A first date, the first day of class, your Tinder profile, and a job interview.
They all have one thing in common:
The dreaded “So, tell me about yourself…”
But while in most contexts you’re free to answer however you feel like, in a job interview it’s not that simple. This is a potential boss you’re talking to.
Do you tell them about your previous jobs? Your school experience? Or do they want to know if you have a dog?
That’s what makes this question tough: Lots of ways you can approach it, no specific right way to do it.
We’re here to help you out with this simple, in-depth guide.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- What makes the question tough and why interviewers ask it
- A 3-point formula for structuring your answer and 8 helpful tips
- 4 “Tell Me About Yourself” sample answers
Let’s get started!
How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
What the Interviewer is Asking
This question might trick you into thinking “Eh, it’s no big deal…”
You walk in, have some small talk about traffic, or the weather, and you tell the interviewer whatever is on your mind. After that, the real questions begin.
That is not the case. This question also matters.
Your answer is your opening statement.
You can even think of it as a trailer if that helps. It gives a short and concise introduction to your skills, experience, and accomplishments.
If the trailer is good and attention-grabbing, the interviewer will be more excited to ask follow-up questions.
Your answer will help steer the conversation and help the interviewer determine what questions to ask next.
It will also demonstrate your communication skills or if you’re able to establish a rapport right away.
Our Formula for Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
Although there is no specific right answer, there is a formula you can follow that will help you structure your response.
It consists of these three points:
- Where you are (Your past position/s, what responsibilities you had there, and one key achievement)
- How you got there (Your educational background and/or any other important work experiences that contributed to who/where you are now)
- Where you aim to go (What your goals for the future are and how this position aligns with them)
The reason these points are not numbered is… well, there is no right order.
If you feel it would make more sense for you to start talking about your past first and then move on to the present and future, that’s completely fine.
Whichever the case, you MUST also tailor your answer to the position you are applying for.
Take this question as an opportunity to highlight any skills or experiences you have that would be useful to the company if they hired you.
Look for hints on the job ad and research the company, their culture, their offering, and their industry.
Your answer should hit those spots.
If you’re switching industries, mention how your past experiences have brought you to this position.
Revisit this structure before all your job interviews and make any needed adjustments.
Here’s a good example that covers all the essential points:
“Of course! Well, my name is Jane. I’ve been a game developer for 5 years now.
I worked with company Y for most of that time and I was actually one of the programmers on the team that delivered the very successful game XY.
I graduated with a degree in computer science from X University. There, I was a member of the programming club and during one of our events, the gaming company Y attended as a guest. I was amazed by their presentation so after graduation, I applied and attended their Game Coding Camp and I was later hired.
I’ve found that I also enjoy the design process of developing a game, which is why I’m very interested in this position.”
Jane is applying for a position as a game designer. Her answer is tailored to the position and revolves around programming.
She talks about her most recent position at company Y and biggest achievement with game XY (where she is).
Then, she gives some information on her education and why she chose game development (how she got there).
She tops it off with how this position aligns with her aspirations for the future (where she aims to go).
8 Tips for Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
Following the present-past-future structure will help you a great deal.
However, to make sure you really nail the answer, keep these tips in mind:
#1 – Be professional
Even though this is a very broad question, remember that this is a job interview.
At the end of the day, your interviewer wants to know if you’re skilled and fit for the position.
Talk about things that will convince them of that.
We’re sure your dog is lovely and your karaoke nights memorable, but this is NOT the time to talk about that (unless you’re applying for a job at a dog shelter or a bar).
#2 – Add a personal touch
Yes, being professional is important and your work experiences and education should make up most of your answer.
However, you are not a machine.
Your personality should also come through, so talk about a relevant hobby or interest at the end of your answer.
For example, if you’re in the tech industry, you can mention your favorite magazine or an annual conference you attend.
You might end up having something in common with the interviewer, which might get them to like you more.
#3 – Know your audience
Your interviewer won’t always be an HR recruiter.
It could be a prospective supervisor or department manager, a representative of some other department, another employee, or even all of them at the same time. Sometimes it can be the CEO themselves.
Each of these people is interested in knowing something different about you, so your whole answer should vary.
A department manager will be more interested in hearing how your skills and experience complement their team and if you actually can do what you say you can do.
A CEO or top executive, on the other hand, will want to see how you can add value to their company and if you can keep up with their strategy and culture. Unless you will be reporting directly to the CEO, he/she won’t get too technical in the interview. Your answer should be more focused on reflecting how you fit the company culture and their long term goals.
Knowing your interviewer’s interests will give you a better idea on how to tailor your answer.
#4 – Keep it short
This is just the first question of your interview. Aim for a 1-2 minute answer.
You will have a chance to talk more throughout the interview, so don’t squeeze all the information here. Instead, be selective.
For example, if you have 10+ years of experience in a field, you can start telling your story from a middle point in your career.
If you start from your high school graduation, you might end up with a long and overwhelming answer. Your interviewer will fall asleep halfway through your senior year in college.
#5 – Be honest
This stands for everything you say during the interview.
Since the interviewer will use your answer to determine what to ask next, there’s a high chance that there will be a follow-up question related to what you just said.
You will either get caught up in the lie or get hired and keep pretending you attend that DeveloperWeek conference every year.
#6 – Mind your attitude/energy
Again, this is something you should keep in mind during the whole interview. But since “Tell me about yourself” sets the tone for what’s to come, your attitude is particularly important.
Try to be positive and show that you’re enthusiastic and passionate about what you do.
This will be your interviewer’s first impression of you. Make sure it’s a good one.
#7 – Practice, practice, practice
No matter how good your answer sounds in your head, saying it out loud is a whole other process.
Especially in front of the interviewer.
So, before you get there, make sure to practice as many times as you can until you feel confident.
It would be ideal to practice in front of a friend or family member. If that’s not possible, record your answer on your phone and listen to it after an hour or so. It will help you look at your answer from the interviewer’s perspective and identify things that need correcting.]
“Tell Me About Yourself” Sample Answers
Getting from theory to practice is not easy.
Luckily, we’ve thought about that as well.
Here are 4 Sample Answers to“Tell Me About Yourself”:
Sample Answer – Student, Intern, or Fresh Graduate
(interviewed by a recruiter for an administrative assistant position)
“Of course! My name is Jane, I’m a third-year student graduating with a diploma in Business Administration.
During these years, apart from the courses necessary for my major, I also took every art-related course my university offered, like Cultural Studies and Arts Heritage and Culture. I have always had an incredible love and appreciation for art and my goal is to pursue a master’s degree in Economics and Management in Arts, Culture and Media.
I think an internship with the directing board of a high profile museum like yours is the first step towards putting my knowledge to practice.
Your museum’s blog has been one of my favorites for so long now. I look forward to every publication.”
Sample Answer – Mid-Level Professional
(interviewed by the CMO for a regional sales manager position)
“Certainly. I’m John Doe, I’ve been working in the retail industry for 7 years now.
I initially worked as an assistant at the sales department of brand X for 2 years. I prepared briefings and presentations for leads and clients, scheduled meetings, and maintained communication with other departments.
After that, for 5 years, I worked as a sales manager for company Y. I recruited and trained sales representatives, developed the brand’s strategic plan, and made sure we were in line with our sales targets.
I would like to keep working in the retail industry and continue advancing in the sales management area. This position sounds like the perfect opportunity for me to do that. I have great admiration for your company and I followed your rebranding campaign closely. I have to say, genius!”
Sample Answer – Management
(interviewed by the CEO for a project manager position)
“Happy to. My name is Jane Doe, I’ve been a pharmaceutical manager for 5 years now.
I graduated with a degree in pharmacy from X University and interned for Y Company. I was drawn to management so I decided to do an MBA and continue working in the pharmaceutical industry as a manager.
I worked for Z Company right after graduation as a regulatory affairs manager. I assisted in the management, planning and tracking of activities for the different project teams of the company and ensured that project goals were met on time.During those years we successfully developed and released A and B types of medication.
I decided to look for an opportunity that would allow me to work more closely with a project, rather than coordinating a lot of them from afar. I read in the Academic Medical journal that your company will be conducting new research on immunology and decided to look into it. I would love to be a part of this process, especially since immunology is a branch of biomedicine that has always interested me greatly.”
Sample Answer – Career Change
(interviewed by recruiter for a media relations assistant position)
“Sure! My name is John. I have an associate’s degree in administrative assisting.
For the past 7 years I have worked as a secretary for the CEOs of two major companies. I arranged their meetings, prepared briefings, took calls and overlooked their schedule. I made sure no errors happened on my watch.
These experiences highlighted my communication skills and I realized that I enjoyed that part of my job the most. That’s why I decided to switch my focus on a career in public relations. I saw that your company was looking for a media relations assistant for the upcoming 3 months and it seems like the perfect opportunity for me to get started on this new field and learn the ropes.”
And that’s a wrap on this guide!
Here are the most important points we covered:
- Make sure you follow the present-past-future structure.
- Tailor your answer to the position and the person interviewing you
- Be enthusiastic and passionate, but always professional
- Don’t overwhelm the interviewer by telling your whole life story. Keep your answer 1-2 minutes.
Remember tip #7:
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Now you’re all set!