How to Answer “Tell Me about Yourself” in an Interview

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When you walk into an interview, the first question you are bound to be asked is: “Tell me about yourself.” If you’re not prepared, this question could give you a panic attack right off the bat. The first few minutes of an interview are key, because an employer gets their first impression of you and it sets the tone for the rest of the interview.

Why does an interviewer ask this question?

When you’re asked this, here’s what’s going through your interviewer’s mind:

“Is this going to be a 30-minute or 1-hour interview?”  Think of it like a date. The interviewer should want to learn more about you based on your answer to this first question. Give a succinct, relevant summary of who you are and why you are applying for this job. Be positive.

“Is she a good fit?” This is difficult to prepare for without insider knowledge. But if you’ve done research (as you should in advance), you may be able to show how you fit with the company culture.

“Do I want to work with this person?” This is subjective. If you’re going to hit it off, you will. If there is no chemistry between you and the interviewer, do your best to prove that you are right for the job.

“Why does this person really want to work here and how long will they stay?” Tell your interviewer why you are there, and not just because “Google is a tech company and I want to get into tech” or “Zappos is growing, and that’s so exciting to me.” Come up with a unique response for why you’re intrigued by both the company and the particular job.

This isn’t time for your life story

Try to keep your answer to “tell me about yourself” to a minute. You answer provides the interviewer with insight into who you are and how you present yourself, and you want to make sure you address everything – concisely. Using the former questions as a guide, here’s what you should and shouldn’t include in your response:

  • Your entire job history: No. Your response should be your story as it relates to the job and company at hand. Have you done this job before? Have you done a job that has prepared you for this jump in your career? Have you worked in this industry before? How do your skills translate to this job if you haven’t done any of the above? You only need to discuss the threads from your experiences that bring you to the interview today.
  • Education. Yes. Where and what did you study? Did this experience lead you to your current profession, and if so, how?
  • Interests and hobbies: Maybe. Discuss these only if they correspond directly to the job you’re applying for. For example, mention that you’re a golfer if you’re interviewing at a country club.
  • Your five-year plan: No. The interviewer may later ask you if you have a five- or 10-year plan, but here is not the place to offer it up.

Stay brief, stay relevant

In summary, you only need to draw the line between the relevant points of your education and work history to help the interviewer see why she should seriously consider you for the job.

Even if you can’t fit all of this in as an answer to this particular question, make sure you cover the following questions throughout the interview:

  • What positions have you held that have prepared your for this role?
  • What are your major accomplishments from those jobs?
  • Why do you want this job at this company, and what makes you the right person for it?

When answering these questions, particularly the latter, expound on your unique qualities and stay away from overused phrases and skills. Even if you answer this and the other interview questions well, it’s impossible to predict whether the interviewer will like you enough to have you continue in the hiring process. But you’ve been given a chance, so give it your best shot.

Make sure you prepare for at least one question – and make it this one. It’s bound to be the first question when you walk in the door.

Marcelle Yeager helps people land jobs that get them to the next level of their career. Through her company Career Valet, she works with mid- to senior-level professionals on their branding strategy and job search materials to secure new roles. She co-founded a second business in 2015 called ServingTalent, where she finds jobs for talented military and Foreign Service spouses. Marcelle has spent over six years living and working abroad. She can be reached at myeager@careervalet.com.

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