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The "tell me about yourself" interview question can be hard to answer if you're not prepared. Searching for a job, especially in a faltering economy, is stressful enough without adding in the awkwardness of answering such a personal, open-ended question.
You might feel stumped on how to answer this question because it can be difficult to talk about yourself with no guidelines. Luckily, speaking confidently about your successes can be much easier when you prepare your answers in advance.
Here are our best tips for formatting and nailing your response.
Why do interviewers ask, "Tell me about yourself?"
A job interview is all about getting to know you. Interviewers ask the "tell me about yourself" interview question as a way to transition from small talk into their technical and behavioral interview questions.
The interviewer wants to gauge if you are able to communicate clearly and professionally. Freezing up the first time you're put on the spot gives a bad impression.
The interviewer hopes the candidate can answer the question in a natural way that shows they are prepared and care about the interview. A great answer can help you stand out in a job interview.
If you're asked this question during a video or phone interview, you can have your answers in front of you. If the interview is in person, you should be prepared to answer without checking your notes.
Other ways that interviewers might ask this question
The "tell me about yourself" interview question sometimes sounds different. Interviewers might ask:
Tell me more about your background.
I'm interested in learning more about you.
Tell me about your time working at "x" company.
Can you tell me more about your experience?
Tell me something I don't already know from your resume.
Be ready for any version of this question with your structured and practiced answer.
Breakdown: How to answer the 'tell me about yourself' interview question
There are many strategies for answering the "tell me about yourself" interview question. The way you choose to structure your answer may depend on your previous experience. A recent graduate will have a much different answer than a director who has been employed for decades.
While it's important to prepare your answer, you should also leave room for spontaneity and make sure it doesn't come out sounding too rehearsed.
Once you find a form that fits your experience the best, make sure you practice. Write down your answer so you can rearrange it, make sure it flows, and keep track of key points.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to tie it back to the specific job and company you're interviewing for. The answer should make the interviewer think it makes sense you are interested in the role.
Components of your answer
Your answer to the "tell me about yourself" question should describe your current situation, your past job experience, the reason you're a good fit for the role, and how you align with the company values.
Tell the interviewer about your current position and a recent big accomplishment or positive feedback you received. Avoid speaking negatively about your current job.
The interviewer wants to hear how your current role is similar to the position you're applying for.
If you're currently a student, use this time to talk about relevant school experiences like classes you've taken, projects you liked, or internships.
Past job experience
The interviewer likely has your resume in front of them, so don't just tell them what they already know. Use this question to touch on your past work history and highlight areas that are applicable to the position you have now.
Describe your past job experience in chronological or reverse-chronological order.
If you switched industries, explain why with a quick personal anecdote that demonstrates your passions or interests.
Why did you choose this job to apply to? Why are you the best candidate for the role? Use this time to sell yourself to the interviewer and give them your "why." If you've tailored the other parts of your answer to the job you're interviewing for, this part will be easy.
Explain how this role aligns with your personal career goals to show you'll put in the effort to be successful.
Aligning and connecting your goals, passions, and strengths with the company/role
Research company culture. If you and the company both value working in teams or doing things individually, talk about that here. Be sure to mention If you have other interests or skills you've been working on that make you a better asset to the company.
Knowing the overall mission of the company to help you tailor your "why." If you're interviewing for an outdoor apparel company that values a good work-life balance, don't talk about how you love working nights and weekends to complete projects.
How long should your answer be?
Remember that interviewers want to learn more about your work experience and your personality. Answering this question in a couple of sentences might seem less-than-thorough and talking for ten minutes is a red flag that you might do the same in meetings.
Try to keep your answer to one to three minutes. Watch your interviewer's body language and feel free to expand on any portions they look excited about.
Do's and don'ts for answering 'tell me about yourself'
There are some rules when answering the "tell me about yourself" interview question. Interviewers have certain expectations when it comes to how you answer this question, so you don't want to deviate far from them.
One of the most important and basic interview tips is to stay professional. Being overly negative or oversharing about your personal life could end up costing you the job.
No company is perfect. Talking negatively about other places you've worked for may give the interviewer the impression that you won't be happy at the new company either.
If the interviewer asks why you left a job, keep it simple with an answer like, "I was looking for a new challenge."
Avoid making long-term plans
You wouldn't talk about plans a month from now on a first date, so why would you bring it up in an interview? Rushing into conversations about future goals with the company can seem premature. Save these conversations for later stages in the interview process.
Know your audience
Learning about the company you're interviewing with ahead of time is crucial. You can tailor your answer to focus on where you align with the company culture and be able to ask more informed questions at the end of the interview.
Concentrate on examples you can quantify
Saying that you brought in new customers is okay, but saying that you "increased website visits by 27% in one quarter" is much more meaningful and impressive. If you don't know the exact numbers, make a realistic estimate.
Highlight your personality
Mentioning that you quilt or play chess reveals more about you than just what you do in your spare time, it shows a part of your personality. Interactive roles like volunteer work or being a part of a softball team demonstrate that you are friendly and are able to communicate well with others.
Avoid mentioning too much information about your private life. Talking about politics or your religious affiliation, marital status, or children might end up working against you. You wouldn't want the interviewer to pick a candidate based on the answers to any of these questions.
Memorize your responses
Giving a canned response may sound inauthentic. Remember a few of your main points and fill in the gaps naturally. Memorizing answers might even make you more likely to make mistakes if you forget a few words and can't find where you left off.
List your strengths without examples
Just saying that you are great at teamwork doesn't mean very much without an example to back it up. Add a sentence telling a story about a time you demonstrated each trait you highlight in your career.
Overwhelm the interviewer
Pick three or four personal strengths and stick to them. Going on and on about yourself or getting too personal might spoil the interviewer's first impression of you.
Keep it short, sweet, and professional to leave them interested.
Summarize your resume point by point
The person interviewing you has already read your resume, so telling them exactly what's on it could make them lose interest. Tell them the high points that are most relevant to the position you're applying for and add a few things you liked about each one.