It’s dreaded, but unavoidable. It normally comes up right at the beginning, and you have no choice but to face it or let it stump you.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Many applicants find the common job interview opener difficult and intimidating to answer. This conversation starter doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer, and calls for modification not only for all job candidates, but also for different companies and stages of the interview process.
However, if you find yourself thrown off by this question, there’s still good news. We’re taking the opportunity in this article to specifically break down every element of how to master the “tell me about yourself” interview scenario. By following the process and tips outlined here, not only will you be ready when the inevitable question arises, but you’ll also be armed with the techniques you need to confidently crush your next conversation, bringing you that much closer to landing the role!
Why Do Employers Ask ‘Tell Me About Yourself?’
When beginning to think about how to formulate your “tell me about yourself” answer, it’s helpful to think about just what recruiters are hoping to gain from asking the question in the first place.
In the eyes of many interviewers, this question and other similar open-ended interview questions are a way to ease into an interview and transition from small talk to the more formal parts of a conversation. Your answer can help inform the direction of the conversation by providing natural outlets for follow-up questions.
Additionally, it immediately takes you as a candidate “off the page” of a resume so to speak, and grants you an opportunity to demonstrate your clear and effective communication skills. An attentive, detailed and confident answer demonstrates your ability to respond well under pressure and shows preparedness for the interview itself.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that an open-ended question is one of the most common ways you can expect your interview to begin. Other than the exact wording of “tell me about yourself,” you might also hear the sentiment phrased as:
- Walk me through your resume
- Tell me a little bit more about your background
- Tell me something about yourself that’s not on your resume
- How would you describe yourself?
How to Answer the ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Question
We all know you only get a single chance to make a first impression. So what do you do when confidence and preparedness are what you want to exude, but you actually feel nervous and off your guard? As you prepare an answer, start by breaking down the question into parts. A winning framework to help structure your response is envisioning the present, past and future.
- Present: Begin here. Talk a little bit about your current role. Going beyond the bullet points on your resume, discuss the scope of your job and the day-to-day responsibilities. If possible, work in a mention of a big accomplishment or a recently finished major project.
- Past: Working your way backward, tell the interviewer how you got where you are. What sparked your interest in the industry? What work, educational or personal experiences were the most relevant factors to the job and company you’re applying for now. Be careful not to dwell on your entire life story, but instead focus on a snapshot that aligns with how you’re qualified for the position.
- Future: Now is the time to move into what you’re looking to do next. Segue into why you’ve applied to this role in the first place and be sure to tie it all together as to why you’d be a great fit. A helpful hint here is to do prior research on a company, so you can tailor your answer to that specific interview situation.
The idea behind this structure is that it is sturdy enough to set some guidelines around this open-ended prompt while remaining adaptive to the need to construct an answer that encompasses your specific story. As you brainstorm a response for each of these elements, here are some questions to ask yourself to guide your thinking:
- What qualities make me a great fit for this role? – List out specific hard and soft skills and/or past experiences
- Why am I interested in this role? – How can I tie this position into my greater career journey?
- Why are you interested in this company or industry? – Build a story with a clear narrative around how your personal and professional interests align with the work being offered.
- What unique element makes me stand out from other candidates? – Lifelong passion, a trade certification, being bilingual? There’s always a way to make your answer stand out from the endless others the recruiter has had to sit through.
‘Tell Me About Yourself:’ Top Tips for Planning Your Answer
Hopefully, with these steps in mind, you’re well on your way to acing this all-important part of the interview process. Here are a few additional considerations and tips to keep in mind as you work through creating your answer.
Keep it Passionate, but Professional
Strike a balance between injecting your personality and interests, with your professional accomplishments and skills. If you’re unsure, a good rule of thumb is to lean more towards the professional side. While it can be beneficial to break the ice, interviewers are not necessarily looking for humor or anecdotes about family or hobbies. On the flip side, bridging the gap between the two can be an effective strategy, if you’re comfortable doing so. This might take the form of mentioning a family member or friend who inspired your interest in the profession or discussing a personal pastime that demonstrates community engagement and leadership
Focus on Your Strengths
Create an answer with an outlook on the positive, and keep an eye towards quantifiable achievements. The more detail you can provide, the stronger your accomplishments will appear. For example, “completed improvement projects” is less memorable and weaker than “lead a team of 10 in a three-month-long improvement planning period, implemented by company leadership.”
Homework: Balance Rehearsal with Memorization
As much as you want to prepare and know this question is coming, repeating a verbatim answer can come off as stilted or impersonal. Have a sense of the beats you want to hit, so you don’t forget major details or become tongue-tied in the moment, but be prepared to travel off the rehearsed path. Don’t be surprised if the recruiter interrupts or wants more information about a specific point you’ve made.
Don’t Recite Your Resume
Format your response to move away from simply listing information you’ve written down. Quite frankly, the interviewer might view it as a waste of their time if you only talk about what they already know. Take this opportunity to nail your first impression by demonstrating your ability to succinctly highlight important details. While there’s no one “correct” length, aim to keep your response between 30-60 seconds. Any shorter probably doesn’t provide space for enough detail and any longer can become too rambly or just consist of you regurgitating information.
Final Dos and Don’ts
- Focus on quantifiable outcomes
- Highlight your personality, knowledge and passion for the role
- Connect your skills and strengths to the job description with examples
- Keep your response to an appropriate length and be prepared for follow-up
- Mention what sets you apart from other candidates
- Structure your response with the “Present, Past, Future” technique
- Ask questions that are thoughtful and well-prepared
- Memorize your response word-for-word
- Discuss information that is too personal or fail to mention professional experience
- List examples of strengths or skills without examples
- Discuss problems with your past job or bad-mouth past employers
- Summarize your resume, point-by-point
- Launch into your life story with irrelevant details
What is an Elevator Pitch?
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with your “tell me about yourself” answer, you’ve also done most of the work in creating your elevator pitch. If you haven’t heard of this concept before, it is typically defined as a short speech that highlights your relevant professional abilities, strengths and areas of expertise, as well as the type of role you’re applying for.
The idea behind an elevator pitch, or elevator speech, is that it is a professional introduction short enough to present during a brief elevator ride and ready to whip out on the spot. Of course, in reality, preparing this pitch has multiple uses beyond the discussions that happen between the top and bottom floor. Preparing this answer and your selling points is useful in any scenario you’d encounter with a recruiter, including but not limited to any kind of interview, a job fair or a mass hiring event.
Crafting the Perfect Elevator Pitch
As you can probably tell, the elevator pitch is closely related to the opening open-ended question of an interview. You can use it an interview, in addition to adapting it to networking events, job fairs, and even as a written bio for your social media account or resume introduction. Here are a few final tips for preparing for and knowing what to say when the opportunity arises to use this important pitch:
- Keep it Brief – The golden rule of pitches . Restrict this recap to 30-60 seconds.
- Focus on the Essentials – Share your quantifiable skills and goals, but only the most important ones. Who you are, what you do and what you hope to achieve are the most important elements to include.
- Know Your Audience – Keep it simple and focused by tailoring your response to your audience. Depending on if it’s a recruiter or someone else in the industry, your language and points of emphasis might change.
- Become a Natural – Practice, practice and more practice is the only way to have your speech come off in a comfortable and conversational manner. Start by rehearsing in front of a mirror or ask a buddy to serve as a test audience.
- Maintain Eye Contact and Tone – Body language is just as important as the words coming out of your mouth. A positive and friendly tone, eye contact and an inviting demeanor can truly go a long way.
Tackling the Job Search Process
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on taking the steps towards nailing your interview! The job search process as a whole is often long and intimidating, so the more elements of an interview you can prepare for in advance, the more confident you will be. You can continue your learning by viewing our additional resources for topics like preparing for a job interview, tips for standing out at a mass hiring event, our guide to writing a personal statement on a job application and more.
Joining Movo is another excellent resource for job-seekers. There you’ll find roles across logistic industries with stable pay, full benefits and liability coverage and health insurance from the first month. Our app also provides access to shifts that fit your desired availability and schedule.
We wish you the best of luck on the search and in your next interview!