Tell Me About Yourself: Interview Question [How to Answer]

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Tell Me About Yourself: Interview Question [How to Answer]

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Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna Ryś

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Ah yes, the “tell me about yourself” question. Depending on your personality, you may love or hate this question — most people are either in the love camp or the hate camp when it comes to this almost inevitable part of any job interview. Regardless of whether answering this question comes easy to them or not, when it comes to it being asked during a job interview, most people are not answering it properly. Why?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am sure they are perfectly charming people. I am sure you are perfectly charming, yourself. The tricky part is, that is not enough. It is not enough to just ramble on a little about your life, your vacation, your cute little dog.

As friendly and laid-back as this question sounds, it is important to recruiters and the entire job interview for a few reasons, such as:

  • It gets the interview started.
    Asking you to talk about yourself is a simple, effective way to get the conversation going. Or at least it should be 😄
  • As such, it sets the tone for the rest of the interview.
    This is important. I don’t mean to scare you, but if you botch this first question, you may never be able to recover from that. First impressions are, after all, notoriously hard to change.
  • It lets the recruiter gauge your personality and soft skills.
    Hard skills are far from the only thing that matters in the modern workplace — you will likely be working with all sorts of different people, perhaps in different states and even countries. Your soft skills matter. 

You see, your resume is really only a list of facts about you, and that’s all fine and well, but what you’re like as a person matters a lot, too.

And that’s why the recruiter wants to meet you.
The skills and experience listed on your resume, as impressive as they may be, will simply not be enough if you can’t make a good, confident, competent impression during an interview

On a side note, if you don’t even have a resume yet, you might be getting a little ahead of yourself with this guide 😄 After all, you have to get invited to an interview first!

The “tell me about yourself” interview question

And what will get you invited to a job interview?
A well-written resume, of course!

If you are not quite sure how to go about writing a good resume, no worries, I’ve got you covered. Check out my detailed guide on how to write a resume here, and then come back when it’s time to prep for all those interviews!

So, we’ve established how important this question actually is. Now onto the specifics. In this guide, you will find out all about how to answer this question and, just as importantly, how not to answer it.

Let’s get started!

Types of answer to AVOID at all costs

Maybe it would be easier to start with automatically and emphatically stating what kinds of answers are a big no-no, for a variety of reasons. After we get that out of the way, we can move on to what you should actually be saying. 

Types of answers to avoid include:

The resume summary.

I assure you the recruiter has read your resume, likely more than once, if they have decided to invite you into the office for an interview. This makes answering the “tell me about yourself” question with a rehash of what they already know an unnecessary and somewhat annoying waste of time. They know, they get it, that’s literally why you’re here.

This is your chance to let the recruiter see a little more of your personality, so take it!

The “You wanna know about little old me?” answer.

Few things are more irritating than fake modesty. And even if it’s not fake, modesty has never gotten anyone a job. You need to sell yourself, even if you feel a little uncomfortable doing it, because if you don’t, someone else will, and they will get the job. 

So give you best qualities some thought and find a way to present them that doesn’t come off as conceited, but doesn’t hide what you have to offer, either.

The first date answer.

Your favorite movie.
Your last vacation.
How much you love to dance.
Your dreams for the future.
The recruiter cares about none of these things…

One of the most common mistakes candidates make when faced with this question is answer it like they are on a date instead of a job interview.

There may be a time, sometime in the future, when you become friendly, or even friends, with the person who hired you, and then you can share all sorts of fun facts about yourselves. The keywords here are MAYBE and IN THE FUTURE. 

A job interview is about showing the recruiter what you are the best candidate for the job in question. So no matter how nice the question sounds, never forget why you are there and formulate every answer from this job perspective.

The pointless ramble.

Hopscotching all over your life story or your career history will just leave the recruiter confused.

Make sure what you want to say has some sort of eventual point you plan to get to, and that the things you mention on the way to making this point are in a sensible order.

Salad is good for you, word salad is not.

Types of answer to AVOID at all costs

How to give a good answer

So now that we have all the worst types of answers out of the way, let’s get to what an answer to this question really should look like. 😄

Remember, you are selling yourself as the best candidate for the job, so think of your answer as an elevator pitch.

A good answer summarizes your unique selling points and why you are interested in this particular position.

Remember to keep your answer here closely connected to the job description so you can illustrate how who you are makes you the right for this position. 

Start with a brief, graceful self-summary

Good example

I began my career in retail management, but a few years ago, I was drawn to the healthcare space. I’ve always been skilled at bringing people together and working towards common goals. My experience successfully leading teams and managing stores led me to consider administration, and I’ve been building a career as a driven health administrator for the last four years.”

This might seem simple but it is harder to pull off than it seems, so I advise practicing this part a little.

How to give a good answer

Then, move on to describing your expertise.
Things you should bring up include:

  • highlights from your current job, especially ones relevant to the position you are applying for
  • what you are especially good at in general
  • your biggest achievements

Lastly, add why you are here: 

  • This job really interests me because…
  • I’ve always wanted to work for this company because…
  • Getting this job is the best career move I could make now because…

Answers like these demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and the company, so win-win!

Avoid answers that talk about purely personal reasons.
You might be wanting to get a job closer to your child’s school, but that is not what the recruiter wants to hear, not is it a good reason to hire you. 

All in all, a good answer might sound something like this:

Good example

“I graduated with a Business degree in 2010, and was offered an account management position from a telecommunications company I had interned with. I loved working with customers and managing and growing my accounts, but the industry we were in just wasn’t very appealing to me. After that, I stayed a full year and learned a ton about how to build and manage accounts successfully and  I ended up becoming a top performer in my group before leaving. I left at the 1-year-mark to pursue a very similar position within an industry I’m much more excited about- healthcare. I’ve been at this healthcare startup space for 2 years with this company and I feel ready to take my career to the next level so that’s why I’m currently looking for a new opportunity.”

Do’s and Don’ts

You’re almost ready to ace this interview question! But before you go, take a look at this short list of do’s and don’ts just to make sure you avoid making some common mistakes.

Do: 

  • Practice beforehand. 
    It should go without saying that if something is important to you, you shouldn’t just wing it. Not to mention an recruiter will be able to tell you have not prepared for this question. Of course, this is not to say you should memorize what you are planning to say, either, lest you come off like a robot. But make sure you have a general idea of what you would like to say when this question comes up and practice saying it once or twice to iron out all of the wrinkles. Better now than during the interview! 
  • Tailor your answer.
    I can never emphasize this enough: personalization is key. You would not want to exact the exact same Christmas present as everyone else, and the recruiter does not want to hear a canned, copy-paste answer you learned by heart and are now reciting to everyone you meet. Do research on the company you will be interviewing with and use that information to show the recruiter that you care about working for that specific company, not just anyone who will have you. 
  • Keep things succinct.
    This tip is closely connected to the one above. It’s hard to stay on point if you have no idea what you want to say. And if you do know what you want to say, great! Now just make sure your answer doesn’t go on for half an hour — save all those details for the movie about your life I am sure will come out someday 😄 A minute’s worth of talking or so should do just fine, with 2 minutes being the absolute maximum.

Don’t: 

  • Use clichéd buzzwords
    Recruiters are sick and tired of hearing the same buzzwords and catchphrases being thrown out at every single interview. Some of the most despised include: “team player”, “perfectionist” and “hardworking”. At the end of the day, these words are just fluff that doesn’t mean anything in particular — anyone could say that about themselves, and there would be no way to assess whether they were right or not. 
    Instead, use specific examples to illustrate how good you are at something — numbers are a special favorite. Did you help reduce factory turnover by 15%? Make that the thing you mention!
  • Talk smack about your previous boss or workplace
    It might be tempting to say just a little too much about how your previous (or current) workplace has been far from ideal, to put it nicely. And while it is okay to mention that you are looking for more challenges and development opportunities, you should avoid getting into any more details about why you are leaving your current company — unless you are explicitly asked later on, and even then, choose your words carefully.
  • Get too folksy
    Sure, it might seem nice that you and the recruiter are sitting there having a nice little chat about how great you are, but don’t overstep any boundaries. Saying things like “You guys”, or referring to their recruiter by their first name if they haven’t indicated that’s what they would prefer is presumptuous and off-putting. 
    Avoid telling jokes or funny stories, too, as humor is extremely subjective and what is funny to you may be boring or downright offensive to someone else. Not to mention this kind of thing tells the recruiter nothing of substance and is just a waste of precious interview minutes. 
  • Rush into talking about how you see your role at the company
    Hold your horses! You have no idea if they actually want to hire you yet, and neither does the recruiter. And needless to say, coming off as either arrogant or desperate is not helping your case.

Feeling pretty confident now, aren’t you? 😄
As well you should — you are going to nail it!

If you still feel a little jittery about the interview as a whole, however, don’t worry!
I’ve prepared an interview question guide listing all of the most popular interview questions along with ideas on how to answer them.
We’ll get through this together!

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Joanna Ryś

Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna has 8 years of experience in the recruitment industry, and currently works as the Chief Strategist for Sourcing in the EMEA area at HAYS. Microsoft, Rolls Royce Aerospace, Abbott, AB Inbev are several companies from the...portfolio of clients with whom it has cooperated, and its tasks include defining strategies for obtaining candidates in Europe, independent management of recruitment tools, monitoring the rate of return on investment, implementing initiatives from the area of Employer Branding into processes recruitment and data analysis. Sharing knowledge and discussions about working with candidates is her passion, which is why she eagerly creates new training programs, conducts postgraduate classes, organizes workshops with students of Krakow universities, employees of her company and free students from various social organizations. Passionate about computer games and socioeconomic issues.