One of the toughest job interview questions isn’t a question at all: “Tell me about yourself.” This open-ended request can feel daunting, especially if you’re not used to hogging the spotlight. It can also feel somewhat confrontational, putting you on the spot to impress the hiring manager.
But you can also choose to look at this request as an opportunity. While the interviewer determines the course of much of the job interview, their choice to start with this statement invites you to set the tone right from the start. But to capitalize on this moment, you’ll need to be prepared to make your pitch.
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Why Employers Ask You To “Tell Me Something About Yourself”
This question is useful as:
An Ice Breaker
Instead of launching into questions, the interviewer is letting you steer the conversation. It provides an entry point to the interview and may even give insight into your experience and interests that the hiring manager couldn’t get from asking canned questions.
A Way To See How You Think Of Yourself
What makes you, you? From a professional standpoint, you are the sum of all your experience, education, and training. But as a candidate, you’re more than just a skill set and a work history. Asking you to introduce yourself tells the hiring manager what you value most about your career path and abilities.
A Real-Life Example Of Your Communication Skills
Communication skills are among the most sought-after soft skills by employers. Talking about yourself in this context is tricky. If you do it well, the hiring manager will know that you can explain complicated concepts to a brand-new audience.
A Test Of How You Cope With Pressure
You may feel put on the spot by this request–and that’s partly the point. The hiring manager will want to see how well you’ve prepared for the interview, whether you can think on your feet, and how you behave when you’re under stress. If you can be gracious, calm, and engaging, you’ll have started the interview on the right foot.
How Answer “Tell Me Something About Yourself”
If you already have an elevator pitch–a 30- to 60-second sales talk about yourself, your abilities, and your value–you’re well on your way to fulfilling the interviewer’s request. If you don’t, preparing to answer “Tell me about yourself” will help you get started crafting a pitch for the future. Your goal, in either case, is the same: you’re trying to tell the interviewer who you are, what you have to offer, and what you want.
Answer The Important Questions
- Who are you? Don’t just provide your name, rank, and serial number. Let the interviewer know who you are in the context of this meeting. Example: “I’m George, and I’m a graphic designer with six years of experience designing book covers for educational publishers.”
- What makes you a good candidate? List the skills, qualifications, and abilities that would make you most valuable in this role. Example: “I see from your job listing that you’re looking for an experienced outside sales professional with a passion for green energy. I have 10 years of experience in outside sales in the solar sector, and I truly love my work.”
- Why do you want this job? Employee engagement is the difference between a productive workforce and one that’s just punching a clock. Hiring managers want candidates who can show that they’re enthusiastic about the specific job they’re hoping to fill, not just looking for any opportunity. Example: “To be honest, I got into video game testing in the hopes of someday landing a role at your company. I’ve been playing your games consistently since high school and I’ve always dreamed of being able to participate in the process of making them.”
Don’t Be Afraid To Tout Your Skills
If you’re not used to bragging about yourself, you might fear looking arrogant or self-absorbed while answering this question. But remember that you’re helping the hiring manager by making it easy for them to see how you’d add value to the organization. They need to fill this role–you’re just helping them understand why you’re the best choice for the job.
Relate Your Skill Set To Their Needs
Consider the job listing, especially the part where the employer lists their requirements and nice-to-haves for the role. Match your experience, skills, and abilities to their job description. Be as specific as possible and provide examples showing how you used your proficiencies in action. For example, if you’re applying for a customer service role, you might share your excellent first contact resolution rate.
Know Where To Begin Your Story
Kurt Vonnegut’s advice on writing stories is helpful when you’re answering this question: “Start as close to the end as possible.” Don’t summarize your college classes if you’re a mid-career professional. Don’t include anything unrelated to the value you provide to the employer. Begin with information that contextualizes you as a candidate and explains why the interviewer should hire you.
Finish By Explaining Why You’re a Good Fit
Stick the landing by reminding the interviewer of how your qualifications will help you solve their problems and achieve their goals.
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“Tell Me Something About Yourself” Answer Examples
Obviously, your answer to this request will be as unique as you are. But here are a few examples to get you thinking in the right direction.
“I’m Jing Li and it’s nice to meet you. I’m excited about this job because it’s a unique opportunity to use my healthcare background and software development skills. I love your company’s mission and I would be thrilled to help you support patients and make health care information more accessible.”
“Hi, my name is Kwame. I’ve been working with animals all my life. In college, I worked as a pet sitter during vacations and breaks. After graduation, I started my own dog-walking business. Currently, I volunteer at an animal shelter.”
Mistakes To Avoid When Answering “Tell Me Something About Yourself”
This request is a chance to share what makes you so special as a candidate–but if you’re not ready for it, being asked to talk about yourself might feel like a trap. To capitalize on the opportunity, avoid these mistakes:
Dreading The Question
Again, part of the point of this job interview question is to put you on the spot. So, it’s no wonder if you feel a little defensive answering it. Remember that the hiring manager isn’t asking to be mean or throw you off your game. Stay calm and focused. Use the request to highlight what you have to offer.
“Tell me about yourself” is a tough request to fulfill if you’re not expecting it. Be prepared to answer, and you won’t wind up hemming and hawing during the interview.
Telling Your Life Story
You’re delivering a pitch, not a monologue. Keep your response short and sweet and be sure to focus on the most important details: who you are, what you have to offer, and why you want the job.
Saying Anything Negative
Now is not the time to vent about your current employer, manager, clients, or coworkers. Hiring managers will assume that you’ll talk smack about them to your next employer as soon as you get the chance.
Giving Too Much Personal Information
Depending on the company culture, it may be OK to share a little personal information during the interview. For instance, if you’re interviewing at an outdoor equipment retailer, talking about your love of camping will show that you have a passion for their products. But be wary of sharing anything that might work against you. Consider avoiding mention of very young children, other caregiving responsibilities, or anything that the hiring manager might think would distract you from work.
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The Bottom Line
The most important thing to remember when you’re asked to tell the interviewer about yourself is how much you have to offer. Remember your interview prep, consider the match between your skills and their needs, and make your case.
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