You sit down for your job interview. The hiring manager smiles and says, “So tell me about yourself.”
Seems like a simple way to ease into the interview by making small talk.
Don’t be fooled.
Often your answer to this question sets the tone for the rest of the interview.
You should have your reply dialed into perfection.
We can help with that.
In this article, you’ll learn how to answer “Tell me about yourself” in the most effective way for you. No matter your level of experience.
We’ll also share strong and weak sample answers so you can go into your next interview knowing you have this answer in the bag.
Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?
Interviewers are likely to ask this question for a couple reasons:
1. Team fit is important to overall success.
Whether intuitive or researched, interviewers know that team members who get along all perform better.
2. Hiring the wrong person is expensive (and painful).
The Interviewer’s Mindset
You might be wondering:
Should I have a spectacular answer to this question?
To answer this best, let’s jump into the interviewer’s mindset for a moment:
Interviewers talk to multiple candidates for one role. They typically engage with you amid a busy work day and realistically may be fighting mental distraction during your interview.
In other words:
You need to make an impression on them with your limited time.
Clearly illustrate how your values, skills, and interests align with the role you’re going for at their specific company.
And be consistent about it. You’ll likely be interviewed by multiple people (all of them just as busy as the next).
No matter whether it’s the first or last person you speak with, you want every interviewer walking away with the same impression:
That you’re the right fit for the job.
Common Mistakes When Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
Don’t kick off your interview with one of these classic blunders:
- Undersharing or underselling
It might be tempting to give a short, flat answer to this question. After all, you’re anxious to get to other parts of the interview that you’ve been rehearsing.
Don’t give into that urge!
This is your time for your elevator pitch. So show up prepared to shine a light on who you are and how it’s relevant to the specific company you’re interviewing at.
- Getting Too Personal
Even though “tell me about yourself” can be a conversation-starter in a casual environment, this is still an interview.
Here’s the rule of thumb:
Steer clear from conversation about your personal life unless you feel like it’s relevant to your shared values. Or your ability to perform in the role you’re being considered for.
- Rambling / Unfocused
A lot of us tend to talk more when we’re nervous. If this is you, then commit to the following:
Make a script for your interview and stick to it.
Rambling makes you come across as unprepared. So be concise to leave the maximum first impression.
Talking too much can lead to the opposite of mistake number one above: oversharing. Then the interviewer might ask follow-up questions about things that you didn’t mean to share, like prior workplace drama.
How to Structure Your Answer: Best, Good, and Bad Examples
Now that we’ve covered the interviewer’s perspective and common mistakes, it’s time to look at some real examples of how to answer the “tell me about yourself” question. We’ll also comment on what makes each answer great (or not so great):
I moved to Seattle three years ago from Arizona for the mountains and to pursue my passion for digital marketing at a local start-up. Being in a fast-paced environment where I was able to make a meaningful impact on the business through process improvement really solidified for me that digital marketing was the right career path for me. I love companies that focus on leaving a small environmental footprint, which I can tell is also important to your team. It’s really something that drew me to this open position. I’m excited by the thought of contributing my skills to this team!
Why is this a great example?
- It shows some personality through details about the relocation to Seattle but does not share too much.
- The candidate also demonstrates how her experience could be applied to the role to further the company’s mission.
- Lastly, she draws a clear line from her own values to that of the organization’s.
I’m a Chicago native and am interested in this opportunity because it seems like the perfect fit for my skill set. I really like graphic design and have a couple years’ experience as a freelancer working with clients. I could see myself working on your team because it seems like a great place to work and the benefits look incredible.
Why is this just a good example?
- The candidate draws a direct connection from his experience to the role.
- Where this answer falls short is in passion and values. If the candidate expressed his passion for graphic design more and described how this is a growth opportunity for him, that would improve the depth of the answer.
I found this job online and decided to apply because it seemed interesting, and things at my current employer seem a little uncertain. They’re laying off a lot of people right now, so I wanted to see what other options are out there. As you can see from my resume, my skills would be a good fit for this role, and so it would be great to learn more about the position and company to see what you’re looking for.
Why is this a weak example?
- Firstly, because the candidate overshares about the situation at her current employer. Even if it’s honest, it comes across as lacking passion for the role she’s applying for.
- That leads to another problem: She never expresses why she wants this job at all.
- Lastly, this candidate also relies too much on her resume to do the talking for her. A resume is a way for employers to learn more about a person before they interview her, but a successful candidate brings the text alive in a conversation.
What If You Have No Experience?
You might be surprised that your passion and unpaid experiences can truly make you a competitive candidate.
Volunteer positions, skill-building events, and unpaid internships are all ways to bolster your experience, even if it didn’t carry a similar job title or come with a paycheck.
Here’s an example of a great answer when you have no direct experience:
I have been passionate about technology for several years. I used to spend my spare time on weekends coding apps. Once I got into college, I attended hackathons where I collaborated with other developers on campus. Having a team I could work with was one of my favorite parts of our hackathons, and from my research it seems like your company values collaboration, too. I would be excited to learn from others around me and contribute my skills and perspective to your team’s efforts!
Why is this a good example?
- It illustrates how the candidate is self-motivated and has been applying relevant skills for several years.
- It also showcases the candidate’s ability to work together with others.
- Both of these qualities in combination with the candidate’s background make for a desirable candidate.
What If You Are Changing Industries?
If you’re changing industries, it’s important to come in with an honest, forward-facing attitude. Concisely explaining why you’re making this change and showing how this new endeavor is a positive change will set the proper context and can even be inspirational.
Here’s what a solid answer could sound like:
Until recently, I was in a customer service role for an enterprise cell phone company where I learned how to interact with a wide array of people under stress. I realized through that role that I am extremely passionate about helping others and wanted to make an impact in the field of medicine. After getting my certification in phlebotomy, I couldn’t be more ready to jump back into full-time employment. Your facility seems like an organization dedicated to providing top-quality, holistic care to its patients, which is of utmost importance to me as well. I’m excited by the possibility of making a difference on your team!
What makes this a strong answer?
- It spends most of the time speaking to what the interviewer needs to hear most: that this is a qualified, passionate candidate.
- The background is helpful, but this candidate doesn’t spend any extra time elaborating on it because it’s irrelevant.
Practice—Whether You’re Job Searching or Not
You never know what opportunities will arise by having an engaging answer to a “tell me about yourself” type of question.
Whether you’re actively networking or get an unplanned introduction to someone at a company you’re interested in, having your elevator pitch ready can open doors to the career you’re dreaming of.
Take this information, craft your answer, and try it out whenever you can.
It might get you more places than you realize!