You’ve written an outstanding cover letter, developed an eye-catching resume, and landed an interview.
And you can count on being asked as least one question: “Tell me about yourself.”
This apparently simple question can feel complex to answer, because it will frame your interviewer’s first impression of you and dictate the direction the rest of the conversation goes, much like a first date. And not unlike getting the dinner discussion going on a dinner date, your interviewer is aiming to start a conversation, and establish if he or she will like you.
You don’t need to be nervous for this question, because we’ve got you covered with this easy guide to answer this question for prospective employers. All you need to do is be yourself.
Here are the Do’s and Don’ts for responding to an interviewer who says, “Tell me about yourself.”
- Order your response logically. Kathryn Minshew, CEO & Founder of The Muse, recommends the Present-Past-Future formula. With this structure, you begin with your current experience and position, transition to your past experiences and how they shaped your skillset and interests, and end with your excitement for the future, specifically for the opportunity you’re interviewing for.
- Focus on your experiences and skills that are relevant to the position. This may even mean preparing a few different versions of your statement to emphasize the right experiences for the right positions.
- Your interviewer has already seen your resume. Make sure they see some of your personality as you share an anecdote or story that highlights who you are.
- Keep it short. This statement should be the “elevator pitch” for you as a candidate, meaning you should be able to deliver it in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Tell your interviewer who you are as a professional, what expertise you have for the position, and why you’re looking to make a move.
- Thoughtfully and authentically selling yourself as a candidate and packing a few sentences with a lot of information isn’t something most people can accomplish on the fly.
- Use quantifiable examples – and back them up with supporting details. Instead of telling your interviewer “I’m an experienced manager,” imply that by highlighting, “I led a team of 30 people, and over the past five years, I promoted 5 of them and established a new training program.”
- Outline every experience on your resume. Your interviewer has seen your resume, and can ask you more detailed questions throughout the conversation. Rehashing ever detail at the beginning of the interview may overwhelm the interviewer, and keep them from pay attention to the details the matter.
- Launch into an explanation of your hobbies or passions outside of work. You don’t want to open with an impression other than your professional self. While this may feel like a first date kind of question, this is still not a first date.
- Undersell yourself with a vague or self-deprecating remark. While you don’t need to make boastful statements you can’t back with facts, you should highlight your experience and success.
- Appear surprised by this question. This question opens nearly every interview out there, so asking for clarification or rambling endlessly gives the impression you didn’t prepare for the interview. You should be excited to share the thoughtful statement you’ve already prepared.
- Delve into negative details. If terrible management or financial woes have spurred you to start interviewing, you’ll need to find a succinct and positive way to explain that. Going into great detail on all your past issues in your opening statement will make you appear negative – and maybe even desperate.
- Get too personal. Avoid discussing your marital status, religion, politics, or family situation. You’ll have time later to discuss any specific accommodate you may need, and don’t want to predispose the interviewer by bringing in a highly sensitive topic too soon.
Keeping in mind the overall approach to this question, you can use these brainstorming prompts to kick off your planning to answer “tell me about yourself,” or a similarly open-ended question.
- Why are you interested in the position? What is exciting about it, and how does this fit into your greater career path?
- How does the story of the company you’re interested align with your own personal story?
- What qualities or experiences make you a great candidate for the position? This could be a specialization, training or education, or past experiences.
- What examples highlight characteristics that make you a great fit for the position?
- What do you want the interviewer to remember most about you?
Now that you’re feeling confident about how you’re going to answer interviewers why they say: “tell me about yourself,” don’t forget to check out our Essential Interview Prep List and Cheat Sheet and our Definitive Manual for Preparing for a Job Interview to make sure you’re ready.