Don’t let this common interview question trip you up.
Whether you're new to the workforce or have over 20 years of experience, "Tell me a little about yourself" is likely to be the first request asked of you in an interview. This is in part because it can be a nice icebreaker to get the interview started. It also provides the interviewer with a starting point that can allow for follow-up questions.
Regardless of why you're being asked to spill the beans about who you are, you're in the spotlight and need to be prepared to answer "Tell me about yourself" the "right" way to stand out among your competition. This is especially true when you consider that though the average interview length is 40 minutes, reports have shown that the interviewer knows if they will hire a candidate within the first 90 seconds. With that said, consider the following tips to prepare for being asked to "tell me about yourself" during a job interview.
Before you even get the chance to figure out how to answer ”Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer needs to sense you're confident. The same report showed that interviewers made the determination not to hire a candidate within the first 90 seconds based on factors like bad posture (33 percent), a weak handshake (26 percent), and overall confidence (38 percent). Your goal is to answer with confidence, without being cocky, so you'll hold the attention of the interviewer for the next 38 and a half minutes of the interview.
Related: Ask Amanda: How Can I Be More Confident During Interviews?
Be honest and be yourself
The most important thing in an interview is to be yourself, regardless of what you're asked. Trying to give answers you think the interviewer wants to hear instead of what you truly think or who you really are will get you in trouble down the road. Job and cultural fit are essential to success in any position, so it's better to know during the interview if you're not thrilled with the company's culture or if you and your potential manager's personalities clash.
Focus on work-related accomplishments
The meat of your response in speaking about yourself should focus on your work-related accomplishments, education, training, and experience. Sharing some of your professional goals is also fair game.
Give a little personal history
It can be good to give a little personal history or insights into who you are when determining how to answer “Tell me about yourself, as long as you do it right. Sharing what inspired you to make the career choice you made is OK, for example. Something like "I grew up in a one-stoplight town in the middle of nowhere and decided to go to West Virginia University because it was close to home and a good option for me" or "I love to play golf in my spare time" are acceptable. This is especially true if you've done your research and know that the interviewer has similar interests and can relate — a bonus for you!
If you are new to the workforce, you may not have a choice but to use some scenarios that are more personal in nature, because you may not have many work stories or experiences to pull from. When I was interviewing for an internship in graduate school, I remember being asked something along the lines of "What's one of the most difficult scenarios or challenges you've dealt with to date?" My answer? Marriage. It was the most honest answer I could give, and I explained why.
Even though I did have work experience, marriage was still the first thing that came to mind. I was able to make the answer work-related by sharing that marriage requires communication, compromise, teamwork, understanding, and more, all of which are requirements for success in the workplace. I received and accepted the offer and was later offered a full-time position.
As you can see from this example, showing that it's OK to be yourself and share personal details if your intuition or gut guides you to do so, especially if you can find a way to relate it to the position for which you're interviewing.
Don't give too many personal details
Though it's OK to share some personal details about yourself, it's also important that you use good judgment and proceed with caution in your ”Tell me about yourself” answer. In most scenarios, you'll want to steer clear of discussing sensitive topics like family, religious beliefs, and politics. These tend to raise red flags or stir up heated debates that are best to avoid. Whether we like it or not, people have biases, and you don't want to be judged or lose a position because someone is concerned about your "personal" affairs or beliefs.
Do your research
For any interview, you want to do your homework about the company. You should do the same research on those who will be interviewing you if you can. If you have someone inside the company you can speak with, consider asking them some questions — this will give you some insight into what you and the interviewer might have in common that you could share about yourself in the interview. It could also give you an idea about the personality of the interviewer, so you can know if the interview will be "all business" or more relaxed and casual.
Consider what the interviewer wants to know
Attempt to think of this question from the interviewer's point of view to help you craft a response. Interviewers are primarily listening to see if you have the experience to do the job, have the ability to learn, and would be a good fit for the work group and organization. This is why focusing on work-related accomplishments and being yourself is essential.
Avoid rambling and remain focused
For some, answering this question is like pulling teeth. For others, it's fun getting to share and share and share some more! It's best to find a happy medium. Consider ahead of time the highlights you'd like to cover when sharing about yourself and stay focused on those highlights during the interview. It's good to provide your ”Tell me about yourself” answer in under a minute or two — only go longer if the interviewer has asked follow-up questions based on what you've shared.
Practice ahead of time
This point is the most common tip you'll receive, but it's still worth reiterating. Practicing and jotting down notes on what you plan to share with the interviewer is a great way to be more prepared during your interview, and, as a result, more at ease and relaxed. It's helpful to practice out loud with someone you trust. Beware of sounding too rehearsed when you're in the interview room, though.
Interviewing may be an inevitable part of the job search, but doesn't need to be dreadful or painful. Think of them as opportunities for new doors to open and new experiences to be had. Instead of letting your nerves get the best of you during an interview, prepare yourself mentally to answer "Tell me about yourself" and consider the request as not only a great way for the interviewer to break the ice, but a great way for you to share who you are as well.
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