“Tell me about yourself.” It’s one of the most common (and tricky) job interview questions. Even so, many job seekers don’t take the question seriously, thinking it’s just an icebreaker meant to put them at ease.
But they should carefully consider their response, because “tell me about yourself” is more than a throwaway opener for most interviewers. When hiring managers pose this open-ended question, they’re hoping candidates will offer insight about their goals and priorities, which gives them a better sense of who each job candidate really is.
And that’s not all: Interviewers also ask this question to evaluate how confident interviewees are, which in turn gives them a view of how new hires might present themselves to customers, clients and colleagues if they get the job.
As a job seeker, knowing how to answer, “tell me about yourself,” gives you a great opportunity to spotlight the skills and experience that make you the ideal candidate for the job. And because it’s a question that many hiring managers lead with, it's also your way to start off on the right foot. Here are a few more job interview tips to help you nail your response:
What you shouldn’t say
Many job candidates make the mistake of answering this question with talk of something personal — their family, kids or hobbies. Some even launch into their life story, starting with their hometown and continuing on through their college graduation.
Alternately, others share descriptions of the problems in their current job, explaining that they applied for this position because their commute is horrible, their boss is a jerk or their employer won’t allow them to work a flexible schedule.
And some job seekers simply summarize their resume, going point-by-point through their work experience and education history.
All three of these responses can quickly send your new-job dreams down the tubes. If you answer with either of the first two, hiring managers see a red flag — an indication that you’re not that serious about the position or simply trying to escape a bad situation at your current job.
And if you go with the third approach, you’re throwing away an opportunity. You can assume the interviewers read your resume before inviting you in for the interview, and they don’t need you to walk them through it. They’d rather hear you highlight what makes you an ideal fit for the job.
Craft an elevator pitch
The best way of knowing how to answer, “tell me about yourself,” is to make sure you succinctly and clearly explain how you’re qualified for this particular job and — just as important — why you want it. So before you start crafting your selling points, spend some time reviewing the job description in the recruitment ad for the position and researching the company. That way you’ll have a good understanding of what the hiring manager is looking for as far as qualifications, experience and fit with the organizational culture.
Next, prepare a short script that highlights the skills, strengths and expertise you have that make you especially qualified for the position. Follow that with the reasons you’re applying for the job, focusing on career-related motivations such as the desire to build your experience and take on added responsibilities. Conclude with a short statement explaining why working for this specific company appeals to you.
A strong sample answer
Here’s an example of an excellent response to “tell me about yourself” for a job seeker applying for a senior administrative assistant position with a clean-energy company:
“I’ve been working as an administrative assistant for three years. At my current job in the finance department of a midsize company, I handle scheduling, meeting and travel planning for four executives and 20 staff members. I also help prepare correspondence, presentations and reports.
“I’m known for being a detail-oriented, well-organized team player. I never miss deadlines, I’m a good communicator and I can juggle multiple tasks at once. In my performance reviews, my supervisor always notes that he appreciates my professionalism and enthusiasm for the job.
“With this experience under my belt, I’m looking for an opportunity to take the next step in my career. I’m hoping to do so in an organization like yours that works to improve the environment, which is something I’m passionate about.”
A final word on how to answer, 'tell me about yourself'
Be concise. Don’t take up too much time with your response. You don’t have to tell the hiring manager every single thing that you think makes you a great candidate. Just give a few important details that will spark their interest in learning more about you, and you’ll get the interview off to a strong start.
Related posts on interview questions
Learn from Robert Half’s expert recruiters so you can build a talented team of employees or advance your career. Operating in more than 300 locations worldwide, including our job agencies in and around Toronto, Robert Half can provide you with assistance where and when you need it.