Answering "Tell Me About Yourself" Professionally (2021)
Tell me about yourself! It's a common, tricky interview question that often begins interviews. For the interviewer, it's a way to get a first impression of you before moving on with the rest of the interview. And can commonly direct the job interview entirely.
Having a structured, prepared response that sounds similar to an elevator pitch can be an effective way to open the job interview, explain the duties and responsibilities of your current job, and highlight key skills and experience for the new opportunity.
This is one of the most frequently asked interview questions. Meaning, it's important to prepare, practice, and evolve your answer in the job search process.
How to answer "Tell me about yourself" in a job interview
The objective to this interview question is to gain the insights needed to evaluate your goals, values, achievements, and general characteristics in the workplace. It provides a high-level overview of you as a candidate.
Think of this as someone asking you to receipt an elevator pitch. They're looking for a 90-second overview of what your career looks like, what your last job looked like, and what you're looking to achieve in a new job.
There are two key approaches to answering this question. The first is to use chronological achievements to go back in time. Usually covering the start of your career to today's date. This can be useful for executive positions and leadership job titles.
A second approach is to focus on key skills and abilities. This usually lines up with the job description. This is better for those who have more limited job experience.
A chronological format might embrace the full spectrum of someone's career and how it aligns with what the company is seeking from their ideal candidate. Here is an example of that:
I started my career at the age of 22. I began working closely with project managers in the construction industry. After a few years of that I moved into the project management space myself, then into project coordination for larger commercial real estate construction jobs. I've constructed more than 100 commercial buildings in the last 10 years.
Skills and abilities
This approach utilizes key skills and abilities to display relevance to the job title. A better approach for those who have limited experience. Here is an example of that:
I have always enjoyed being in the software design industry. From a young age, this was of interest to me. And while I'm looking to start my career here, I have had experience in retail positions that I believe carry over. Working closely with customers to retrieve feedback. Learning how to empathize with an audience and a customer base. And learning how to take queues from leadership teams to get work done effectively. I believe these qualities make me an ideal candidate for what the company is seeking in a new employee.
Review the job description
Job interviews can be stressful. Reviewing the job description can be a helpful way to guide yourself through the interview process.
Look for key elements in the job description that provide clues to what the company is looking for.
For example, any particular skills that are mentioned in the requirements portion of the job listing should provide a great way to structure your answer.
Example answers to "Tell me about yourself"
"Tell me about yourself" is an open-ended interview question. That means it can be challenging to understand what interviewers want to know about you. Here are some simple rules to follow.
- Work experience. Keep your interview answer focused on work experience and your professional background rather than your personal story or utilizing personal information.
- Follow-up with an ask. With an open-ended question like this, when finished with your response, ask the question, "Does that help?"
- Review the job description. Keep your answer relevant to the role/position you're applying for. This is not an interview question where the interviewer wants to know your life story.
- Short response. The response should be no longer than 90-seconds to recite.
Here are some examples to help develop your own script.
My career began in the software engineering position. I spend several years learning about distributed systems and data analytics. Throughout those years, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to pursue my passions and expand my knowledge of engineering. My resume might look light in terms of previous positions, but I had the opportunity to make several iOS applications. Applications that won multiple awards. My work is my passion. On the weekends, I spend time learning about software and systems. That's why I'm pursuing this position. This position, it's clearly one where I can apply my knowledge of computer systems. And get the opportunity to be exposed to the marketing side of our work.
I got interested in computers when I was really young. Computers were always attractive to me. I loved the idea that we could put our ideas and thoughts into a machine and get a visual back. This brought me into college, where I was able to apply myself to my computer science education. And that brought me to my first opportunity as an intern. I worked with Apple. At Apple, I assisted with the development of iOS 11. And that accomplishment made me want to pursue a professional career in software. That's what brought me to this wonderful company. Its world-class engineering team is something I'm passionate about. I would love to get to know more about the projects the team is working on.
For the past five years I've been working closely with executive leaders in the secretary role. I've helped leaders to deploy new management structures, organize offices, and assist with administrative functions inside the business. I enjoy working with company's that develop software. Since my brother was an engineer growing up, I feel like I have a connection with an engineers mind. Engineers seem to run in my family. That's what brought me here, to this opportunity.
"Tell me about yourself" interview tips
Here are some tips to help answer this question.
What you should do
- Present your capabilities. Share your expertise and your best qualities. Focus on what you can bring to the company. And why working together in the future will be seamless.
- Consider other candidates responses. What's going to separate you from the crowd? Consider how other candidates are talking about themselves and how that should impact your answer.
- Connect your skills to the job. Consider the hiring manager and their desire for the position. What do hiring managers want to see in an ideal candidate? Talk about what the team needs.
- Be concise. Don't share too much. Make sure that every word recited in the final response constructed is accurate, related to the position, and contains key details about your expertise that makes you stand out. Try to recite your answer within 90-seconds.
What you should NOT do
- Recite your resume verbatim. Reciting the resume verbatim is boring. And the hiring manager may have already browsed your CV. Focus on what's not included in the resume. Tell the story of how you accomplished what's inside the resume.
- Share personal information. Stories about your high school football coach being inspirational to your values might sound like a great thing to mention. It's not. Focus on what job title you're interviewing for.
Here are more top tips to follow.
1. Open the conversation
Remember that your answer will dictate how the remainder of the job interview goes. Tailor your response to the job and research what the company stands for.
Browse the company about page, recent news about the company, and other press releases.
Gain key insights that can help align your professional values to those of the company.
2. Highlight professional accomplishments
Professional accomplishments are the best way to tell a strong story. It may seem like you're not telling a great story about yourself. But you are!
Highlight key accomplishments that align with the role. If interviewers hear accomplishments, they may be more inclined to ask you questions about your work experience.
Leaving a lasting memory that can make you stand out from other candidates.
3. Practice your answer
It's key to be confident and prepared when answering this interview question. Since "tell me about yourself" can be so vast, trying to structure a response while at the interview is highly frowned upon.
Recite an answer to friends, family, and mentors.
Make sure the answer sounds clear, highlights accomplishments, and draws intrigue making the interviewer want to ask more about your background.
4. Be honest with your response
Don't lie. If the response doesn't line up with previous work experience. Or can't be validated through professional references, it's not a great idea to mention.
It's best to be truly passionate about the job you're applying for.
Be honest about your values and how those align with the companies. Being dishonest can lead to issues with the team or managers later on.
5. Deliver intrigue in the answer
If the hiring manager is left asking themselves, "I want to know more about that." Then, that's a great response. In fact, an ideal response. The hiring manager will most likely ask to learn more about particular accomplishments.
Be prepared to answer those follow-up questions about accomplishments.
6. Prepare for follow-up interview questions
Consider what interview questions might follow-up from your answer. As an example, let's say the interview answer focuses more on skills and characteristics rather than work experience.
Meaning, it's important to be prepared for the follow-up interview question, "What makes you qualified for this position?"
Answering as a new graduate (for students)
If you're a new graduate, your response to this question is going to be shorter than the other job candidates.
Choose the key skills and characteristics approach to reciting who you are, professionally.
Since you don't have any prior professional experience, it's going to be vital to make yourself stand out in creative ways.
Here are some ways to think about that.
Use professional internships/externships. Any type of exposure to professional work is something to highlight. What skills were able to be obtained through that experience?
Projects and "side hustles." Personal accomplishments that relate to the job title can be useful. As an example, growing a blog or website.
Professional references. Even if it's not an internship, exposure to working or speaking closely to important professional contacts can be important to mention.
Clubs and groups. Part of the investment club in college? Or started a new club that the student body was part of? These are accomplishments.
Remember to be honest with your answer. And include experiences that are relative to the job functions.
Make sure your response is enthusiastic, contains passion, and it leads to a positive interview.
Most of all, don't forget to have fun when answering. If you aren't taking your response too seriously, sometimes that can be a good thing.
Creating an elevator pitch
This interview question is similar to asking for an elevator pitch. Though, in most cases, an elevator pitch refers to a business idea. Or a sales pitch.
Though, it's not dissimilar in nature. The applicant is being asked to sell themselves on why they're a fit for the position. It's a way to open a conversation while giving you the opportunity to tell the manager more about yourself.
Here's how to create an elevator pitch:
- Determine what your core strengths are. Ask friends or mentors. Look through your letters of recommendation and determine the things that you do best. From there, write down a few key points about your professional history.
- Review the job opening. Make sure that you review the job opening. And find which strengths you'd like to align with the requirements of the position. From there, start to drill your list of strengths and skills down to a shorter list.
- Consider your professional history. Take your professional history and try to condense it. Consider what type of story it's telling. Think about how you'd describe what you do to a small child. Or how you'd describe what you do to a family member.
- Start putting it together. It's best to take your skills and your professional history and start to draw connections. Think about how you were able to obtain certain skills through this professional history.
- Achievements. Now it's time to put achievements into the mix. As you think about the core points of your working past. And your skills. Consider what you've gotten accomplished for a company. Or what you're proud of. Think about metrics or achievements that you'd want to share at the dinner table. Write those down and make sure that they're aligned to the job, too.
- Build a story. It's important to build a story. Take your achievements, work history, skills, and build them into a linear story. Describe how your professional career has advanced. And how each of your core achievements has gotten you to the point of where you are today. When you build this story, think about how compelling it either is or is not.
- Think about the future. Telling where you'd like to go is part of the pitch. How does this story predict or tell where you'd like to be? Does it mention what you're looking for? Either in a company or in a job? Or in your career path? The end of your story should always tell a clear picture of what the future holds.
- Recite your story. It should always be a short story. You have about 90-seconds to grab the person's attention. And make sure that they're wanting to hear more from you. The only way to ensure that this is correct is to practice this pitch. Recite your story to friends or family. And ask for their feedback. Ask them how compelling it was or was not.
- Hone in on your story. As you advance. Or pitch your story to more interviewers, make changes to how you tell it. Condense it. Emphasize certain parts of your professional history. Use the feedback you get from interviews or mentors to make your story far more impactful, as you go. This will certainly help in your job search.
- Evolve your story. Your pitch is never finished. You have the opportunity to complete new achievements while you're at your current job. Try to get some immediate achievements to put into your story.
Our favorite resources are included below.
Job interview resources
- Common Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Prepare for Behavioral Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Preparing for Job Interviews by the University of Kansas
- Mock Interview Handbook by CSUCI
- Interview Guidebook by Lebanon Valley College
Resume and cover letter resources
- Writing a Resume and Cover Letter by USC
- Resume Writing Tips by the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Resume and Cover Letter Guide by Harvard University
Job search resources
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