This seemingly simple interview question may not be as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips for delivering the perfect “Tell me about yourself” answer.
“Tell me about yourself” — it's often the hardest question to answer during a job interview, which can come as a surprise. After all, if there is one subject we should be confident answering questions about, it's ourselves, right? However, the vague nature of the question leaves job seekers wondering what exactly to say about themselves — and if there are right and wrong "Tell me about yourself" interview answers.
Tips to nail the "Tell me about yourself" answer
It's good to prepare for how to answer “Tell me about yourself,” but you don't need to overdo it. Here are some tips for answering this question with ease.
Be prepared to answer it
You only get so much time to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question, so spending one or two minutes coming up with something to say is wasted time. It also showcases nerves and the fact that you didn't prepare for the interview. Have a variety of go-to points to start from when asked this question so you're not caught off guard.
But don't over-prepare
Why do companies ask the “Tell me about yourself” question? Because they want to know who you are beyond your job history. They also want to know that you are a good fit for their company culture. Having a few starting points is good, but you should be ready to adapt based on the interview, rather than simply reciting a canned answer. You also want to be ready to answer questions about your response.
Don't regurgitate your resume
Ideally, everyone involved in the interview has had time to review your resume. In your “Tell me about yourself” answer, tell them something about yourself that a resume can't. While it's fine to start with something along the lines of, “As you saw on my resume, a career in sales has always been my goal” or “My resume probably raises some questions about what makes me qualified for this position, since my whole career to date has been in IT, but…” This allows you to put stories to the words on the paper, and later your resume will become a reminder of the vibrant person they met.
Use stories to show the employer what they'll gain by hiring you
If there is a particular accomplishment, goal, or story your resume doesn't highlight — like coming up with a social media strategy that doubled your last company's Twitter followership — now is the perfect opportunity to explain it. Focus on what the interviewer wants to know. How can your story, whatever it may be, tell the employer you are the right person for their company? When you answer “Tell me about yourself,” etch a positive depiction of yourself in the hiring manager's mind.
Consider the role and company culture
Knowing a bit about the job, the company, and even the people you are meeting can go a long way when crafting your response to the "Tell me about yourself" interview question. Social media can help you decode the company culture and learn more about your potential future colleagues. Perhaps the hiring manager was a member of the same honors society as you or you both share an active interest in boating. This helps the people interviewing you realize you are more than a job candidate, and it also speaks to your ability to fit into the workplace quickly.
Use examples that illustrate your work style
The "Tell me about yourself" answer is also a good way to identify concerns for both parties. A candidate who has a history of making great decisions and brainstorming new ideas during lunch meetings may be surprised to go into a place where lunch is eaten by oneself at the desk. This can also be said for someone who is used to going home every day at 5 p.m. and discovers their new employer has a workplace culture where everyone on the team goes out to dinner after work and the best innovations come from those informal conversations.
Think about what others say about you
Consider these questions when thinking about your “Tell me about yourself” answer. What would your references say if the hiring manager were to contact them? How would your previous co-workers or managers respond to the question “Tell me about [your name]?” This is a great route to take if you feel uncomfortable “talking yourself up” — simply think of the question from an outsider's perspective. Creating distance between yourself and the affirmation of competency allows you to see yourself as you really are, free of the influence of negative self-perception.
Keep it short and simple
You don't have to go on and on for 10 minutes talking about yourself. Instead, zone in on some of the most important facts and stories — one good story can suffice. This is neither the time nor place to tell your life story and take up the entire interview doing so.
Be prepared for follow-up questions
Many hiring managers are trained to spur discussions with multiple follow-up questions. They know how to dig deeper to get to the meat of the answer. Be prepared for this and make it easier for them by avoiding a vague response to “Tell me about yourself.” Be thorough in your details while staying focused on a few key points.
Practice in a mirror or with someone else
No matter what interview questions you're preparing for, practice can help you polish your answer and give you more confidence. If you know exactly what you're going to say to answer “Tell me about yourself” and how you're going to say it, you will have no problem answering during an interview. If you'd prefer to practice with a real person, reach out to a friend or family member and ask them to do a mock interview with you. Or if you'd prefer, sit in front of a mirror and practice your response to yourself, keeping in mind your body language and eye contact.
What to avoid when answering “Tell me about yourself”
Now, while your answer is subjective and personal to your situation, you can still answer this interview question poorly. Here's how.
Asking “What do you mean?”
Never ask the hiring manager what they mean. This shows them you are not able to think outside the box, don't understand their instructions, and can't provide the necessary skills. Worse, they may think you are trying to hide something from them. This answer is equivalent to putting “I don't know” on your final exam; it's better to give any “Tell me about yourself” answer than none at all.
Saying what you want from the company
Whatever you do, don't say “I'm looking for a company that will help me grow.” Not only does this not really answer the question, but hiring managers take this "Tell me about yourself" interview answer as a serious red flag. To them, it means several things — all of them bad. They may think you hit a slow patch and need a pick-me-up. Or they may read it as a sign you made a serious mistake that has kept you from achieving higher goals. Either is not a message you want to send.
Giving a one-sentence answer
We all know the one-sentence answer: “I work in X industry.” While hiring managers love to hear about your relevant career history and skills, this doesn't tell them about your abilities. Yes, it is important that you've worked in the field. But what does it mean?
Remember, just as with those college admissions essays many of us wrote, you are more than a list of job titles and sales numbers. A resume should highlight a balance of your knowledge and skills, but when hiring managers see 60 people for one opening, the “Tell me about yourself” question is an opportunity to ensure they remember you for who you are and what you offer.
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