On the surface, “Tell me about yourself” should be a simple prompt. Who knows you better than you? But in an interview, where nerves are in play and you’re not exactly sure what the interviewer is looking for, you may end up tongue-tied.
How do you approach this common interview opener? The best answer to the “Tell me about yourself” interview question is a carefully crafted one that tells your interviewer who you are in relation to the job you want. You’re a paraglider. Amazing! If you are in a profession that requires daring, this may be relevant. If you’re an accountant, it could derail the conversation.
In this blog, you will learn why interviewers ask this question, how to prepare for it and how to answer “Tell me about yourself.” Example answers are provided. Here’s what will cover:
- The reasons why interviewers ask “Tell me about yourself”
- Examples of great answers to this tricky question
- Responses to avoid when answering “Tell me about yourself”
Why interviewers ask “Tell me about yourself”
“Tell me about yourself” is both an icebreaker prompt and a way of getting an overview of your career. Think of this question as a way to set the tone for the interview and to steer its direction a bit. This question is akin to the summary section of your resume.
Sometimes, the HR department may have a set list of interview questions they have to get through. Other times, they don’t. Either way, rapport plays a role in whether or not you get the job. Your interviewer is looking for a hook to help move from stilted question-and-answer to conversation. How you answer the “Tell me about yourself” question can get you there.
How to answer “Tell me about yourself” in an interview
These three pieces of advice for answering the “Tell me about yourself” interview question will help you go into your interview with confidence and preparation:
- Target the job you’re interviewing for. You want the job – that’s why you’re there. Keep that in mind as you answer.
- Bring up your career highlights and qualifications.
- Mention a goal that enhances your candidacy.
- Bonus tip: Add a personal touch such as an outside interest or experience that will help the interviewer remember you.
1. Target the job you’re interviewing for
Just as your resume must get straight to the point, so must your interview answers. Within your job interview — which will typically last from 45 minutes to an hour — you must show off how you will add to the company and why you are the right person for the job.
“Tell me about yourself” may seem like an open invitation to rattle on about your childhood dream of being a teacher or your love of spreadsheets. But you're well advised to keep your answer short, but not clipped. The reason you chose your profession may be important for your interviewer to know, but what they really want to understand is what you have done with that ambition.
Here’s an example: "My partner teases me, but I have been organizing my life using spreadsheets since they have existed. That habit has come in very handy in my career as a project manager."
Those two sentences reveal personality and expertise related to the job.
2. Bring up your career highlights and qualifications
You aren’t summarizing your resume here. Choose one or two highlights of your career that illustrate your qualifications for the job. This is a great spot to show your enthusiasm for your work as well.
The project manager in our example above could continue by replying, “I am always dabbling with spreadsheets. In my current job, I noticed some repeated efforts in the project planning process. To solve the problem, I created a new process for managing workflow that my supervisor liked so much, she asked me to train the whole department on it.”
This follows the same thread: I love spreadsheets, but adds a detail that shows what the interviewee can do for the prospective employer.
3. Mention a goal
Your achievements are important because they remind your interviewer why you’re sitting before them and what makes you outstanding in your job. A goal gives them insight into what you’re hoping to achieve if they hire you and which direction your ambition lies in.
If you’re interviewing for a position that is a step up, it’s fine to say that you are ready for the next move in your career, but then add a specific skill that you want to enhance when you get the job. This shows that you have what it takes to move up in your career, but you are self-aware enough to understand that you have more to learn.
Here’s an example: I’d love to take a team-building course that would allow me to learn how to build teams when so much staff is remote. I miss the camaraderie of co-workers in one place. I think that would help me solidify my experience developing better processes and training staff in those processes.
This goal statement lets the interviewer know the candidate wants to manage a team and understands the challenges of doing so when you can’t just bring cake to the office or chat in the break room.
You may have noticed that our top three tips for answering “tell me about yourself” follow a timeline.
- The past: What’s your inspiration? What have you done?
- The present: What are you doing now? Why are you qualified for this job?
- The future: What are your goals?
4. Bonus tip: Add a personal touch
This can be tricky. You don’t want to overshare in an interview – that’s awkward, but you do want interviewers to remember you. If they can’t put a face to your name at the end of their interviewing process, you’re not going to get the job.
How do you do that? Let your personality out a little. Remember that this is a conversation. Respond to the interviewer. Show off your quick wit (appropriately and in the correct tone, of course). If you see a personal picture on the interviewer’s desk, mention that you also have a German shepherd, or a preteen who plays soccer, or a love of surfing. Just be careful not to assume anything.
Here’s an example: "I noticed that you have a picture of a high school tennis team on your desk. Do you coach or have a child who plays? I play a bit of tennis myself."
You can reserve this sentence for the wrap-up to the interview, or inject it into your introduction. Gage the responses you are getting from the interviewer to decide.
Examples of how to answer “Tell me about yourself” in an interview
First, let’s put our example sentences from above together to form a complete answer to “tell me about yourself.”
My partner teases me, but I have been organizing my life using spreadsheets since they have existed. That habit has come in very handy in my career as a project manager since I am always dabbling with spreadsheets.
In my current job, I noticed some repeated effort in the project planning process. To solve the problem, I created a new process for managing workflow that my supervisor liked so much, she asked me to train the whole department on it.
I’d love to take a team-building course that would allow me to learn how to build teams when so much staff is remote. I miss the camaraderie of co-workers in one place. I think that would help me solidify my experience developing better processes and training staff in those processes.
Example answer for a candidate with no experience
Here’s an example answer for a person entering the job market for the first time:
I’ve just earned my marketing degree and I am eager to get my career started.
Ever since I was 8 and won a local library poster contest with the phrase “Read, It’s Right!” I’ve been aware of the power of a good slogan and the image to go with it. Words and images have an impact and my friends remember “Read, It’s Right!” to this day. They may even rib me about it a bit.
I have a strong Twitter and TikTok following and use social media platforms to create a personal brand that netted me several freelance assignments during school (I’ve sent my portfolio along with my application.) I’m ready to focus my attention on enhancing the image and branding of your company.
Example answer for an experienced candidate
Here’s an example answer for a person in mid-career:
I earned my RN license seven years ago and moved right into working as a general ward floor nurse at Crosstown Hospital.
I know that doctors and nurses have a reputation for clashing, but I am dedicated to open and positive communication. In my years at my current position, I have developed strong and respectful relationships with doctors, nurses and other staff. Although it can be difficult, my favorite part of the job is communicating compassionately and honestly with both patients and their families.
I am ready to take on the challenge of cardiac care nursing. This speciality is meaningful to me because my father was treated at this very hospital when he had a cardiac event. The level of care was excellent and I am happy to say that my father is fine.
How to answer “Tell me about yourself” — do’s and don’ts
- Talk about your hobby, childhood or family if your anecdote relates to the position you seek.
- Take pride in your career achievements.
- Talk about a realistic goal.
- Make a connection with your interviewer.
- Offer details that are too personal or veer too far from the skills and attributes you need for the job.
- Mention your 10-year plan at this stage.
- Make assumptions about what you see in the interviewer's office.
- Be prepared. That means knowing what you want the interviewer to remember about you and emphasizing attributes that mesh with the job. It doesn’t mean memorizing a script. Keep it natural and let a conversation flow.
- Stick to relevant details. Hiking is a fine hobby, but try to link it to why your love of nature will make you a great colleague or how it enhances your work performance.
- Show some personality. If you’re the office practical joker, you may want to tone it down, but showing enthusiasm and using a few well-placed adjectives to show off key traits will help the interviewer steer the conversation and decide whether you are a good fit.
- Remember: past, present, future.
- What have you done or what made you choose your career?
- What are you doing now? What are you proudest of?
- What goals do you have in your new position?