How to Answer: “Tell Me About Yourself”
It’s the question we all dread: “Tell me about yourself”.
Interviews are already stressful enough. You have the pressure to outdo the other interviewees, the desire to impress the interviewer, the questions you just aren’t prepared to answer, etc., etc. The list goes on and on.
You have to make a good first impression, but this can be difficult when interviewers request something like, “Tell me about yourself.”
Candidates go into interviews thinking they have to impress the interviewer. In a way, they’re right. You want to make a good first impression. Competition is fierce out there.
More importantly, however, you want to give them a realistic sense of who you are and what you can do for their company. The problem is most people don’t know how to do that.
Luckily, we’re here to help! We’ll walk you through what an interviewer does not want to hear, what they really mean when they say, “Tell me about yourself,” and how you can answer this question in a way that will make you stand out from other applicants.
What an interviewer does NOT want to hear when they say, “Tell me about yourself”:
1) They don’t want an oral presentation of your resume.
Many candidates hear this question and launch right into a monologue that’s pulled straight from their resume. This often starts with their oldest and least impressive jobs and does nothing to capture the attention of the interviewer.
In fact, by the time the candidate has made it to their most recent and relevant positions, the interviewer has often zoned out, and you’ve lost their attention completely.
Keep in mind that typically, the interviewer has already looked over your resume. Now is the time to give them relevant information that isn’t on your resume.
Even if they ask you to walk them through your resume, include only the highlights that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. That internship you had with Google, the year you spent with the Peace Corps, your prior experience in the field, etc., these are all noteworthy events the interviewer will want to hear about.
When talking about these highlights, don’t forget to include information that isn’t on your resume. Talking about your day-to-day responsibilities or specific examples of when you went above and beyond will give the interviewer an idea of what kind of value you’ll bring to the team.
No matter what you do, make sure that whatever you share is engaging and relevant.
2) They don’t want to hear about your personal life.
Usually, when somebody asks you to tell them about yourself, they want to hear about you — what you like to do, your favorite foods, your hobbies, etc. This leads many candidates to think that it must mean that’s what the interviewer wants to hear about too.
However, this is not a date, and the interviewer is not your friend. This is a professional conversation.
So keep it professional! Talk about who you are as a professional and include things such as what you’ve accomplished within your field, where you want to be in the next five years, and what value you bring to the company.
That is what an interviewer wants to hear about.
3) They don’t want to watch you stumble over your words.
Too often candidates are taken off guard by this question and just completely fumble their words. They have no idea what the interviewer means, and in their eagerness to comply, they might ask too many questions.
“Do you mean about my job? Or my volunteer work? Or do you want to know about my education?”
They know you mean well and are only trying to please, but this serves to do the exact opposite. Interviewers are looking for candidates who are professional, composed, and sure of themselves.
Asking for too much clarification only serves to make the candidate look unsure of themselves and inexperienced. The key here is to make it look like you know what you’re doing and go into the interview with a plan.
4) They don’t want you to be too humble.
Candidates will often clam up when this question is asked and respond with something along the lines of, “I’ve worked in marketing for the last 10 years,” or “I have some experience with modeling software.”
However, now is not the time to be modest.
If you increased sales in the marketing department by 20% over the last thee years, tell them. If you designed the modeling software all of the engineers at your previous position are using now, let the interviewer know. You want to give them a reason to hire you.
Job seekers who answer this question modestly are often uncomfortable with selling themselves or have been with the same company for so long that they’ve forgotten how to do so.
If you have difficulty talking about your accomplishments, reframe the problem and think of them as facts.
Saying, “Sales rose 30% during my time as marketing director with company xyz ,” is not bragging nor is it dishonest. It’s merely a fact.
Don’t let your modesty get in the way of your dream job.
What an interviewer really means when they say, “Tell me about yourself.”
Now that we’ve gone over what interviewers don’t want to hear, let’s go over what they actually mean when they say, “Tell me about yourself.”
When an interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself, they are actually starting a conversation. They have a limited amount of time to get to know you and want to do it as quickly as possible.
Because it is such a vague and general question, the way that you answer will tell them a lot about you and whether or not you will be a good fit for the company. And because interviewers are evaluated based on how well their new hires do within the company, they want to make sure that you’ll fit in and do well.
So when an interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself,” they are starting a conversation. They want to get to know you, they want to know what you bring to the table, and they want to know if you’ll be a good fit within the company.
How You SHOULD Answer
There are two simple steps to answering this question:
- Make it engaging
- Make it relevant
In order to fulfill these two points, ask yourself, Does what I’m saying showcase the value I bring? Will it make them want to hire me? Is it interesting?
If the answer is “no” to any of the above questions, ditch that talking point and come up with a new one.
Let’s look at this example:
“I was born in Texas and moved to Florida as a teenager where I got my first real job as a sales clerk. It wasn’t a terrible job, but it made me realize that I really wanted to design computer software for a living. I got an entry-level job doing that for a small tech firm, but my boss and I haven’t been getting along so well, so here I am.”
That is a great example of how NOT to do it.
The interviewer doesn’t want to hear about where you were born or what your first job was. The details about your first job are bland, and telling the interviewer you’re having issues with your boss does not look good. Most importantly, none of the information in this example is engaging or relevant.
Now, let’s take a look at this example:
“I’ve worked for the last five years as a software developer with a small tech firm that has won several performance awards. During my time there, productivity has increased by 14%, and sales have doubled within the last two years. Although I love my job there, I am ready to take on a more challenging role with a larger company, and I really admire what your company stands for.”
The information is engaging, relevant, and shows what kind of value you bring to the table without coming off as boastful.
Now that you know what not to say, what an interviewer really means when they ask this question, and what you should say instead, you are ready to go out there and get your dream job!
And if you’re getting ready to interview for a new position, you can further prepare by researching the company as much as possible. Learn about the 9 Things You Should Research before an Interview!
Want to get in some practice? Use our Interview Simulator to take full length mock interviews with questions tailored to your specific qualifications!
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