
Your goal is to collect as much information as needed to complete this sentence: “The company is looking for someone who is ….”.
For example, if you are applying for this Brand Designer position, you may jot down something like:
3. Think How Your Qualifications Can Help Meet the Stated Need
Once you gain a better sense of whom the company wants to get on board, think how those attributes align with your hard and soft skills.
You don’t need to give a full rundown of all of your skills (since they are already listed on your resume). Instead, start with your most recent employment and outline what qualities make you a good fit for this next job.
Think of your reply as of a movie trailer – highlight some of the best parts that prompt the person to want to learn more. The interviewer will always ask you follow-up questions if they are interested in learning more about a particular project or area of expertise.
The easiest way to organize your talking points here is to continue this sentence: “I’m someone who …”.
Continuing with the previous example, let’s imagine that you are experienced web and graphic designer. So your reply may go like this:
“I’m someone who worked in web design for the past 5 years and loves creating user-friendly designs, obsessing over typography, and experimenting with new approaches to information architecture.”
You can also choose to tell a personal story or anecdote that illustrates your approach to work and reveals some more personal details.
“When I was 14, I made my first custom font that closely resembled my hand-writing, so that I could print out (instead of writing) personalized greeting cards for all my extended family. Till this day aunt Rosy believes that I wrote all of those cards by hand”.
4. Highlight Your Most Important Accomplishments
Next, let’s tie in some “bragging rights” into your reply to further cement the level of your expertise. Again, you can illustrate this with a quick story. For example, tell how you met a deadline with a stick-to-it attitude. Stories are powerful tools for impact and memory. Another goal when you answer this question is to give an answer that makes you stand out from the herd.
While your response can be in a storytelling manner, you don’t want to ramble on and on. The person interviewing you wants to know a little bit about you and not your whole life story. Keep it brief by focusing on two or three things that are interesting but useful. The “tell me about yourself’ question should be answered in about three to four minutes max.
5. Tie Your Reply All Together
Now let’s connect all of the previous points and tips. So you are having a job interview at Cool Startup for the position of Brand Designer and the interviewer pops the “tell me about yourself question”.
You already know that they want a customer-oriented candidate with strong creative skills, yet without a huge ego as they are expected to follow pre-existing brand guidelines and produce creative assets that align with the brand.
Here’s how a great reply will look:
“I’ve been doing graphic design since high school. Together with a small team, I designed a quarterly literary magazine – I’ve created a custom font and was in charge of layouts, but the logo and overall brand style idea was proposed by our teacher. Based on their guidelines, I later created a web version of the magazine too. Since we had quite a few students with special needs, I also made sure that my designs were accessible to everyone. It’s also one of the reasons why I admire Cool Startup’s new app – it’s really easy to use for people with hearing impairments.
Anyhow, I keep a scan of my first cover in my portfolio to remind myself just how far I’ve gone professionally over the past 10 years. And I want to keep making progress in this new role and eager to put my newly acquired skills in UX writing and Information Architecture to proper action.”
Practice and Rehearse
Craft several answers to this interview question before the interview. Then, practice and rehearse your response until it sounds natural. The goal is to be brief and pique the potential employer’s interest.
Many interviewees dread this question, but a well-prepared job candidate should welcome it. With the proper response, your answer puts you in the driver’s seat. Treat the “tell me about yourself” interview question as an opportunity to sell yourself. Plus, it allows you to set the direction and tone for the entire interview. So take full advantage of it!
This article has been originally published on June 27, 2016 and has been extensively revised and updated on September 29, 2020.