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.
By Jeff Gillis
Talking about yourself should be the easiest thing to do.
After all, who knows you better than…
But for some strange reason, nearly every interviewer can agree that giving a good answer to the question “Tell Me About Yourself” during a job interview can be one of the toughest and most stressful things to do.
But what is it about this seemingly simple question that is such a thorn in your side?
Well, it can come down to a few things.
Why are they asking this?
What are they looking for in my answer?
What is the best strategy for giving them what they want?
As these questions start to mount inside your brain, it’s likely that your level of stress is growing along with them, and that doesn’t make for the most comfortable of job interviews.
And if you aren’t comfortable, chances are the hiring manager can sense it and we all know what that means…
Bye bye job offer! (gulp)
But it doesn’t have to be this hard. In fact, this article will show you that answering this question can actually be an easy (and even pleasant!) experience.
Because what this unique question really is, is an opportunity for you to take control of the interview and position yourself as the perfect candidate for the job.
Before we go any further grab the cheat sheet below:
Why Do Hiring Managers Ask The Tell Me About Yourself Interview Question Anyway?
So why do hiring managers ask this question?
Do they really want to get to know you better?
Are their lives really so boring and wrapped up in work that they’re forced to ask these questions in order to live vicariously through their prospective employees?
Unless you’re a former race car driver who jet sets all across the globe and only dates blindingly attractive people and spends your weekends curing cancer and saving babies, I’m going to have to say no…
…they’re probably not vicariously living your life through your answer.
In fact, there are two much more practical reasons why hiring managers ask this question:
- They want to see how you react to a question asked casually and without structure
- They want to get a feel for what you deem to be “important”
How To Answer An “Unstructured” Interview Question
Here’s the deal.
A good interview candidate always prepares before she (or he) goes in for an interview. She does her research. She works on her resume and cover letter.
She runs through hundreds if not thousands of practice interview questions and refines her answers until they’re tailored, precise, and perfect…and interviewers know this.
They’re not stupid…that’s why they’re the ones doing the interviews!
Their job is to find the perfect candidate and weed out the less than ideal matches…and it’s a tough job, especially when faced with hundreds of candidates who have all worked equally hard.
So a “casual” or unstructured question is one that’s meant to throw you off your game and break you free from the memorized answers.
Rather than simply parroting back something you’ve studied for hours, you’re being called on to speak freely and off the cuff.
But why would they want to throw you off your game?
Well, chances are the position they are hiring for is going to require the candidate to make some decisions and think on his/her feet.
Anyone can prepare for a situation that they know is coming, much like anyone can prepare for an interview question that they know is coming.
By asking an unstructured question like this the hiring manager is able to get a good idea of your ability to think and adapt on the fly.
What Do You Think Is Important?
So we’ve established that thinking on the fly is important.
But even more importantly, by asking this question the hiring manager also wants to see which information you think is important to offer up relative to the position you are interviewing for.
In leaving the question somewhat opened and unstructured, the hiring manager is trying to get a sense of whether or not you truly understand which experiences, skills and abilities are relevant for the position you are interviewing for. (This is key!)
If you focus on things that the company puts a lot of value in, BINGO!
You pass the test.
But if you just regurgitate the stuff you’ve already mentioned in your cover letter and resume, chances are the interview will be over before it has even started.
How you answer this question can reveal more about who you really are than you can ever possibly imagine…which means it’s a potential land mine…or a potential springboard to success.
So how does one answer this question? The best way to understand this is to first talk about the common mistakes made by most job seekers.
Okay, so as you might have guessed, this is one of the job interview questions that most people get wrong. So in order to ensure you don’t end up as one of these people, let’s take a look at the most common mistakes that people make:
1) Regurgitate Your Cover Letter and Resume
I touched on this in the section above. This is not an invitation for you to simply list off your past accomplishments.
Yes, it’s important for you to highlight moments in your past when you were successful, but the real power lies in highlighting the accomplishments that are most relevant to this specific position (more on this in a minute).
2) Telling Your Life Story
This is probably the most common mistake that people make. Why? Because it’s the easiest way to answer this question.
“Well, I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. I was born in 1983 and spent most of my childhood hunched over a piano, striving to become a concert pianist (which I now am). I love the outdoors – I’m and avid skier and mountain biker. I really love working with my hands and spent a lot of my time in the woodwork shop.”
Look. It’s great to share your personality with others. But save it for after you get hired.
3) “Well, What Do You Want To Know?”
Congratulations. You just lost the job.
Because an answer like this tells an interviewer that you’re unprepared (yes, unprepared for an unstructured question. It’s not fair…but then again, neither is life…).
4) The 10-Minute Monologue
Speaking of unfair…don’t go off on a ten minute monologue all about you.
Keep it short. A minute. 90 seconds at most.
There are going to be a lot more questions coming down the pipe that will allow you to elaborate on your various experiences, skills and accomplishments. Don’t feel like you have to answer all of them at once.
How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” The RIGHT Way
Okay, so now that you have an idea of what you shouldn’t do, let’s dig a little deeper into exactly how you should answer this tough job interview question.
So what is the most important thing to remember?
Well, according to research conducted by Marc Cenedella over at the Ladders, the consensus of career coaches that he asked about how best to respond this question begins with one specific point:
“Focus on what most interests the interviewer.”
Does that make sense? You don’t want to focus on what is best about you, you want to focus on what you are going to do to fulfill the needs of the company you are interviewing with.
We here at The Interview Guys Headquarters would have to strongly agree! Which is why we are always harping on our catchphrase:
“It’s not about you, it’s about them.”
What does this mean? You need to customize (or tailor) your response to the question to the needs of the organization.
So now you have to find a way to do this clearly and concisely.
Use The “Tailoring Method”
Now we won’t get into the real meat and potatoes of the Tailoring Method in this article (but you should definitely read the in-depth discussion of this over in our article Job Interview Questions and Answers 101).
But here’s the Cliff Notes for the Tailoring Method:
Your company has a specific (and predetermined) set of skills and abilities that the candidate they are going to hire needs to have in order to do the job to their standards. We like to call these Qualities.
So in terms of Tell Me About Yourself, while it is important to talk about all of the Qualities that you think you have, what’s actually much more important is that you show that you possess the Qualities that they want.
But how do you find the Qualities they want and how do you incorporate them into your answers? (Again, we break it all down in the article linked to above, so go check it out and then come back to see how it applies to Tell Me About Yourself answer examples).
How To Structure Your Answer
Okay, so you understand that you need to “tailor” your response to the company and position you are interviewing for by emphasizing the Qualities that they desire in their perfect candidate.
But how exactly do you do that for Tell Me About Yourself?
The best way to do it is to provide a Success Story that highlights the Quality that you are trying to demonstrate.
A Success Story is an example from your past work experience that clearly demonstrates you succeeding in some way.
For example, a time that you solved a problem, excelled in a difficult situation or used a certain skill to get the job done.
You still need to be careful to answer the question. Because the actual question isn't "Tell Me About A Time That You Were Successful." So start out by giving a quick recap of your employment history and how that's led up to where you are now. But then transition into your success story by saying something like "But the best way to emphasize who I am and what I'm about is reflected in this story...".
Tell Me About Yourself Sample Answer
For the purposes of this answer, let’s say that you’d done your company research and found out that the Quality the company puts a lot of value in is elevated customer service.
Okay so let’s get into an example answer:
Nice. You’re starting by answering the question directly, and keeping the answer business focused as well as targeted…and you’ve slipped in there that you’re trained on a variety of different programs which, depending on what they are, can make you an even more valuable candidate.
Excellent. You’ve highlighted the Quality (underlined) that the company puts a lot of value in, and used a Success Story from your past to support your claim that you have the quality. Time to bring it home…
And there you have it…the perfect wrap up. You’ve brought your little story back around to where you are now and what you hope to accomplish with this job. You’ve kept your stories not only professional, but focused and tailored to help reinforce what you’re ultimately trying to do.
But What If I Don’t Have Any Experience!?
But what if I don’t have a super awesome story like that? What if I’m still new-ish at this whole job thing and my stories aren’t as impressive?
Just because you don’t have a super awesome story like the one above doesn’t mean you aren’t still a super awesome individual able to bring both professional and personal skills to the table that would make any employer sit up and take notice.
Here’s the deal…
More often than not, the company cares more about your ability to fulfill their needs than it does about what you did for another company.
Sure, it helps that your Success Story refers to practical on-job experience, but if you don’t have that option you can draw from a different place.
For example, if you are a new graduate you can reference your academic achievements, athletic endeavors, charity and volunteer work.
If you had to work in any kind of group for any activity you can use these experiences as an example.
The fact of the matter is, the hiring manager has seen your resume and would not have brought you in if they didn’t think you had at least some potential to do the job.
So reach back into your past and find some Success Stories to help answer the question.
If you don’t have any experience and want a word-for-word sample answer then Click Here To Download Our “Tell Me About Yourself” Answer “Cheat Sheet”
Help! I’m Changing Industries and My Experience Doesn’t Apply
You might be saying this to yourself, but it really doesn’t matter if you didn’t work in the same industry you are applying to and here’s why…
Through your research of the company you will discover what the Qualities are that they put a lot of value in. It could be leadership, it could be collaboration, or it could be literally any other Quality you come across.
The point is, once you discover what that Quality is, it will determine the Success Story that you pull from your past to help support it.
So whether it is from your last job, or a previous job, or not from a work scenario at all (as stated above; your academics, your athletics, etc.), the Success Story you choose is not always based on work experience.
It’s up to you to find your own Success Story that best supports the Quality they desire.
If you are changing industries and want a word-for-word sample answer then Click Here To Download Our “Tell Me About Yourself” Answer “Cheat Sheet”
Pulling It All Together
Ultimately your goal with how you answer this question is to get the interviewer to see you not as a potential candidate…but as a future employee. An interview is really just a long sales pitch.
You’re selling you and you want the company to buy!
Let’s go back to the first few paragraphs of this blog. People who talk only about themselves are boring. Luckily for us all, you’re not one of those people!
By following what we’ve shown you here, you can take the dreaded question “Tell me about yourself” and turn it into a solid moment within your interview where you can prove again that you’re not only a professional, but you’re perfect for the job!
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"Tell Me About Yourself..."
Well. I’ve been working for the past six years as a systems analyst and data manager. During that time I’ve been trained and certified on a number of different software platforms and systems.
I'd really describe myself as a person with a versatile skill-set, a lot of integrity and a willingness to go the extra mile to satisfy a customer. Perhaps the best way to let you know what I'm about is to share with you a quick experience I had.
Recently while working at a location with a client, they mentioned that they had just purchased some software that I was familiar with but that their computer systems were having some difficulty integrating the program. I offered to take a look at the install and found that there was a step that had somehow been forgotten. I told him I would be happy to wipe the system and reinstall the software correctly. At first the client refused and when I asked him why, he told me that it was too expensive and that they were just going to learn to work around the problem. When I asked him further, he told me a different analyst had been in, looked at the problem, and told them that the files had corrupted their system overall and that it would take at least $25,000 to fix. When I told him it was a simple matter of wiping the previous version and reinstalling it, he was stunned. I did the whole project for a fraction of the cost the other “analyst” had quoted. My client was so happy he referred me to his friends and I’ve done similar work for several other companies in town as a result.
Now I’m looking to take my career to the next level and move out of contract work into a full time employee for a company where I can be a part of a team, but also allows me to focus my energy on my best strength, working directly with customers. I’d like to build a long term career that lets me focus on professional growth.
How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” The Best Way [Powerful Example]4.5 (89.62%) 237 votes
FREE: Tell Me About Yourself PDF "Cheat Sheet"
Ok the next thing you should do is Download our PDF Answer "Cheat Sheet" that gives you "word for word" example answers to this dreaded question.
In it you'll find answers to fit a variety of scenarios including: if you just graduated, have no experience and more!