Tell me about yourself.
Well, I’m from Colorado. I raise goats. I have a rash.
Most people get nervous before interviews. And nerves can cause you to stumble through even the most fundamental interactions.
That’s why the tell me about yourself interview question is the hardest part of the interview for some job seekers. It often comes first, and it’s mystifying.
That’s why you need to prepare.
But how do you know where to start?
It takes a bit of research and practice. But it’s worth it. And at least you can be sure that you won’t start your interview with a rant about your early childhood diseases.
This guide will show you:
- What the interviewer is really asking.
- How to answer the tell me about yourself interview question.
- Several examples of the best way to answer and why.
And if you want to make sure you’ll turn every interview into a job offer, get our free checklist: 42 Things You Need To Do Before, During, and After Your Big Interview.
What a Hiring Manager Wants When They Say Tell Me About Yourself
The tell me about yourself interview question is one of the first you'll hear in an interview.
Now, a lot of job seekers find it tough to provide a satisfying answer. That’s because they’re not sure what the hiring manager is asking.
So, what is the hiring manager asking?
There are a few possible ways that hiring managers can phrase the request.
You might hear:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Tell us a little about yourself.
- Tell something about yourself.
- Say something about yourself.
- Describe yourself in three words.
- What would you like me to know about you?
But what are they really asking?
- Tell me about yourself as a professional.
- What do YOU think is important for the job?
- How are you going to fit in with the company and provide value?
- Can you answer an “unstructured” question on the fly?
Even if the hiring manager doesn’t ask you point blank to talk about yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare an answer. That’s because the entire interview is about answering this question.
Preparation will also stop you from listing hobbies or talking about the time you got a rock stuck in your nose.
|The hiring manager is asking you to talk about your professional self.||The hiring manager is asking you to talk about yourself in general.|
You’ll also want to keep in mind that the request is “unstructured.” See, the hiring manager will leave some interview questions vague on purpose.
That’s because the hiring manager wants to see HOW you answer the question. She’s less interested in what you say.
When she says tell me about yourself, what do you decide to share? What do you find important to tell your future employer about yourself?
What’s important - the company’s needs or yours?
- Do you answer with personal information or professional?
- Are you aware of what position on offer requires?
- Do you know what the company does and values?
What type of thinker and worker are you?
- Do you repeat information off your resume word for word?
- Do you recite something practiced like a robot?
- Do you think on your feet or do you ask for clarification?
What initial impression do you make on other people?
- Are you articulate and confident?
- Are you flabbergasted and confused?
- What kind of first impression do you make?
Pro Tip: Your answer should reflect that you're aware of the company's needs and values. Meanwhile, your tone should register as articulate, confident, and prepared.
Do try to avoid sounding robotic. It’s hard, but not impossible. Even if you’re the nervous type.
Introducing yourself during an interview is a lot like introducing yourself on your resume. Read our guide: "How to Write a Resume Summary: 21 Best Examples You Will See"
How to Prepare for the Tell Me About Yourself Interview Question
To talk about your professional self, you’ll need to do two things.
First, you’ll need to identify your greatest professional achievements.
Second, you’ll need to tailor your accomplishments to the needs of the company.
So, what are your greatest achievements? Ask yourself:
- Have you ever accomplished anything at work that you can illustrate with numbers? (Good examples are earning money, cutting costs, or improving efficiency.)
- Can you think of accomplishments that demonstrate how well you use a skill?
- Was there a time when your boss praised you?
- Did you ever win an award or receive a promotion?
Note, you do not have to take your examples from your job experience.
If you have little or no work experience, you can take examples and success stories from anywhere.
Are you a student or fresh graduate? Your achievements can include success stories from your extracurricular activities. You can also talk about awards and honors you received at school.
Let’s say you’re a professional with a stretch of long-term unemployment. Or you’re a career changer, and your success stories are unique to a different industry.
It’s more than okay to refer to success stories from jobs you had a long time ago. Your tell me about yourself answer can span your entire career.
You can also talk about your achievements at the jobs you held in different industries.
The point of the exercise is to identify your achievements. You’ll narrow them down later. You can write down as many as you can think of now.
Once you have a master list of your top achievements, go back and take a long look at your job description. Underline all the skills and requirements listed. Where do you exceed the requirements?
Here’s an example of a job description for a Product Marketing Manager:
Notice the keywords underlined in the job description:
- Strong analytical skills.
- Can optimize the use of data and information to uncover customer insight.
- Can provide strong evidence-based analyses that build brand equity and a differential advantage.
- Customer Focused
- Can develop and sustain positive relationships to obtain customer insight.
- Strong communication skills (verbal and written).
- Can coordinate information and requirements with related operational departments.
- Proactive in identifying needs/issues.
- Can employ effective solutions in a timely manner.
- Detailed and action oriented.
There are a million possibilities here for your tell me about yourself sample answer.
The candidate could choose a success story based on communication. She could talk about the time she developed a relationship that gave her insight.
Now, look back at your master list of achievements. You’ll want to circle those that match the qualities you find in your job offer.
The next step is to choose a couple that you feel strongest about and use the STAR approach to illustrate them.
The STAR approach is an interview technique that helps you keep your answers on the right track.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
Situation - You start by explaining a situation which required you to solve a problem, use a skill, or come up with a new idea.
Task - Next, you explain the action that your job requires in such a situation.
Action - After, you describe the action that you took. If it’s different than the required task, you should also explain why you chose a different path.
Result - What happened in the end? How did the situation play out once you acted? It’s best here to illustrate successes with numbers and details if you can. Numbers help reinforce the impact that your action had.
Here’s an example of our Product Marketing Manager candidate’s achievements:
Can coordinate information and requirements with related operational departments.
Strong communication skills (verbal and written).
So, tell me about yourself.
Situation - As a Marketing Manager at XYZ Company, I am required to coordinate projects with the IT department. We create a lot of audiovisual marketing materials.
Task - At the beginning of the year, I received a budget and a list of projects. I had to figure out how to complete every project on the list within budget.
Action - I held a meeting with the IT department to discuss tech solutions that might save money. I then discussed the situation with my marketing team. I sent cross-departmental communications calibrating the tech solutions with the team’s talents.
Result - Under my leadership, we completed 15 audiovisual projects under budget in 2015. The projects covered a range of initiatives, but three also helped increase sales by 10%.
Okay, great start! But how do you know which achievements will impress the hiring manager the most?
The tell me about yourself interview question gives you the opportunity to show the interviewer you’re on the same page. If you do a little bit of research, you can prioritize your achievements.
That’s why you’ll want to research the company. Go online. Check out the company’s website, social media profiles, blog, and recent media mentions.
Do you get a sense of what the company finds valuable?
You can also go to LinkedIn and have a look at people who have a similar job title as the one on your job description. What kind of achievements do they list?
Now, go back to your master list. Do any of the achievements you circled match company values? Are they common accomplishments listed by professionals on LinkedIn?
Yes? Then select the top two to mention as part of your answer.
Pro Tip: Don’t start your answer by asking, “Well, what do you want to know?”
Some of you might say that’s not true. You’ve asked for clarification before, and it was okay. But it’s risky.
As mentioned above, part of what the hiring manager is trying to find out is if you can answer questions on the fly.
Want more examples of professional achievements? These examples aren't just for resumes. Read our guide: "Achievements to Put on a Resume - Complete Guide (+30 Examples)"
How to Respond With the Perfect Three-part Tell Me About Yourself Answer
Your response should only last a couple of minutes. It’s not the time for a Shakespearean monolog or a recitation of your resume.
Give the interviewer a taste of the good stuff right away. Who are you as a professional and what are you doing right now?
I am a professional tiger wrestler. I wrestled the biggest Siberian Tigers for the opening act at the Awesome and Dangerous Circus.
And don’t be modest. You wrestled tigers. Big tigers. Big dangerous tigers. So, don’t say that you cuddle kittens.
I am a tiger wrestler. That means that I take big cats and I sort of get on their backs. Then when I get on their backs, I have this technique where I grab their fur. When I grab their fur, it gives them a signal. It’s not a cuddly signal, but an Alpha Male signal, you know what I mean? Then I do this other technique...
Your tell me about yourself answer should be a brief elevator pitch of your professional self. Like your resume summary.
Part One - Your Professional Persona
I am a Copywriter with 5+ years of experience working for large advertising companies. I’ve worked with clients including Pfizer, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson.
It’s good to tell the hiring manager how long you’ve been working and for whom. At this point, it’s also not a bad idea to name drop if you can. Of course, never mention confidential clients.
Part Two - What Makes you Stand Out (2-4 points)
Here’s where your achievements and past success stories come into play. Use the examples you’ve come up with to illustrate the skills and value you’ll bring to the position.
Don’t forget to use the STAR approach when answering the tell me about yourself interview question.
I am highly dedicated and ambitious. Every time I start a new campaign, I aim to win an award or nomination. Of course, my ultimate goal is to please the client. But the fact that I aim high has resulted in at least 20 industry awards and nominations.
For example, I once led a project for a client who was sure that he didn’t want to add digital media to his campaign budget. He wasn’t behind the times, but he was sure that his client-base was. My Creative Director asked that I get the client on board. So, I created some samples, and I put together a presentation. I set out to show the client that he was missing an entire demographic of untapped customers.
He was sold. He added digital media to his campaign budget making my boss happy. The work I put into the digital campaign to impress the client was above and beyond what we normally do. The result was two Cannes Lions awards.
Situation - Client didn’t want digital.
Task- Get the client to add digital to his budget.
Action - Went above and beyond to create samples and a presentation for the client.
Result- Client decided to add digital to his budget and the work won two awards.
- Here you will want to tailor your tell me about yourself answer to the job and the company. Which of your achievements will match those listed in the job description?
Part Three - Why You’re Going to Fit
It’s here that you’ll want to stress that the position is in line with your plans and career goals. It’s also a good idea to make it sound like you’re interested in staying on for awhile.
While I enjoyed my previous work, it was commercial. It’s a dream of mine to do work for nonprofit clients. Your company has done some amazing work for nonprofit and NGO clients and I’d love to switch gears. That’s why I applied for this position.
The candidate has done their homework and is familiar with the company. Plus, the hiring manager knows it won’t bore the candidate to switch environments. This is how you answer the tell me about yourself interview question.
The story of your life.
Well, I was born a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Get it? Nah, I was born in 1990. In Michigan. When I was a child, my mom said I ate so much that she couldn’t buy me clothes that fit. I was a toddler with a Britney Spears midriff through the end of the 90’s. That’s how I got competitive. The other kids used to pick on me, so I got superb at coming up with comebacks. Now, I’m a great writer. I’m highly competitive. And I’m a winner.
Don’t do it. It’s not smart. You’re at a job interview.
Okay, you've aced your interview. But what's next? You need to send a thank you email. Here's how to write one: "How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview (+10 Examples)"
BONUS: Struggling with job interview anxiety? We've got you covered. Download our FREE ultimate checklist Things You Need To Do Before, During, And After Your Big Interview and make sure you come out on top.
The last step is to rehearse your answers. Don’t waste a lot of time memorizing them. Remember, you don’t want to sound like C3PO.
Once you’ve done that, you’re sure to deliver a satisfactory response to the tell me about yourself interview question.
Everyone gets nervous during interviews.But now you know how to tell the hiring manager about yourself. And now, you’ll never have to dread the initial request again.
Still not sure what to say about your professional life during an interview? We can help! Leave a comment and we will help you find out how best to introduce yourself during an interivew.
“Tell me about yourself” interview samples
September 23, 2006 at 5:55 amDee
Posted by Dee
It occurred to me yesterday that when I gave guidelines for responding to the quintessential interview question of “tell me about yourself” I failed to actually give an example of the answering strategy put into action.
So, here are three different examples of how to answer the query.
Model 1: Activity-geared answer
(This would be for students who participated in some really unique extracurricular activities that they’d like to focus their interview on.)
Interviewer: So, Dee, tell me about yourself.
Dee: Well, just to start off generally, I’m a senior at Somewhere High School, and in addition to academics, throughout high school I was really involved in three (or two) activities that I really enjoy and spend a lot of time on. First, I am really involved in music. I played the tuba in our high school band, and by senior year, now I’m drum major. Second, I’m really active with local politics. I interned for our state’s senator whose offices are located in my city, and I learned so much researching issues for the campaign. Also, I’m an avid soccer player. I’ve been playing since I was five, and I was really excited when I was voted team captain of our club team last year.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s great. Tell me more about being drum major. What does that involve…?
Other follow-up questions to expect:
What does being a drum major involve? What are your responsibilities? What’s your leadership style? What campaign issues did you research? What was the most interesting learning experience you had while working for the state senator? What surprised you about politics during your internship? How do you as soccer team captain handle a loss? How do you motivate your team?
Model 2: Personal traits answer
(This would be for students who want to be really general about themselves.)
Interviewer: So, Dee, tell me about yourself.
Dee: Sure. Well, I’m now a senior at Somewhere High School. I’m a really energetic person whose a real self-starter. What I mean by self-starter is that in the past I’ve loved being independent and taking on new projects and developing my fresh ideas. For example, last year I started an Internet-based company that sells cookie recipes and the site has increased in traffic by 20% since three months ago. But, sometimes I’m also more introverted too, and enjoy just reading and writing, and painting as well.
Follow-up questions to expect:
Tell me about your company? What has been your biggest success thus far? Your biggest failure? What did you learn from that? What are your goals for the future with your business? Do you see yourself continuing with that through college? What’s your favorite book, and why? What style or what genre or what form of writing do you do? What do you paint? Do you take classes or are you self-taught? What piece of work are you most proud of?
Model 3: Background information answer
(This would be for students who have particularly interesting personal or family backgrounds.)
Interviewer: So, Dee, tell me about yourself.
Dee: I just started my senior year at Somewhere High School. Actually though, I wasn’t always in standard schools. When I was younger, my mom was in the military so I spent most of my childhood on military bases going to school with other military kids. It was a really interesting way to grow up because we were moving around a lot, so it was really new and exciting for me to start school at sort of a standard, American high school. My mom was actually inspired to join the military because of her father, who was a general. And, by seeing my mom work in so many different countries, she’s really inspired me in what I want to study in college too.
Follow-up questions to expect:
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome? What skills or qualities did you gain from your experiences? How have you learned from that experience? How has your experience shaped who you are today and what goals you have for the future? Who’s your role model? What’s your family’s background?
Note that these CAN and should be tweaked to fit your own personal needs. These are just the samples for the three styles that I think are best to answer the quintessential “tell me about yourself” question. For more about this interview-starter, refer to the post, “Ah, the quintessential ‘tell me about yourself.'”
Entry filed under: Athletics, Band, Books, Business, High school, Interview questions, Interviews, Leadership, Military, Reading, Sports, Tips/Tricks, Writing.
By the way, Cornell’s thinking about joining Princeton & Harvard tooLearn to like reply cards