The “tell me about yourself” interview question is more of a statement than a question. But, when you hear it, you know what comes next: it’s time to tell the interviewer all about you.
In some respects, this interview question is similar to college application essay prompts that ask, “Why this major?” or “Why this school?” And, much like those essay answers, telling the interviewer about yourself should be short and focused.
This is the first time you’re making an in-person impression on the interviewer, so you have to make it count. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about telling your professional story in an interview, including:
- Why ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Is an Interview Question
- How to Answer the Interview Question ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
- Sample Answers
Why ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Is an Interview Question
“Tell me about yourself” is usually the first question in any interview — phone interview, Zoom interview, in-person. And because you know it’s coming, telling the interviewer about yourself is relatively easy to prepare for. But as you craft your answer, it’s important to understand why the hiring manager is asking this incredibly common interview question.
“Tell me about yourself” is a straightforward interview question. The hiring manager assumes you know it’s something they’ll ask, so they expect you’ll have a prepared answer. And there’s nothing wrong with this because it gives you a chance to warm up and get comfortable chatting with the interviewer.
Likewise, it helps the interviewer form an initial impression about you. And if you’re the fourth person they’ve met that day, starting here helps them ease into another interview.
However, while this question is routine, it’s not something you can or should improvise or show up unprepared for. The interviewer expects you to have a clear and concise answer and uses this warm-up question to assess how prepared you are.
Do you seem comfortable talking about yourself or speaking to a total stranger? Do you ramble, say “um” a lot, and don’t maintain eye contact? How well you do or don’t tackle this question will leave an impression on the hiring manager and set the tone for the rest of the interview.
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Other Ways to Say, ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
Though “tell me about yourself” is the most common way hiring managers ask this interview question, there are many other ways to phrase it, such as:
- Walk me through your resume.
- Tell me a little bit more about your background.
- Can you tell me more about your experience?
- What should I know about you that isn’t on your resume?
- Tell me about your professional journey.
It’s equally important to note that while “tell me about yourself” and other variations are usually the first question, they can pop up at any time throughout your interview.
How to Answer the Interview Question ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
Because this is an open-ended question, there’s no one right way to answer. Everyone has a different story to tell, giving you the option of highlighting whatever you think the interviewer should know about you to help convince them to hire you.
As Amira Hernandez, assistant director of career services at Oxford College of Emory University notes, “It is an opportunity to make a professional pitch about who you are, where you are coming from, and what makes you well-suited for the position.” She advises job seekers to consider three things when preparing their answer: “Know your audience, tailor your story to that audience, and be concise in your presentation.”
Keeping that in mind, here’s how to answer “tell me about yourself.”
Past, Present, Future
One way to frame your answer is using the past, present, future formula. “Tell your interviewer how you got to where you are. This could mean past jobs, volunteering, or educational experiences. Tell them about where you are now — your current job or the thing that is purposefully occupying your time. Then your goal(s) for the future,” says Hernandez.
Alternatively, you could decide present, past, future is a better way to present your professional story. Start with where you are now, how you got there, and where you want to go. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine the correct beginning, middle, and end of your answer, but this formula can help you create a coherent story of who you are as a professional and what your future career plans are.
Relate It to the Role
One important trick that can help you answer the question is to relate the future part of your answer to the job you’re interviewing for. “This can be key as your interviewer is likely assessing whether or not you will be a good fit for the organization’s culture as much as they are assessing the skills that you have to contribute,” says Hernandez.
So, when you’re discussing the future part of your answer, explain what you’re looking for in your next role or organization. You don’t need to quote the job description. But your answer should be specific enough that the employer understands how the job fits into your career plans.
For example, instead of saying, “I’m looking for a role in an inbound call center assisting as many as 30 customers a day,” try saying, “I’m looking for a role in a fast-paced environment that allows me to develop my customer service skills.”
Short and Sweet
You might have a lot of interesting information to share with the hiring manager. And much of it may even be relevant to your professional story. However, your interview probably has a time limit, and it may not make sense to spend 15 minutes telling the interviewer about yourself — depending on the length of the overall interview, five minutes may even be too long. After all, the interviewer has your resume, possibly your cover letter, and has likely reviewed your LinkedIn profile.
With all that information available, there’s no need to give a long or excessively detailed answer. Instead, keep your answer short, relevant to the role, and professionally focused. If you’re not sure where to start or how to condense all of your professional history, consider using your elevator pitch or a slightly expanded version of it to help construct your answer.
Give yourself a few practice runs saying the answer out loud while timing yourself. You may discover that you can cover everything you need in about 30 seconds. If you go a little over, that’s fine, but consider trimming your answer if you go over the two-minute mark.
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Keep It Fresh
Hernandez also advises job seekers to keep their answers fresh. “The invitation to ‘tell me about yourself’ is NOT an opportunity to narrate your resume.”
Instead, tell the interviewer about things that aren’t on your resume or expand on points that are. For example, you could talk about a part of your work history that’s not on your resume but is relevant to the role. Or you could talk about an accomplishment at your current job that allowed you to develop a strength, and now you’re looking for a new position that lets you build that strength even more.
Stay on Topic
While practicing your answer and timing it will help you keep the answer brief, it’s equally crucial to be focused. Remember to stay on topic and avoid including extra details that, while interesting, could make it sound like you are rambling.
For example, you may have enjoyed ice skating as a child, which fueled your passion for sports medicine. It’s fine to talk about that in the interview. However, you don’t want to talk about how you started ice skating when you were five and discovered a passion for it, but your parents weren’t so sure about it, and you had to beg them to take you, and you even devoted all of your allowance to help pay for skate rentals.
While that’s an interesting story and does help explain your passion, it’s a lot of irrelevant information. These details could overwhelm the interviewer and cause them to tune out. Or it could make them think you’re nervous and unprepared.
Always Stay Positive
Finally, keep your answer positive. While some of your professional history may have some negative moments (everyone’s does), it’s important not to include these in any of your interview answers.
Bad things sometimes happen, but it’s critical not to dwell on this in an interview. So, if you left your last job because your manager was toxic, omit that detail. It may have played a massive role in who you are as a professional and why you’re on your current path (the past and present parts of your answer), but the specific details are not relevant for telling the hiring manager about yourself. Instead, you could say, “I left my last role because the company’s goals didn’t align with mine, so I’m looking for something that’s mission-focused.”
That’s a lot of information, but to help you answer “tell me about yourself,” here are a few sample answers.
I’ve always loved animals. When I was a kid, I ran a veterinary clinic for stuffed animals in my basement. I’ve never wavered from my dream of working with animals, but when I got to college, I learned that vet medicine was not the right career path for me. I transitioned to a marketing major and am now looking for my first job that lets me work in my major and help animals.
My first job was in customer service. Honestly, I was not cut out for wearing a headset and working in a noisy call center. I left that role and went into account management. While that was a much better fit, I miss helping people. And while I don’t want to go back to a call center, working at this nonprofit would allow me to get back to helping people, but in an entirely different capacity.
I majored in accounting. I’ve always loved numbers, but I’ve found that accounting is a really good fit for me because it’s so much more than adding and subtracting. In my internship, I discovered that I enjoy helping clients save on their taxes and planning their financial futures. I’m looking for my first full-time role as an accountant, so I can learn more about the industry and do something I’m passionate about.
Get prepped for more interview questions:
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- What Are Your Career Goals? How to Answer This Interview Question
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