Just updated for 2022.
“Tell me about yourself” is a job interview question that is guaranteed to come up in most (if not all) of your job interviews — regardless of your industry, experience level, and job type.
Since it’s often the first question to be asked in an interview, it’s your big chance to make a first impression.
In fact, we think this question is so important that we created an entire video lesson around it in our flagship product Big Interview. Watch it here:
Many job searchers hate the “Tell me about yourself” question, and as a result, don’t know how to prepare and don’t know how to give a strong answer.
The frustration of the job seeker usually comes as a result of trying to decipher exactly what the interviewer is looking for. However, if you prepare properly, there’s no reason to dread this question.
In fact, this question is an opportunity — an opening for you to set the tone of the job interview and emphasize the points that you most want this potential employer to know about you.
Don’t waste the opportunity by simply diving into a long recitation of your resume. This also isn’t the time to mention that you love flamenco dancing and bingo (yes, I have seen candidates ramble on about hobbies and personal preferences many times and it’s a surefire way to make a weak first impression).
Instead, try a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. In this article, we’ll show you the Big Interview Formula for crafting your perfect response to “Tell me about yourself.”
Variations on “Tell Me About Yourself”
Since you’re trying to get straight to the heart of what your interviewer is asking you, it’s important to listen for all the variations you may hear on the “tell me about yourself” question.
If the interviewer doesn’t ask you to tell them about yourself straight out, they may ask one of these questions:
“Walk me through your resume”
This may sound like an invitation to simply repeat all of the information on your resume, but that is the absolute wrong approach to take.
Think of this question as merely a conversation starter. Even though they asked you to walk them through your resume specifically, you don’t want to merely recite your resume bullet points and give them no additional useful information.
“Tell me something that’s not on your resume”
Another very similar variation is:
“Tell me something unique about you.”
These questions are phrased in such a way that it may make starting the conversation easier. You probably can think of something that’s unique about you, but remember you don’t want to raise any red flags or go off on too many rabbit trails.
If you have a hobby, interest, or unique history that can be folded into a discussion about your job skills, so much the better!
Why Interviewers Use “Tell Me About Yourself”
This is one of the most common questions interviewers ask candidates during a job interview.
So when they ask you “Tell me about yourself”, what are they trying to achieve? Well, for them, it’s an easy and open-ended way to start the conversation.
Their ultimate goal for this interview is to find out enough about you to decide if you’re a good fit for the job opening that they are being paid to fill. In most cases, they want to like you. Their life will be easier if they can find a great candidate quickly. However, they are also on guard because a bad hire will reflect poorly on their judgment and possibly be a mark against them when it comes time to ask for a raise or promotion.
They are hoping that this question will get you talking. This question is almost always asked first, perhaps right after some chit-chat about traffic and the weather. Your answer to this question will dictate the interviewer’s first impression of you and will set the tone for the entire interview, letting you lead with your strongest selling points.
How Not to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
Before we jump into the Big Interview Formula for crafting the perfect answer, let’s cover some of the most common mistakes you might make when answering “Tell me about yourself”. (If anybody is giving you the following answers as advice — run the other way!)
1. The Resume Rehash
Many candidates respond by launching into a recitation of their resume from the very beginning. That can turn into a very long monologue that starts with one’s oldest — and probably least relevant and impressive — experience. By the time you get to the good stuff, your interviewer has zoned out and is thinking about lunch.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to prepare a brief summary of the high points of each of your past positions. It is likely that you will be asked about your accomplishments and day-to-day responsibilities in previous roles. Ideally, this should come out in an engaging conversation, though, not a long monologue at the beginning of the interview. You’ll only confuse your interviewer with information overload.
Even if the interviewer specifically asks you to “walk him through your resume,” don’t take the suggestion too literally. You can still lead with your elevator pitch and then segue into an overview of your most recent position, leaving plenty of opportunities for the interviewer to jump in and engage with you.
2. Mr./Ms. Modesty
Many of my interview coaching clients make the mistake of being too modest. They reply with a humble or vague introduction that fails to clearly communicate their strongest qualifications for the gig.
Some of these clients are just humble people who aren’t comfortable with “selling” themselves. Others have never really had to worry about a strong pitch — they were always courted for new opportunities when the job market was stronger.
Today, the competition for any good job is fierce. Don’t rely on the interviewer to see past your humble exterior and figure out how great you are.
If you take the time to prepare, you can find a way to present yourself to full advantage while staying true to your personality. For modest types, I recommend focusing on factual statements.
You don’t have to brag, “I’m the best salesperson in the world.” Instead, you can state, “I led my division in sales for the last three years and had the opportunity to bring in more than $18 million worth of new business during that time.”
3. The First Date Approach
This is not a first date. Your interviewer does not want to hear that you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Many recent grads misconstrue the question and talk too much about their personal lives and hobbies (especially if the question is asked as “tell me something that’s not on your resume” or “tell me something unique about you”.)
This is probably because many only have admissions and other school-related interview experience (clubs, programs, etc.). For these types of interviews, there is much more interest in who you are as a person. In job interviews, focus on who you are as a professional unless asked about hobbies or outside pursuits.
4. The Clueless Ramble
I have watched a surprising number of smart candidates totally flub this question because of overthinking. Their answers sound something like this: “You mean about my job experience or about my schooling or what kind of information are you looking for?”
I know that these candidates are aiming to please and that “Tell me about yourself” can be interpreted in many different ways. However, asking for too much clarification only makes you look hesitant and confused. Dive right in with the approach that we outlined for you above. If they are looking for something else, they will ask you for it.
How to Nail “Tell Me About Yourself”
Think of it as your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or business and its value proposition. It answers the question: “Why should I buy/invest?” It should be concise enough to be delivered during a short elevator ride (to the 5th floor, not to the 105th floor).
You need an elevator pitch for yourself as a job candidate — and it should be customized for different opportunities. Keep it focused and short, ideally less than a minute, and no more than 2 minutes.
You won’t be able to fit all of your great qualities and resume high points into 2 minutes, so you’ll have to spend some time thinking about how to present yourself in a way that starts the interview on the right note.
A great answer will address the following:
- What are your primary selling points for this job? Your strengths could be a number of years of experience in a particular industry or area of specialization. You might also highlight special training and technical skills here. Focus on the qualifications in the job description and how you meet and exceed the requirements.
- Why are you interested in this position right now? You can wrap up your answer by indicating why you are looking for a new challenge and why you feel this role is the best next step.
“Tell Me About Yourself”
(The Big Interview Formula)
I’ll share the “Tell Me About Yourself” formula that I teach to my interview coaching clients (and Big Interview members) that consistently wins jobs. There are three components:
1. Who You Are
Your first sentence should be an introduction to who you are professionally, an overview statement that shows off your strengths and gives a little sense of your personality too. This is not easy to do gracefully on the fly. It pays to prepare a bit in advance.
Tell Me About Yourself Example: Good
“I’m an innovative HR manager with 8 years of experience managing all aspects of the HR function — from recruiting to training to benefits — for Fortune 500 companies.”
Concisely summarizes a diverse background.
Tell Me About Yourself Example: Bad
Bad: “Well, I grew up in Cincinnati. As a child, I originally wanted to be a fireman, then later became interested in dinosaurs. I excelled in the sciences from early on, placing first in my fourth-grade science fair. Funny story about that…”
Way too much information.
2. Expertise Highlights
Don’t assume that the interviewer has closely read your resume and knows your qualifications. Use your elevator pitch to briefly highlight 2-4 points that you think make you stand out.
Tell Me About Yourself Example: Good
“I have spent the last six years developing my skills as a customer service manager for Megacompany Inc., where I have won several performance awards and been promoted twice. I love managing teams and solving customer problems.”
The emphasis here is on experience, enthusiasm, and proof of performance.
Tell Me About Yourself Example: Bad
“My first job was as an administrative assistant for Macy’s in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I learned a great deal in that role that served me well over the next 12 years. At the time, I wasn’t sure about my career path, so I next took a position selling real estate. It only lasted for six months, but I sure enjoyed it.”
Zzzzzzz. Nobody cares about your first job 12 years ago. You are starting with the least impressive part of your career and the interviewer is likely to tune out before you get to the good stuff.
3. Why You’re Here
End by telling them you want the position and why.
Tell Me About Yourself Example: Good
“Although I love my current role, I feel I’m now ready for a more challenging assignment and this position really excites me.”
Concise and positive.
Tell Me About Yourself Example: Bad
“Because of the company’s financial problems and my boss’s issues, I’m worried about my job’s stability and decided to start looking for new opportunities.”
Don’t be too candid or you risk coming across as negative. This answer also makes it seem like you’re interested in a job, any job — not this job in particular.
Remember: You will have time later to walk through your resume in more detail and fill in any gaps. Don’t try to squeeze in too much information or your interviewer WILL start to tune out.
A good interview is a dialogue, not a monologue. Keep it concise and give your interviewer the chance to dive in and ask questions.
(We talk about how to build your answer in detail in the Craft Your Pitch section below.)
Example Answers for “Tell Me About Yourself”
“I’ve been working in marketing for the last two years since graduating from Cornell and I love it.
I’m currently working as a marketing coordinator at a fashion e-commerce startup.
I’m responsible for our social media marketing presence and also work closely with our marketing manager on running our marketing events, which is a lot of fun.
Previously, I spent a year as an assistant in the Global Marketing team at American Express.
That was a great experience.
I supported two VPs in the group, managed their calendars, handled expense reports, and made sure everything in the office ran smoothly.
I loved how every day was a bit different and I got to work with great people who had a lot to teach me about marketing.
I also volunteered to work on some creative projects outside of my role because I realized how much I loved the creative side of marketing and wanted to get some experience.
I helped coordinate a few big client marketing events and worked on copy for a few email newsletter campaigns.
Unfortunately, due to a reorganization of the team, my position was eliminated and that’s when I was recruited for my current position.
Although I like my job, at this stage of my career, I realized I need to find a company where I see a long-term career path and I think this position would be a great fit with my skills and goals.”
Why we like it: Notice that the first line sums up her experience and name drops “top Wall Street companies.” It’s always good to mention high-profile employers by name. Most hiring managers will perk up because they assume that if you made it through the hiring process at other well-respected companies, you must be pretty good.
She then describes an impressive recent project that we can assume is very relevant to the work required in the open position. Next, she spends time talking about why she’s interested in this company/role, using the terms fast-paced, creative, problem-solving, and innovative. This is great if those words are used in the job description and/or company values.
With this answer, the candidate is leading with some of her top-selling points — experience at top firms, recognized stellar performance (award), technical expertise, problem-solving skills, etc. This will help him grab the interviewer’s attention and make a strong first impression.
It bears repeating that a strong first impression is critical in a job interview situation. Start the interview strong and end it strong and you might even get away with flubbing a few questions in the middle.
Here’s a sample for a candidate going through a career change:
“I’m an attorney with more than ten years of experience at two international law firms, where my experience representing pro bono clients inspired me to make a career change into the non-profit world.
I’m confident that my skills and experience would make me a great fit for the Director of Legal Affairs role for your organization.
I have a track record of success as a Transactional Attorney and years of experience performing research and analysis and negotiating complicated cases. I also have extensive experience advising leaders of large organizations on legal matters of all kinds.
I have represented a number of non-profits in my pro-bono work and found that work to be rewarding as well as a great fit for my strengths and abilities.
I have a particular passion for literacy causes, which is why I was so drawn to this position.
Your mission is one that really resonates with me, as the daughter of school teachers and a long-time volunteer for literacy causes.”
Why we like it: The candidate starts by emphasizing she’s been in the business for more than ten years. The fact she’s been a part of two international firms tells us that she probably is a skilled and experienced professional.
She then provides her reasons for making a career change. Conveniently, she has already had some experience working with pro bono clients, which inspired her and which will definitely be useful in her new role.
Her set of skills will be a strong foundation for the new position, but they also connect the two roles together, which will give her an advantage over other candidates.
Finally, she explains that her life and work experience naturally led her to this position, as the company’s mission resonates with her values and she’s been a long-time advocate for the cause. This personal alignment is an enormous advantage to have, as it’s been proven that people are better at their job if they love what they do.
Here’s a sample for a candidate interviewing for a food service or hospitality position:
“I really enjoyed my last job in food service.
One of the things I love the most about the hospitality industry is being able to help people and see them happy with their service.
I found that I really thrive in an environment where I can do several tasks at once. It’s a challenge but it’s also usually a lot of fun. I like challenging myself and that way I’m never bored.
I feel my past jobs as a camp counselor helped prepare me to be a great server as well. I really learned to listen, communicate, and make sure everyone has a great time, while also overseeing my various tasks and responsibilities.”
Why we like it: The candidate starts by highlighting what she loves about the industry she’s working in. With this, she reveals the values that are important to her and what kind of person she is.
She continues by commenting that she enjoys challenging work which often involves multitasking. This shows that she’s a curious individual determined to constantly improve.
She finishes with a comment about the skills she acquired in her last position and shows that she loves a mix of interpersonal and hard skills, which make her a great candidate for this position in this industry.
Here’s another sample specifically for new grads (aka “freshers” in other parts of the world).
“I’m currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania where I’m majoring in Marketing and have also had the chance to gain experience through a number of marketing internships.
I spent this past summer in London where I took courses at the London School of Economics and also interned in the Marketing department for an apparel company. It was a great experience overall and I learned a lot about international marketing.
The previous summer I interned at a marketing agency here in Philadelphia where I supported the team on marketing projects for a number of different clients in the fashion industry. I did a lot of work on social media marketing campaigns and helped to staff marketing events.
I also have past experience working as a server, a receptionist, and a camp counselor, which have all helped me develop my communication skills.
I’m really excited about this opportunity because it’s such an innovative company and I think that the job description is such a good match with my social media marketing experience and my passion for fashion.”
Why we like it: The candidate briefly and succinctly informs us of her academic experience so far.
She then continues by listing her academic and work experience which are directly related to her Marketing major. This is great, as it shows us she’s determined and sure of what she wants to pursue.
A list of internships shows that she’s hungry for experience and constantly develops her skills, which is a good indicator of her work ethic and shows she will probably be good at her job. She briefly mentions her experience with social media marketing campaigns, which is a plus.
In addition to hard skills, she went through a list of temporary jobs that helped her hone her communication skills.
She wraps up by showing she’s been following the company’s work for a while (this is always a plus in the interviewer’s eyes!) and states that the role is in line with her experience, aspirations, and interests.
Craft Your Pitch
Answering the “Tell me about yourself” question can still feel challenging, even if you know how to approach it.
You have to briefly summarize years of experience. Where do you start? How do you logically connect all the dots? What do you focus on? With so many things to remember, creating a great answer on the spot is really hard.
That’s why you need to practice.
Jot down key points
Grab a pen and paper or a tool like Big Interview’s Answer Builder.
Start by outlining the answer to your question. Think of the key trait you’d like to present and the ways to stir the conversation in that direction.
Create a list that will contain key points: who are you professionally? How many years of experience do you have and in what kind of companies? What’s your biggest strength? Why did you apply for this position and what can you bring to the table?
Of course, it’s always a good idea to personalize your answer and add a thing or two to show you know the company and its recent initiatives.
Having this list will help you figure out what to focus on and memorize the order of things you want to mention so the answer flows perfectly.
Here’s an example of what your outline would look like in the Big Interview Answer Builder.
As you can see, your main points will stay the same, but your answer will flow organically and be a little different each time, so you don’t sound stiff or rehearsed.
Practice, practice, practice
Time for practicing!
You don’t want to overdo it and sound robotic, but you also don’t want to be insecure and slow at coming up with things to say. Give it a try a few times until you’re confident enough to know exactly what you’re doing but also ready for some improvisation if needed. Remember what Picasso said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Then, ask a friend to listen to you or use our Practice option to record yourself while delivering the answer. Do it as many times as you want and make sure you’re coherent, you’re not speaking too quickly or too slowly, you’re not stuttering, using vocal fillers, and so on.
A friend or our AI tool can then give you feedback on what to improve, while also pointing out the things you did really well. A bit of encouragement will lift your mood and make you more confident so that you can rock that interview when the time comes.
Here’s an example of what our AI report looks like. Our AI monitors your videos and makes sure your camera and sound are ok. It also counts your filler and power words and pauses, the pace of your speech, vocabulary, and so much more. Basically, it helps you spot details you wouldn’t be able to catch on the fly — after all, we’re all a bit subjective, aren’t we?
And if you need help with how to answer other common job interview questions, we’re here for you.
Need a hand? There are 2 ways we can help you:
1. Learn how to turn more job interviews into job offers here. (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users)
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