Practice and preparation help you to answer this question effectively

Let's say you're introducing yourself to a CEO or hiring manager at the start of a job interview. Or perhaps you're on a first interview phone screening and the recruiter kicks off with the classic question, “Please tell me about yourself.” The way you answer this question decides the first impression you make - it's important, and it will stick. 

The key to crafting an effective response to the "tell me about yourself" question is striking a balance between being concise and comprehensive and letting the company see what's in it for them by hiring you. You want to give the interviewer enough information to make an impression, but avoid overwhelming them with unnecessary details.  However, doing so can be easier said than done. 

In this post we cover:

  • Why interviewers ask “tell me about yourself”

  • Tips and guidelines on how to answer “tell me about yourself” to stand out 

  • Common interview mistakes to avoid when answering “tell me about yourself”

  • Practice techniques to support how to answer “tell me about yourself” for interview success

  • “Tell me about yourself” sample answers

  • Examples of how not to answer “tell me about yourself” 

Why do interviewers ask “tell me about yourself?”

The interview process is a critical component of landing a job. While there are many questions that you may be asked during an interview, one of the most common and open-ended questions is "tell me about yourself." This question can seem simple, but it's challenging to answer if you're not properly prepared. 

The question is designed to give the interviewer insight into your personality, skills, and experience. It's also an opportunity for you to showcase your strengths and highlight your achievements.

When answering this question, it's crucial to remember that you're selling yourself to the interviewer. You want to present yourself as a strong candidate and show how your skills and experience align with the requirements of the position.

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 addition to the specifics you provide, the way that you present your answer is also critical. It lets an interviewer evaluate your confidence in a difficult, high pressure situation, such as making presentations to customers or leading a project. Therefore, as you think through how to answer “tell me about yourself,”  make sure your elevator pitch clearly shows how you're the best person for all aspects of the role through what you say and how you say it.

How to answer “tell me about yourself” - tips and guidelines

So, how do you modify your elevator pitch to best answer “tell me about yourself?” Refer to the following useful tips and guidelines to help. 

Be clear on who you are

It's impossible to create a strong response to this interview question and truly be a top candidate if you're not 100% clear on who you are as a professional. Of course, that doesn't mean that 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 that you can ask yourself to gain clarity:

1. What is my education and career background?

This should be a simple statement of one to two sentences that gives the most basic overview of who you are. Here's an example:

"My name is Mary Smith, and I have a bachelor's degree in Business Management from MSU. I also have 15 years of experience in finance operations, communication, and information technology."

2. What career achievements do I possess that set me apart from other candidates?

It can be difficult to talk about achievements, as no one wants to come across as boastful. However, if you think back to the idea that you're selling yourself to this employer for a particular role, you must focus on achievements to stand out from the crowd. 

"After graduating, I started my career at ABC Company, where I worked in accounting and human resource management. During my time there, I reduced employee attrition by 12% in six months, because 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?

This can involve anything from future goals and aspirations to what caused you to start down this career path. No matter how you begin this part of the answer, always end it by explaining how your skills, experience, and education will benefit the new team. 

"I had an 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 to 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. That passion motivates me to do well in each role that I find myself in and I know, because of that, I'll be able to add immediate value to your team."

Answering the above questions will put you in a solid position to more easily come up with ideas on how to answer “tell me about yourself.” By identifying the key points of your professional timeline, you'll discover that you, too, have a compelling career story to share.

Let your personality shine

When considering how to answer “tell me about yourself,” too often, candidates are so focused on adequately summarizing their career, education, and background that they forget about the fact that they're 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 and company culture, bring positive contributions to the company, and are enjoyable to work with each and every day. 

Being personable means showing your personality and being friendly, approachable, and engaging. This can help you to build a connection with the interviewer and make a positive impression.

However, it's important to strike the right balance between being personable and being professional. You don't want to come across as too informal or overly chatty, as this could give the impression that you're not taking the interview seriously.

Strike a balance between personable and professional during your interview 

It's 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're 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 person who loves both accounting and surfing stands out!

Avoid common mistakes when answering “tell me about yourself”

There are several common mistakes that 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're also very easy to avoid.

Common interview mistake #1: Talking too long

Don't let your response get too lengthy - ideally, it should be between one and two minutes long. Rambling or going off-topic is the quickest way to lose the interviewer's attention, making it difficult for them to follow your response. 

You can avoid this mistake by remaining focused on your experience, skills, and achievements. 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 with too many personal details

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 interview killers. While it's important to be personable and engaging in an interview, it's not appropriate to share personal information that's not relevant to the job. Avoid talking about your personal life, as this is the type of information that is off-limits in an interview.

Common interview mistake #3: Forgetting to add value using career achievements tailored to the job description

Listing your distinctive skills is great, but what really matters is the value that 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, so that you can speak directly about how you can be an asset to their team.

Common interview mistake #4: Focusing too much on your past

While it's important to talk about your past experience, it's also important to focus on the present and the future. Explain how your past experience has prepared you for the position and how you plan to use your skills and experience in the future.

Show what makes you special

Have you ever walked on the beach and passed by hundreds of seashells? 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 their 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, concise wording that best describes no one else but you.

  • Be confident and natural in sharing exactly who you are.

  • Inject some boldness into your answer; for example, rather than saying “My name is Mary Smith and I have a bachelor's degree in…,” start off by saying something like, “My name is Mary Smith and I have a passion for bridging the gap between employer and employee.” 

  • Don't forget to talk about your achievements and highlight unique skills and experiences. If you have certifications or international experience, now is the time to mention them. 

Practice, practice, practice

How do you answer “Tell me about yourself” to deliver a polished elevator pitch? Practicing is essential for improving your performance and increasing your confidence. Here are five very effective practice techniques for interview success.

Practice technique #1: Prepare your responses in advance

You can bring notes to your interview, so 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: Do a mock interview 

Use the written version to create a natural spoken answer that you can practice. It doesn't matter if you rehearse your answer in front of the mirror or for a group of friends. The point is to get used to the words coming out of your mouth. 

Practice technique #3: Get feedback on your non-verbal communication

Present your answer to friends, family, 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, and so on. Non-verbal communication cues can hurt you just as badly as an ill-prepared verbal answer. If you haven't practiced, it will show in your body language. 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: Record and review

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: Work with an interview coach

If you have the option, work with an interview coaching expert to provide you with professional, 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!

How to answer "tell me about yourself" examples

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

Sample answer #1

My name is Jane Smith and I'm a human resources professional with four years of experience in the automotive industry. I'm passionate about onboarding new hires and using my meticulous attention to detail to set up and update employee records on HRIS. My skills earned accolades from the HR Manager, who started leaning on my expertise to help her navigate her day.

She and I worked through the transition from running paper background checks to using the E-Verify system. It was a tough change, but in the end, we were able to reduce onboarding time by four business days. 

I'm excited about the opportunity you have, because I have a strong desire to pursue the mission of producing cleaner energy that your company has set out on. I already know how to overcome complex challenges and am confident that your team will benefit from the technical skills I've acquired.”

Sample answer #2

“It's very nice to meet you. My name is Brad Taylor and I've been a customer service specialist for the past six years, most recently handling over 50 customer calls each day regarding the use of the company's accounting software program. The role is a great combination of my accounting experience, communication skills, and technical abilities, and a love I have for training others. 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 to understand why the issue happened so that 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 acumen as well as to 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 that 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.”

These answers provide a brief summary of the candidate's experience and skills, while also highlighting their achievements and passion for the role. They also tie skills and experience to the job they're interviewing for, showing the interviewer that they are a good fit for the position.

Bad responses to "tell me about yourself"

Now you've seen some good sample responses to refer to as you ponder how to answer “tell me about yourself,” let's also take a look at a few examples of what you should never say and why.

Bad response #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. 

Bad response #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 or company. It makes you look unprofessional and tells the interviewer that you don't really want their job, but just to escape your current job.

Bad response #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.

Land the role

You now have plenty of guidance to support you in determining how to answer “tell me about yourself” so you get off to a good start during an interview. However, it still 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!

This article was originally written by Heather Coll and has been updated by Ronda Suder.

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