It’s only a matter of time during a job interview before someone says, “So tell me about yourself.” It should be a breeze, right? After all, no one knows your past experience better than yourself. But it happens to be one of the interview questions job seekers bomb the most. You say too much or too little, you forget crucial information about your professional background while including a bunch of useless details. It’s time to forgo improvisation and develop a clear, concise answer.
By preparing your backstory, you’ll be ready to show interviewers your unique personality along with the strengths of your qualifications. Continue reading for advice on timing, content and presentation.
As with all components of the hiring process, the point of “tell me about yourself” is to evaluate your potential at the company. Carolyn Gray explains, “It’s important to remember that although the question is definitely about you, it’s also about why you’re a good fit for the position.” With this in mind, your answer should detail experiences relevant to the position you’re applying for and highlight you as the perfect candidate.
If you think this question is tricky, you’re not alone. “I find this to be the most difficult question of all interview questions,” says Aurora Meneghello of Repurpose Your Purpose. But the key to answering it well lies not just in describing your personal self, but also your professional self.
One popular trick used to answer this question is to tell the story of how you came to be where you are now. For example, how you first became interested in writing, how that interest manifested itself in your education and work experiences and then how that experience makes you a good fit for the current job.
Your answer to “tell me about yourself” should go on for no more than a couple minutes — written out, the statement will be several sentences. Reciting your story from rote memory isn’t necessary, but you should know the starting and ending statement for each experience you want to discuss in order to stay on track. This will keep you focused and prevent rambling, and serve as breadcrumbs for your interviewer to follow your story.
Finding an employee who can fit well into a team is a must have for most employers. Using “we” shows you are ready to work collaboratively and are interested in the success of you AND your colleagues.
Supporting your tales of success with data and numbers is a great way to showcase your achievements, and provides the interviewer with measurable results of your work.
Even if you’re not applying to a senior or management role, interviewers love to hear about a time you’ve led a team or project. Leadership demonstrates commitment and that if need be, you’re not afraid to take the wheel.
“I’ve never done this job before.”
Just because you’re entering into a new position or field doesn’t make your past experience irrelevant. Think of what lessons and valuable skills you’ve learned from your previous work that could be applicable as opposed to focusing on your lack of specific experience.
“I’ll do anything.”
While intended to show your flexibility and dedication to the company, the phrase comes off a bit too strong to the interviewer, and also undermines the time and energy you’ve devoted to explaining why you’re qualified in your particular field.
If you’re a continual Glassdoor reader, you already know our disapproval for the word “synergy.” It’s vague, outdated and all around cringey, and it’s past due for us to remove it from our professional vocabularies.
Once you’ve crafted your career story, you want to deliver it in a way that will maximize its impact. Glassdoor writer Rusty Rueff explains the key to a compelling answer: “Of the thousands of interviews I have conducted in my career, I can tell you that few of those [tell me about yourself] stories stand out. And why don’t they? It’s because they are not told as stories.” Just because your story is in a professional context doesn’t mean you should take on a flat, unemotional voice. Allowing your passion to shine through as you discuss where you’ve been and what you enjoy about your work will demonstrate your commitment to and interest in your field.
When speaking, be conscious of how you appear to your audience — we pick up on body language much more than we assume. Eye contact conveys confidence and directness, and keeping your eyes on the interviewer will clue you into whether they’re interested or bored by your response.
As you talk, make sure to pace yourself. Don’t race through your accomplishments — deliver your answer at a relaxed tempo. If you forget what is suppose to come next, don’t panic! It’s fine to pause and take a moment to collect yourself.
With your career story in hand, you’re set to ace your next job interview. Read the articles below to learn more about interview preparation and other aspects of the hiring process.