To help you ace the "Tell me about yourself" question in your next interview, we've gathered nine expert tips from Career Coaches and Counselors. From learning how to use storytelling and practice your answer to differentiating yourself from other candidates, these insights will guide you to make a memorable first impression.
- Use Storytelling and Practice Your Answer
- Follow a Structured Five-Step Approach
- Align Your Personal Journey With the Company's Needs
- Highlight Relevant Strengths and Experience
- Share Professional Stories and Relevant Anecdotes
- Exercise Research-Based Empathy in Your Response
- Provide a Brief Highlight-Summary of Your Experience
- Divide Your Answer into Three Parts
- Differentiate Yourself From Other Applicants
Use Storytelling and Practice Your Answer
"Tell Me About Yourself" is a longer version of the 30-second elevator pitch, with a maximum of two minutes. Inject storytelling and consider who, what, why, where, when, and how in your answer.
Discuss your present job/title/student status/recent graduation and major/degree. Talk about what you are doing—internship, working your way through school. Discuss what you have done and why you are interested in the job and organization, including the skills, experience, accomplishments, and passion you possess that match their needs and requirements and align with the company’s organizational values, goals, and industry. Conclude with why you are interested and examples of how you would be a great fit.
Test your answers with a friend, family member, or counselor, and use a timer—it takes practice! In my experience, I have seen experienced executives go on and on, so be concise and keep it to 2 minutes!
Follow a Structured Five-Step Approach
Don't assume you can improvise the answer. Instead, structure your reply in five steps:
- Keep it professional. I know the question itself might mislead you to go more personally in your reply, but keep it related to your career.
- Start with the present. Summarize your current job title and one recent achievement relevant to the job you are applying for. It's even better if you can mention numbers and percentages.
- Move to the past. Highlight your previous work experience related to the job, powerful examples, and situations aligned with the job description requirements.
- End by talking about the future. Make it clear why you are choosing to apply for this company now and how your career path aligns with that. The clearer this alignment, the better.
- Keep it short. Aim to answer this question in two minutes maximum. It will probably be the first interview question, so there's no need to share everything about your career with only one answer.
Align Personal Journey with Company's Needs
In my experience, the key to answering "Tell me about yourself" effectively lies in your storytelling. My best advice is to share a narrative that aligns with your personal journey and the core values and needs of the company.
It's about adapting your experiences by connecting the dots between your unique story and the specific role so that it’s clear your unique path has naturally led you to this opportunity. This approach will make you more memorable to employers and help you be more connected and engaged in the roles you're applying for.
Highlight Relevant Strengths and Experience
It's a trick question. What they are really saying is, "Tell me, in less than two minutes, how your experience, interests, and expertise would be an asset to our organization and this position."
Rather than walking them through the resume, a candidate should start by saying, "I'd like to share with you the most relevant and critical strengths and experiences that best highlight what I could immediately contribute to your company."
After that introduction, the candidate needs to succinctly explain four to five assets that are aligned with the position description. Then, provide a strong closing statement like, "This underscores why I'd be an immediate value in this position to your company."
Share a Professional Story and Relevant Anecdotes
In an interview, you want to stick to telling your professional story along with some fun anecdotes about yourself.
You could say something like, "I am a dog mom and love to hike. Every job I have worked since I started working has included some element of customer service. In each of my jobs, I offered a friendly attitude, empathy, and kindness to all of my customers and clients."
You could also add specifics from the job description for the job you are applying to that relate to your experience.
Exercise Research-Based Empathy in Your Response
This is a very tricky answer for most job seekers because they don't know how much detail to share from their personal life and professional background. When considering how to respond throughout the job search process, always exercise research-based empathy.
Try to put yourself in the interviewer's place and imagine what they want to know to make the decision they're trying to make. With the simple question of "Tell me about yourself", they're looking for a broad overview of your career and its relevance to the job.
I suggest starting with your current position and then going back to your college degree(s) and listing highlights until you get to the present. End with why you're now excited and qualified to apply for the job.
Provide a Brief Highlight-Summary of Your Experience
The best way to answer "Tell me about yourself" is with a brief highlight-summary of your experience, your education, the value you bring to an employer, and the reason you're looking forward to learning more about this next job and the opportunity to work with them.
Use numbers to quantify how many years of experience you have, or the percentage of growth you created for your previous employer. Know that this is not the time to give them a lengthy laundry list of all that you've done, but to focus on your best qualifications for this job.
When you answer "Tell me about yourself," that's your opportunity to draw them in and intrigue them to want to find out more about you throughout the rest of the interview. Last, always know that your answer to this question is never about your personal life; it's always about who you are as a professional.
Divide Your Answer into Three Parts
The best way to answer "Tell Me About Yourself" is by dividing the question into three parts:
- What you've done in the past.
- What you've done recently.
- What you're looking to do in the future.
The third part is the most important. All too often, job seekers will give a synopsis of their work experience and end with "—so yeah." The key to a successful interview is shifting the interview from being an interrogation to a conversation. To do this, you should always end your answer with a question, and this format lets you do that. So, as you end your answer, throw it back to your interviewer. For example, you can end with, "—so now I'm really looking to grow into a leadership position. Do you have a strong culture here of fostering leadership?"
Differentiate Yourself from Other Applicants
A common mistake students and recent graduates make when interviewing is simply answering the questions presented to them by prospective employers. While it's important to answer your interviewers' questions, you also want to use the conversation as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants.
You can do this from the very beginning when asked, “Can you tell me about yourself?” Rather than simply sharing your major and extracurricular activities, highlight what sets you apart from other candidates.
This might be the fact that you worked in a research lab, studied abroad for a semester, or can speak multiple languages. Importantly, you want to connect the dots between what you share and the job posting language, so it's as easy as possible for the recruiter or hiring manager to envision you succeeding in the role.
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