Practice and preparation help you answer this question confidently and effectively.

You're introducing yourself to a CEO at the start of a job interview. Or perhaps you are on a first interview phone screening and the recruiter says the classic “Please tell me about yourself.” The way you answer this question decides the first impression you make — it is important and it will stick. So how do you best modify your elevator pitch to answer this classic interview question?

Why do interviewers ask this question?

As you formulate how to answer “Tell me about yourself,” it's helpful to understand why employers ask this question in the first place. 

Note: The interviewer can ask this question in several different ways, including:

  • I've read your resume, but can you tell me more about yourself?

  • Walk me through some of your experiences.

  • I'd love to hear more about your journey.

  • Give me a few more details about your background.

In general, a recruiter or hiring manager is looking to get a sense of who you really are in order to assess whether you'll be effective at all levels of the job. Your answer provides insight about your priorities, your goals, your work ethic, and so much more.

In addition to the specifics you provide, the way you present your answer is also critical. It lets an interviewer evaluate your confidence in a “difficult” situation such as making presentations to customers or leading a project.

Knowing this, make sure your answer will clearly show you're the best person for all aspects of the role through what you say and how you say it. Let the company see what's in it for them by hiring you.

Be clear on who you are

It is impossible to create a strong response to this interview question and truly be a top candidate if you are not 100 percent clear on who you are as a professional. Of course, that doesn't mean your career goals won't change or evolve throughout your life, but during the interview process, you must be able to clearly communicate who you are career-wise at this stage. Know what makes you unique. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity:

1. What is my education and career background?

"I have a BS in Business Management from MSU and 15 years of experience in finance operations, communication, and information technology."

2. What sets me apart from other candidates seeking this role?

"I have extensive experience in accounting and human resource management. I know what it takes to motivate and reward employees in a way that sets them up for success."

3. What makes my career story unique? How do I connect personally to my work?

"I had a really incredible uncle in California who was both an accountant and a surfer. I always looked up to him, and one summer in high school he let me work as his assistant. We worked hard all day and surfed every night! This experience helped me form a connection between work and play that has allowed me to find real joy in my field. I've loved accounting (and surfing) ever since!"

When you craft your response to “Tell me about yourself,” start by answering the above questions. By identifying the key points of your professional timeline, you will discover that you too have a compelling career story to share.

Let your personality shine

Too often, candidates are so focused on adequately summarizing their career, education, and background that they forget about the fact that they are introducing themselves as a person, not just a robotic collection of facts. When a company is taking on new employees, they are looking for candidates who will fit well with the team, bring positive contributions to the company, and be enjoyable to communicate with each and every day. You need to come across well personally in your response to make this impression and stand out as a top candidate.

How does this translate into practice? It is simple: Be yourself. If you tend to have a humorous side, throw in a funny comment or story somewhere. If you are a people person, be sure to share your genuine passion for connecting with and helping others. If you are shy and introverted, don't be afraid to make reference to this while conveying how your personality type helps you in roles like this. Or, like the above example, share a fun fact — this guy who loves both accounting and surfing stands out!

Jobvite stated in their 2016 Report that 83 percent of recruiters say communication style is the most important determination for cultural fit, and 51 percent of recruiters believe employee branding is the No. 1 investment that will increase in the next year. Therefore, it is essential and worth your time and care to drive home a perfect “Tell me about yourself” interview response.

Avoid common interview mistakes

There are three common mistakes people make when trying to deliver an elevator pitch in response to the “Tell me about yourself” interview question. But if you know what they are, they are also very easy to avoid.

Common interview mistake #1

Taking too long. Don't let your response get too lengthy — ideally it should be between one and two minutes long. Don't go into too much detail. When an employer asks you to introduce yourself or give an overview of your career background, they want just that — an overview.

Common interview mistake #2

Getting off track. Like any interview question, your response to “Tell me about yourself” needs to be brief, well-put, and powerful. Babbling and going off on irrelevant tangents, therefore, can be immediate killers. Focus your energy on keeping your speech concise and on-topic, or mental “uhs” and hesitations will ensue. And random chatter is the last thing you want in your interview.

Common interview mistake #3

Forgetting to add value. Listing your distinctive skills is great, but what really matters is the value they can bring to the table for this specific company and position, so remember to tailor that part of your elevator pitch. Do your homework before any interview — know the company's goals, values, and needs and you can speak directly to how you can be an asset to their team.

Show what makes you special

Have you ever walked on the beach and passed by hundreds of seashells in between your footprints? Occasionally, you might notice some that stand out. As a job candidate, You have to be that shell on the beach. You have to stand out. You have to be the one that the hiring manager wants to keep and bring onto his or her team full time.

The “Tell me about yourself” question is your opportunity to convey why your specific talents stand out from the rest and how your distinctive capabilities match up with the duties described for the position. Present yourself as interesting by coming up with accurate, reflective, compact wording that best describes no one else but you. Be confident and natural in sharing exactly who you are!

Practice, practice practice

How do you deliver a polished elevator pitch in response to this interview question? Practice, practice, practice. Here are five very effective practice techniques. 

Practice technique 1

Write down your answer. While you're not going to read this to an interviewer, writing out your response will ensure that it's clear, concise, and targeted toward the job you're after. It's almost impossible to do this off the top of your head while in the interview.

Practice technique 2

Use the written version to then create a natural spoken answer that you can practice. You don't want to memorize what you wrote, as reciting it could be awkward during an interview. Keep working at it until you can speak without referring to your written answer.

Practice technique 3

Present your answer to friends, family, and/or yourself in a mirror. Practicing in front of others is truly the best option as you can also work on your posture, eye contact, hand movements, smooth delivery, etc. This is also the time to catch and remove too many of those “nervous filler words” such as um, ah, like, and you know.

Practice technique 4

If you can't practice with others, make a video or audio recording of your answer. You'll get almost all of the same benefits as in-person practice.

Practice technique 5

If you have the option, work with an interview coaching expert to provide you with professional and objective feedback.

Like any interview question, crafting your answer will take some work. Refine your response until you feel it best reflects who you are as a top candidate. You'd be surprised how often hiring managers mention how a candidate's career story caught their attention. Be bold, let your individuality shine, and most importantly, be you. Be that shell on the beach!

"Tell me about yourself" sample answers

A good rule of thumb is to start with your experience and successes, move on to your skills and abilities, and close with a statement about your current situation and/or any plans you have to move ahead in your career.

Here are some good sample answers to help you develop your own story. 

Sample answer 1

“For the past four years I've been a human resources representative. My role involves onboarding new hires, collecting enrollment forms, setting up or updating employee records on our HRIS, and assisting the HR manager as needed.

The variety of work in my role means that I'm extremely well-organized as well as detail- and deadline-oriented. I can handle multiple responsibilities effectively, and my boss is always praising my strong people skills and job enthusiasm.

While I love this role, I'd like to take my HR skills in a more specific direction and become a full-time HR recruiter in an organization like this one, where I'd be hiring the best people to continue the company's mission of producing cleaner energy.”

Sample answer 2

“I've been a customer service specialist for the past six years, most recently handling customer calls regarding the use of my company's accounting software program. The role is a great combination of my direct accounting experience, my strong communication skills, my analytical and technical abilities, and my love of training. I have a file full of customer compliments on both my knowledge and my patient, step-by-step approach.

Along with the strengths I just mentioned, I'd say my biggest asset is my willingness to go the extra step in any situation. I won't just stop when the specific requirements are met; I'll help a customer understand why the issue happened so they can avoid it in the future.

While I love customer service, my goal now is to get back into direct accounting work where I can use my skills and abilities to help build a well-run, strategic, and technically sound accounting department that adds value to an organization.” 

Sample answer 3

“I have ten years of experience as a business and data analyst, my last two companies being IBM and Hewlett Packard. Along with my specific duties, I've elected to take additional training courses to strengthen my overall business abilities as well as maintain my excellent software skills. I hope to complete my MBA by next year.

My additional strengths include attention to detail, great communication abilities, effective leadership, and consistently meeting deadlines. 

I believe all this makes me more than ready to take the next step in my career, which is filling your company's current opening for a Director of Business Development.”

Bad answers to "Tell me about yourself"

Now that you've seen some good sample responses, here are a few examples of what you should never say, and why.

Bad answer 1

“Let's see. I was actually born in London and came to the United States as a child. My parents split when I was ten, which is why my brother and I are so close. It's also why I'm such a people person.”

Why it's bad: The interviewer is not looking for personal details of your life that have nothing to do with the position they're trying to fill. It also shows that you're really unprepared for the interview and/or not really serious about the position. Avoid overused cliches like “people person.”

Bad answer 2

“Well, I'm a great employee, but nobody at my current job seems to recognize this. My boss is constantly checking on me and my work, which drives me crazy. So, I decided I need to get out of there fast.”

Why it's bad: You should never discuss problems at your current job or bad-mouth your supervisor/company. It makes you look unprofessional, and tells the interviewer you don't really want their job but just to escape your current job.

Bad answer 3

“Ok, so as you know from my resume, I spent three years at my last job. My duties included…”

Why it's bad: Summarizing your resume point-by-point tells the interviewer what they already know, which is boring and a time-waster. You should be explaining your strengths, why you're the best person for the job, and what the company gains by hiring you.

Conclusion

It bears repeating: Your answers to “Tell me about yourself” should reveal the skills and experience that make you the best candidate for the job. 

The best answers will let you share some of your personality, highlight your confidence, and showcase your strong communication skills. The interviewer will know that you're well-prepared and really interested in their opening.

With the right preparation and lots of practice, you'll be able to answer this question like a pro and get that great next job.

Do you want help perfecting your elevator pitch for interviews? Learn more about TopInterview's interview coaching services today!

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