HOW TO ANSWER: Tell Me About Yourself
How to InterviewInterview Questions & AnswersInterview Tips
Posted by Pamela Skillings
Just updated for 2018!
There are some job interview questions that are guaranteed to come up in most (if not all) of your job interviews — regardless of your industry, your experience level, and job type.
At the top of this list is the universal and much-dreaded classic: “Tell me about yourself.”
Since it’s often the first question to be asked in an interview, it’s your big chance to make a first impression.
In fact, we think this question is so important that we created an entire video lesson around it in our flagship product Big Interview. Watch it here:
This video is just one of dozens of lessons inside the full Big Interview training system. If you’ve got some big interviews coming up, click here to learn more about the system that will help you ace every one of them.
This question (or a variation like “Walk me through your background”) comes up in just about every job interview and many job searchers hate it.
They hate it because they get frustrated trying to decipher exactly what the interviewer is looking for. However, if you prepare properly, there’s no reason to dread this question.
In fact, this question is an opportunity — an opening for you to set the tone of the job interview and emphasize the points that you most want this potential employer to know about you.
Don’t waste the opportunity by simply diving into a long recitation of your resume. This also isn’t the time to mention that you love flamenco dancing and bingo (yes, I have seen candidates ramble on about hobbies and personal preferences many times and it’s a surefire way to make a weak first impression).
Instead, try a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. In this article, we’ll show you the Big Interview Formula for crafting your perfect response to “Tell me about yourself.”
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. 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.
He is hoping that this question will get you talking. 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.
How Not to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
Before we jump into the Big Interview Formula for crafting the perfect answer, let’s cover some of the most common mistakes you might make when answering “Tell me about yourself”. (If anybody is giving you the following answers as advice — run the other way!)
1. The Resume Rehash — Many candidates respond by launching into a recitation of their resume from the very beginning. That can turn into a very long monologue that starts with one’s oldest — and probably least relevant and impressive — experience. By the time you get to the good stuff, your interviewer has zoned out and is thinking about lunch.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to prepare a brief summary of the high points of each of your past positions. It is likely that you will be asked about your accomplishments and day-to-day responsibilities in previous roles. Ideally, this should come out in an engaging conversation, though, not a long monologue at the beginning of the interview. You’ll only confuse your interviewer with information overload.
Even if the interviewer specifically asks you to “walk him through your resume,” don’t take the suggestion too literally. You can still lead with your elevator pitch and then segue into an overview of your most recent position, leaving plenty of opportunities for the interviewer to jump in and engage with you.
2. Mr./Ms. Modesty — Many of my interview coaching clients make the mistake of being too modest. They reply with a humble or vague introduction that fails to clearly communicate their strongest qualifications for the gig.
Some of these clients are just humble people who aren’t comfortable with “selling” themselves. Others have never really had to worry about a strong pitch — they were always courted for new opportunities when the job market was stronger.
Today, the competition for any good job is fierce. Don’t rely on the interviewer to see past your humble exterior and figure out how great you are.
If you take time to prepare, you can find a way to present yourself to full advantage while staying true to your personality. For modest types, I recommend focusing on factual statements.
You don’t have to brag, “I’m the best salesperson in the world.” Instead, you can state, “I led my division in sales for the last three years and had the opportunity to bring in more than $18 million worth of new business during that time.”
3. The First Date Approach — This is not a first date. Your interviewer does not want to hear that you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Many recent grads misconstrue the question and talk too much about their personal lives and hobbies.
This is probably because many only have admissions and other school-related interview experience (clubs, programs, etc.). For these types of interviews, there is much more interest in who you are as a person. In job interviews, focus on who you are as a professional unless asked about hobbies or outside pursuits.
4. The Clueless Ramble — I have watched a surprising number of smart candidates totally flub this question because of overthinking. Their answers sounds something like this: “You mean about my job experience or about my schooling or what kind of information are you looking for?”
I know that these candidates are aiming to please and that “Tell me about yourself” can be interpreted in many different ways. However, asking for too much clarification only makes you look hesitant and confused. Dive right in with the approach that we outlined for you above. If they are looking for something else, they will ask you for it.
Good Rule of Thumb – Don’t pull a Michael Scott on your interview.
How to Nail “Tell Me About Yourself”
Think of it as your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or business and its value proposition. It answers the question: “Why should I buy/invest?” It should be concise enough to be delivered during a short elevator ride (to the 5th floor, not to the 105th floor).
You need an elevator pitch for yourself as a job candidate — and it should be customized for different opportunities. Keep it focused and short, ideally less than a minute, and no more than 2 minutes.
You won’t be able to fit all of your great qualities and resume high points into 2 minutes, so you’ll have to spend some time thinking about how to present yourself in a way that starts the interview on the right note.
A great answer will address the following:
- What are your primary selling points for this job? This could be number of years of experience in a particular industry or area of specialization. You might also highlight special training and technical skills here. Focus on the qualifications in the job description and how you meet and exceed the requirements.
- Why are you interested in this position right now? You can wrap up your answer by indicating why you are looking for a new challenge and why you feel this role is the best next step.
The Big Interview Formula for Answering This Question
I’ll share the “Tell Me About Yourself” formula that I teach to my interview coaching clients (and Big Interview members). There are three components:
1. Who You Are — Your first sentence should be an introduction to who you are professionally, an overview statement that shows off your strengths and gives a little sense of your personality too. This is not easy to do gracefully on the fly. It pays to prepare a bit in advance.
Good:“I’m an innovative HR manager with 8 years of experience managing all aspects of the HR function — from recruiting to training to benefits — for Fortune 500 companies.”
Concisely summarizes diverse background.
Bad:“Well, I grew up in Cincinnati. As a child, I originally wanted to be a fireman, then later became interested in dinosaurs. I excelled in the sciences from early on, placing first in my fourth-grade science fair. Funny story about that…”
Way too much information.
2. Expertise Highlights — Don’t assume that the interviewer has closely read your resume and knows your qualifications. Use your elevator pitch to briefly highlight 2-4 points that you think make you stand out.
Good:“I have spent the last six years developing my skills as a customer service manager for Megacompany Inc., where I have won several performance awards and been promoted twice. I love managing teams and solving customer problems.”
The emphasis here is on experience, enthusiasm, and proof of performance.
Bad:“My first job was as an administrative assistant for Macy’s in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I learned a great deal in that role that served me well over the next 12 years. At the time, I wasn’t sure about my career path, so I next took a position selling real estate. It only lasted for six months, but I sure enjoyed it.”
Zzzzzzz. Nobody cares about your first job 12 years ago. You are starting with the least impressive part of your career and the interviewer is likely to tune out before you get to the good stuff.
3. Why You’re Here — End by telling them you want the position and why.
Good:“Although I love my current role, I feel I’m now ready for a more challenging assignment and this position really excites me.”
Concise and positive.
Bad:“Because of the company’s financial problems and my boss’s issues, I’m worried about my job’s stability and decided to start looking for new opportunities.”
Don’t be too candid or you risk coming across as negative. This answer also makes it seem like you’re interested in a job, any job — not this job in particular.
Remember: You will have time later to walk through your resume in more detail and fill in any gaps. Don’t try to squeeze in too much information or your interviewer WILL start to tune out.
A good interview is a dialogue, not a monologue. Keep it concise and give your interviewer the chance to dive in and ask questions.
Practicing your answer over and over will be the key to success, so break out the mirror and a stopwatch, or get the full advantage of the interactive practice tool inside our Big Interview training system.
Example Answer for “Tell Me About Yourself”:
“I have more than five years of experience as a technical project manager at top Wall Street companies. Most recently, I led the development of an award-winning new trading platform. I’m a person who thrives in a fast-paced environment so right now I’m looking for an opportunity to apply my technical experience and my creative problem solving skills at an innovative software company like this one.”
Notice that the first line sums up her experience and name drops “top Wall Street companies.” It’s always good to mention high-profile employers by name. Most hiring managers will perk up because they assume that if you made it through the hiring process at other well-respected companies, you must be pretty good.
She then describes an impressive recent project that we can assume is very relevant to the work required in the open position. Next, she spends time talking about why she’s interested in this company/role, using the terms fast-paced, creative, problem solving, and innovative. This is great if those words are used in the job description and/or company values.
With this answer, the candidate is leading with some of her top selling points — experience at top firms, recognized stellar performance (award), technical expertise, problem-solving skills, etc. This will help him grab the interviewer’s attention and make a strong first impression.
It bears repeating that a strong first impression is critical in a job interview situation. Start the interview strong and end it strong and you might even get away with flubbing a few questions in the middle.
Craft Your Pitch
So now that you know how to approach it, I have a feeling that you’ll learn to love hearing the “Tell me about yourself” question.
Take a few moments now to sit down and plan how you will respond in your next interview.
Then, read more about my flagship training system Big Interview. If you have an interview coming up (or if your fingers are crossed!), there’s a lot more to prepare for after introducing yourself and your background. Big Interview combines a complete video course on interviewing taught by myself with a powerful Mock Interview Practice tool that will get you ready and confident for the real thing. It covers thousands of different job roles and industries, from entry-level to C suite. Click here to give it a try.
Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.
Tell me about yourself.
Well, I’m from Colorado. I raise goats. I have a rash.
Most people get nervous before interviews. And nerves can cause you to stumble through even the most fundamental interactions.
That’s why the tell me about yourself interview question is the hardest part of the interview for some job seekers. It often comes first, and it’s mystifying.
That’s why you need to prepare.
But how do you know where to start?
It takes a bit of research and practice. But it’s worth it. And at least you can be sure that you won’t start your interview with a rant about your early childhood diseases.
This guide will show you:
- What the interviewer is really asking.
- How to answer the tell me about yourself interview question.
- Several examples of the best way to answer and why.
And if you want to make sure you’ll turn every interview into a job offer, get our free checklist: 42 Things You Need To Do Before, During, and After Your Big Interview.
What a Hiring Manager Wants When They Say Tell Me About Yourself
The tell me about yourself interview question is one of the first you'll hear in an interview.
Now, a lot of job seekers find it tough to provide a satisfying answer. That’s because they’re not sure what the hiring manager is asking.
So, what is the hiring manager asking?
There are a few possible ways that hiring managers can phrase the request.
You might hear:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Tell something about yourself.
- Say something about yourself.
- Describe yourself in three words.
- What would you like me to know about you?
But what are they really asking?
- Tell me about yourself as a professional.
- What do YOU think is important for the job?
- How are you going to fit in with the company and provide value?
- Can you answer an “unstructured” question on the fly?
Even if the hiring manager doesn’t ask you point blank to talk about yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare an answer. That’s because the entire interview is about answering this question.
Preparation will also stop you from listing hobbies or talking about the time you got a rock stuck in your nose.
|The hiring manager is asking you to talk about your professional self.||The hiring manager is asking you to talk about yourself in general.|
You’ll also want to keep in mind that the request is “unstructured.” See, the hiring manager will leave some interview questions vague on purpose.
That’s because the hiring manager wants to see HOW you answer the question. She’s less interested in what you say.
When she says tell me about yourself, what do you decide to share? What do you find important to tell your future employer about yourself?
What’s important - the company’s needs or yours?
- Do you answer with personal information or professional?
- Are you aware of what position on offer requires?
- Do you know what the company does and values?
What type of thinker and worker are you?
- Do you repeat information off your resume word for word?
- Do you recite something practiced like a robot?
- Do you think on your feet or do you ask for clarification?
What initial impression do you make on other people?
- Are you articulate and confident?
- Are you flabbergasted and confused?
- What kind of first impression do you make?
Pro Tip: Your answer should reflect that you're aware of the company's needs and values. Meanwhile, your tone should register as articulate, confident, and prepared.
Do try to avoid sounding robotic. It’s hard, but not impossible. Even if you’re the nervous type.
Introducing yourself during an interview is a lot like introducing yourself on your resume. Read our guide: "How to Write a Resume Summary: 21 Best Examples You Will See"
How to Prepare for the Tell Me About Yourself Interview Question
To talk about your professional self, you’ll need to do two things.
First, you’ll need to identify your greatest professional achievements.
Second, you’ll need to tailor your accomplishments to the needs of the company.
So, what are your greatest achievements? Ask yourself:
- Have you ever accomplished anything at work that you can illustrate with numbers? (Good examples are earning money, cutting costs, or improving efficiency.)
- Can you think of accomplishments that demonstrate how well you use a skill?
- Was there a time when your boss praised you?
- Did you ever win an award or receive a promotion?
Note, you do not have to take your examples from your job experience.
If you have little or no work experience, you can take examples and success stories from anywhere.
Are you a student or fresh graduate? Your achievements can include success stories from your extracurricular activities. You can also talk about awards and honors you received at school.
Let’s say you’re a professional with a stretch of long-term unemployment. Or you’re a career changer, and your success stories are unique to a different industry.
It’s more than okay to refer to success stories from jobs you had a long time ago. Your tell me about yourself answer can span your entire career.
You can also talk about your achievements at the jobs you held in different industries.
The point of the exercise is to identify your achievements. You’ll narrow them down later. You can write down as many as you can think of now.
Once you have a master list of your top achievements, go back and take a long look at your job description. Underline all the skills and requirements listed. Where do you exceed the requirements?
Here’s an example of a job description for a Product Marketing Manager:
Notice the keywords underlined in the job description:
- Strong analytical skills.
- Can optimize the use of data and information to uncover customer insight.
- Can provide strong evidence-based analyses that build brand equity and a differential advantage.
- Customer Focused
- Can develop and sustain positive relationships to obtain customer insight.
- Strong communication skills (verbal and written).
- Can coordinate information and requirements with related operational departments.
- Proactive in identifying needs/issues.
- Can employ effective solutions in a timely manner.
- Detailed and action oriented.
There are a million possibilities here for your tell me about yourself sample answer.
The candidate could choose a success story based on communication. She could talk about the time she developed a relationship that gave her insight.
Now, look back at your master list of achievements. You’ll want to circle those that match the qualities you find in your job offer.
The next step is to choose a couple that you feel strongest about and use the STAR approach to illustrate them.
The STAR approach is an interview technique that helps you keep your answers on the right track.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
Situation - You start by explaining a situation which required you to solve a problem, use a skill, or come up with a new idea.
Task - Next, you explain the action that your job requires in such a situation.
Action - After, you describe the action that you took. If it’s different than the required task, you should also explain why you chose a different path.
Result - What happened in the end? How did the situation play out once you acted? It’s best here to illustrate successes with numbers and details if you can. Numbers help reinforce the impact that your action had.
Here’s an example of our Product Marketing Manager candidate’s achievements:
Can coordinate information and requirements with related operational departments.
Strong communication skills (verbal and written).
So, tell me about yourself.
Situation - As a Marketing Manager at XYZ Company, I am required to coordinate projects with the IT department. We create a lot of audiovisual marketing materials.
Task - At the beginning of the year, I received a budget and a list of projects. I had to figure out how to complete every project on the list within budget.
Action - I held a meeting with the IT department to discuss tech solutions that might save money. I then discussed the situation with my marketing team. I sent cross-departmental communications calibrating the tech solutions with the team’s talents.
Result - Under my leadership, we completed 15 audiovisual projects under budget in 2015. The projects covered a range of initiatives, but three also helped increase sales by 10%.
Okay, great start! But how do you know which achievements will impress the hiring manager the most?
The tell me about yourself interview question gives you the opportunity to show the interviewer you’re on the same page. If you do a little bit of research, you can prioritize your achievements.
That’s why you’ll want to research the company. Go online. Check out the company’s website, social media profiles, blog, and recent media mentions.
Do you get a sense of what the company finds valuable?
You can also go to LinkedIn and have a look at people who have a similar job title as the one on your job description. What kind of achievements do they list?
Now, go back to your master list. Do any of the achievements you circled match company values? Are they common accomplishments listed by professionals on LinkedIn?
Yes? Then select the top two to mention as part of your answer.
Pro Tip: Don’t start your answer by asking, “Well, what do you want to know?”
Some of you might say that’s not true. You’ve asked for clarification before, and it was okay. But it’s risky.
As mentioned above, part of what the hiring manager is trying to find out is if you can answer questions on the fly.
Want more examples of professional achievements? These examples aren't just for resumes. Read our guide: "Achievements to Put on a Resume - Complete Guide (+30 Examples)"
How to Respond With the Perfect Three-part Tell Me About Yourself Answer
Your response should only last a couple of minutes. It’s not the time for a Shakespearean monolog or a recitation of your resume.
Give the interviewer a taste of the good stuff right away. Who are you as a professional and what are you doing right now?
I am a professional tiger wrestler. I wrestled the biggest Siberian Tigers for the opening act at the Awesome and Dangerous Circus.
And don’t be modest. You wrestled tigers. Big tigers. Big dangerous tigers. So, don’t say that you cuddle kittens.
I am a tiger wrestler. That means that I take big cats and I sort of get on their backs. Then when I get on their backs, I have this technique where I grab their fur. When I grab their fur, it gives them a signal. It’s not a cuddly signal, but an Alpha Male signal, you know what I mean? Then I do this other technique...
Your tell me about yourself answer should be a brief elevator pitch of your professional self. Like your resume summary.
Part One - Your Professional Persona
I am a Copywriter with 5+ years of experience working for large advertising companies. I’ve worked with clients including Pfizer, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson.
It’s good to tell the hiring manager how long you’ve been working and for whom. At this point, it’s also not a bad idea to name drop if you can. Of course, never mention confidential clients.
Part Two - What Makes you Stand Out (2-4 points)
Here’s where your achievements and past success stories come into play. Use the examples you’ve come up with to illustrate the skills and value you’ll bring to the position.
Don’t forget to use the STAR approach when answering the tell me about yourself interview question.
I am highly dedicated and ambitious. Every time I start a new campaign, I aim to win an award or nomination. Of course, my ultimate goal is to please the client. But the fact that I aim high has resulted in at least 20 industry awards and nominations.
For example, I once led a project for a client who was sure that he didn’t want to add digital media to his campaign budget. He wasn’t behind the times, but he was sure that his client-base was. My Creative Director asked that I get the client on board. So, I created some samples, and I put together a presentation. I set out to show the client that he was missing an entire demographic of untapped customers.
He was sold. He added digital media to his campaign budget making my boss happy. The work I put into the digital campaign to impress the client was above and beyond what we normally do. The result was two Cannes Lions awards.
Situation - Client didn’t want digital.
Task- Get the client to add digital to his budget.
Action - Went above and beyond to create samples and a presentation for the client.
Result- Client decided to add digital to his budget and the work won two awards.
- Here you will want to tailor your tell me about yourself answer to the job and the company. Which of your achievements will match those listed in the job description?
Part Three - Why You’re Going to Fit
It’s here that you’ll want to stress that the position is in line with your plans and career goals. It’s also a good idea to make it sound like you’re interested in staying on for awhile.
While I enjoyed my previous work, it was commercial. It’s a dream of mine to do work for nonprofit clients. Your company has done some amazing work for nonprofit and NGO clients and I’d love to switch gears. That’s why I applied for this position.
The candidate has done their homework and is familiar with the company. Plus, the hiring manager knows it won’t bore the candidate to switch environments. This is how you answer the tell me about yourself interview question.
The story of your life.
Well, I was born a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Get it? Nah, I was born in 1990. In Michigan. When I was a child, my mom said I ate so much that she couldn’t buy me clothes that fit. I was a toddler with a Britney Spears midriff through the end of the 90’s. That’s how I got competitive. The other kids used to pick on me, so I got superb at coming up with comebacks. Now, I’m a great writer. I’m highly competitive. And I’m a winner.
Don’t do it. It’s not smart. You’re at a job interview.
Okay, you've aced your interview. But what's next? You need to send a thank you email. Here's how to write one: "How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview (+10 Examples)"
BONUS: Struggling with job interview anxiety? We've got you covered. Download our FREE ultimate checklist Things You Need To Do Before, During, And After Your Big Interview and make sure you come out on top.
The last step is to rehearse your answers. Don’t waste a lot of time memorizing them. Remember, you don’t want to sound like C3PO.
Once you’ve done that, you’re sure to deliver a satisfactory response to the tell me about yourself interview question.
Everyone gets nervous during interviews.But now you know how to tell the hiring manager about yourself. And now, you’ll never have to dread the initial request again.
Still not sure what to say about your professional life during an interview? We can help! Leave a comment and we will help you find out how best to introduce yourself during an interivew.