“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most common interview questions out there, which means knowing how to answer it is essential.
The following guide breaks down all facets of this question so you can respond in a way that makes interviewers eager to hear more.
Table of contents
The Reason Interviewers Ask This Common Question
It’s the quintessential job interview question that everyone expects to hear. Unlike other technical or behavioral questions, your interviewer may ask this regardless of the position you’re applying for. From entry-level workers to C-suite executives, everyone hears it at some point.
“Tell me about yourself” is a staple for a reason. It’s a versatile question that lets interviewers learn more about who you are and what you bring to the company. It also highlights your ability to communicate while preparing you for more advanced questions.
Interviewers and hiring managers often use this question as an icebreaker and pathfinder. It typically comes at the interview’s beginning before more complex and targeted questions.
While it sounds vague and broad, that’s by design. Hiring managers want to see how you respond and summarize your background and experience. This is your chance to make a convincing first impression. Interviewers are looking for confidence and a quick summary of your skills. They’re looking to learn about why you’re interested and why you believe you are qualified for the job.
Your answer to “tell me about yourself” can also influence the course of the interview. Think of it as an opening that allows interviewers to see where to go next. Many will use your response to transition to more technical or behavioral interview questions, creating a natural flow of conversation.
And there’s one more reason this question may get asked. Talent Acquisition and hiring managers don’t always have time to review your resume before the interview. By asking this question, it helps refresh their memory about which candidate you are.
Ultimately, it’s about getting to know you and learning what you can contribute to the company. A question like this unveils valuable information about you while giving the interview an easy way to guide your conversation.
How to Answer, “Tell Me About Yourself”
Working out how to answer “tell me about yourself” during a job interview doesn’t have to be intimidating. The quality of your response matters, but it’s easier to develop a standout response than most realize.
Follow the tips below to make a great impression and get the interview started properly.
1. Keep It Organized
Ask any hiring manager about this question and they’ll often say you should keep your response quick and well-organized. The biggest challenge when answering an open-ended question like this is providing relevant information in a short timeframe. There are plenty of ways your response can turn into a rambling mess.
The best way to avoid all that is to stay organized and provide a bit about your background in chronological order. For example, you can start with your education and why you entered the field. Then, you can move on to where you are now before ending on what you plan to do in the future.
Keep your response organized in a neat package. Consider what you want to say, why your answer matters in the interview, and how you want to present yourself. A well-organized response is easier to communicate and will make it look like you gave your answer the thought it deserves.
As for length, try to keep your response to two minutes or less. This question is just one of many, and spending too much time on it can cause issues while making your interviewer think you’re a poor communicator.
2. Tailor Your Answer to the Role You Want
Another important tip when telling interviewers about yourself is to keep your answer related to the job you want. Despite how it sounds, this question is not an open invitation to discuss your personal life. That’s not what hiring managers are looking for.
Little tidbits about your life are fine, but they should always connect the dots back to the job. For example, you can discuss personal reasons that pushed you to enter this field. But those details should be a small footnote compared to the rest of your response.
Discussing personal matters is risky. You run the risk of rambling or coming off as incoherent or unfocused.
Discussing your past, emphasize your journey to get to this point. That can include your education, past work experience, etc. Then, you can go over where you are now in your career, highlighting how you’ve prepared for this role.
Another great idea is to mention where you see yourself in the future and how this job plays a part in your bigger picture. Always connect it back to the job. That shows you’re serious and motivated to succeed.
This “past, present, future” framework is a solid way to help you structure your answer.
3. Touch on Your Experience & Strengths
“Tell me about yourself” is an interview question that’s best answered when you approach it like a story. You’re telling the story of your career!
One fantastic way to leave a lasting impression on the interviewer is to highlight your strengths and the experiences that got you to where you are now. If you have any professional accolades or major accomplishments, talk about them! Mention what you’re most proud of in your career and the experiences that shaped your path.
This question is an opportunity to sell yourself. That’s your main priority with the entire interview. You want to make yourself look like the perfect candidate the company needs to hire.
Use your answer to put your relevant strengths on full display!
4. Prepare Your Response
The best way to prepare your answer is to thoroughly review the job posting and identify the skills and experience you have that overlap with what they are looking for. These are the things you’ll want to focus on in your answer.
Additionally, research the company to learn about its projects, clients, and workplace culture so you can reference similar experiences or express your knowledge and interest in what the company does.
5. Let Your Personality Shine
One of the biggest misconceptions about job interviews is that they must be ultra-rigid and formal. While you should always maintain professionalism, you can show off your personality. Once again, it’s about selling yourself.
Companies care about how well a candidate will fit in on the job. If you land the job, you’ll interact with numerous people daily. As a result, hiring managers like to consider candidates who are personable, easy to get along with, and exciting.
There are many ways to do this. You can mention what you like to do for fun, your quest for more intellectual development, or what you do to further your skills. Like before, it’s best to connect it to the job. Only mention hobbies and out-of-work activities if they are relevant to the role.
Personal interests are a great way to connect with interviewers, but you should consistently remind them why you’re a great fit for the job. For example, you can tie team sports back to professional collaboration.
Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to be personable. Smile, show enthusiasm when you speak, and connect with the interviewer while remaining professional.
6. Stay Professional & Positive
Always keep your answer positive and professional when telling an interviewer about yourself.
When it comes to positivity, refrain from going into detail about any major negative points in your career story. We’re referring to firings, bad experiences in a toxic work environment, etc.
Other questions covering those details will come later in the interview. For now, keep things positive and prioritize your standout experiences, skills, and strengths.
And remember, staying positive goes for how you speak about others. No hiring manager wants to hear a candidate bad-mouth previous employers or colleagues. That’s a big red flag.
7. Be Concise
Earlier, we mentioned the importance of not rambling. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest is that you want to show that you can communicate clearly and effectively.
Rambling on and on can be concerning for hiring managers. It doesn’t matter what job you’re trying to get. Good communication is vital to your success. As a result, you must show you know how to talk to people during your interview.
Stick to the key points you want to discuss and avoid veering off into the finer details. Your answer is just an overview of the most important and relevant information the interviewer needs to know right up front. If your interviewer wants to know more about something you mentioned, they’ll ask. You have the rest of the interview to address your successes, talents and skills in greater detail so don’t feel you need to include everything in this answer. Just stick to the most relevant and important information.
As we said before, your answer should take no more than two minutes. Anything more than that could make the interview run long or worse, the interviewer will stop listening or may not remember what you said.
8. Expect Follow-Up Questions
“Tell me about yourself” is a question that paves the way for many follow-ups. Interviewers typically use it as a pathfinder to determine what questions to ask next. An interviewer’s goal is to have an organic conversation while still learning as much about your potential for a role as possible.
Questions like this almost always come with follow-ups. Interviewers might latch onto something you say, requesting more information. Or, a detail in your response could lead to another relevant question.
Don’t assume that your response is “one and done.” You need to prepare for follow-up questions.
The best way to do that is to understand what points you want to cover and know what examples you’ll use to back up your claim. For example, you could mention a specific accolade you received at a previous job. The interviewer may have an interest in learning more about that, so you must know how to discuss it in further detail.
Avoid talking about anything you don’t feel comfortable explaining more. And of course, don’t lie or exaggerate the truth. You never know what follow-ups will come.
9. Practice Before the Interview
Our final tip is an easy one: Practice!
A strong answer to “tell me about yourself” can’t be done on the spot. It requires ample thought and consideration.
You can guarantee that this question will come up in some way. It might have slightly different wording, but most interviewers will ask you to talk about yourself to some degree.
Reflect on your career story and settle on key points you want to discuss. Get comfortable talking about those points and consider follow-up questions the interviewer might ask.
It’s not a good idea to recite a prewritten response verbatim. That could sound inauthentic or over-rehearsed. Instead, understand what you want to say, practice communicating those details out loud, and work on sounding confident.
Quick Tip: Practice out loud by recording yourself on your phone or computer.
10. Be Confident and Enthusiastic
You will probably be nervous, but if you know exactly what you’re going to say to kick off the interview, that’s one less thing to worry about. That’s why it’s so important to prepare and practice this answer.
Speak about your background and achievements with enthusiasm. Put energy into every word, make eye contact, and be sure to smile! This is your first and best chance to impress the interviewer.
The key to nailing this answer is to know what you want to say and to speak with confidence.
What You Shouldn’t Do When Answering
“Tell me about yourself” is a common question that often stumps candidates or gives them enough room to get into trouble.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes job-seekers make when answering this question.
Making Your Response Too Personal
We touched on this briefly, but it’s worth addressing in more detail. Avoid talking about aspects of your life that you normally leave out of the office. For example, you shouldn’t discuss your religious beliefs, political views, or anything too controversial.
It’s also best to avoid talking about your kids or partner. Not only are those personal details not what this question is about, but you don’t want the hiring manager to subconsciously base their decision around the personal details of your life.
Talking Too Much
This question opens the door to great conversation, but its open-ended nature leaves room for you to go into too much detail. Remember: This question often comes at the beginning of an interview. You don’t want to say so much that it overwhelms the interviewer!
Some candidates want to cram their responses with strengths and qualifications. But if you say too much, you can spoil your first impression!
Try to stick to three or four strengths while keeping your response under two minutes. Organize your answer well and remember, you have the entire interview to dive into the fine details.
Not Providing Examples
Anyone can say they’re skilled at X, Y, and Z. But if you can’t provide examples that prove what you’re saying, they won’t have the impact you want.
Try to include a sentence or two that demonstrates those skills in action. For example, you can refer to a real-world experience of a time when you led a team to success after saying your leadership skills are a major strength.
Don’t Dwell On The Irrelevant Past
If you are switching careers do not start your answer by stating what you used to do. That confuses the interviewer.
Instead, focus on what you have done and the skills that are relevant to the job. Your answer should explain why you are qualified and interested in the role. Explain how your background relates to your new career goals. If it doesn’t then explain your motivation for making the switch.
Always include information that is relevant and important to the interviewer. Your answer isn’t about outlining your work history. It’s about highlighting what you’ve done that relates to the job.
Robotic and Over-Rehearsed Answers
It’s great to come prepared with an answer locked and loaded. But your response shouldn’t be memorized word for word. Canned responses come off as rigid and inauthentic.
When figuring out how to answer “tell me about yourself,” the key is to have confidence in what you say. Try practicing a few ways to hit all your key points. Leave gaps and pauses where necessary while providing the right amount of detail.
There are several ways to structure your answer. By using one of these formulas, you’ll provide the interviewer with a summary of the information that’s most important to them at this point in the conversation.
While you don’t want to memorize a fully scripted answer, you do want to remember to include relevant and valuable information. These 3 tell me about yourself formulas can help.
I am a … (insert your profession, occupation here)
With expertise in … (2-3 key skills sets you possess)
My background includes … (list industry experience)
My unique qualities are… (2-3 memorable qualities)
I’m interested in this role/company because … (why you are pursuing this opportunity)
I am known for … (types of problems you solve)
With expertise in … (1-2 problems you have solved over your career)
My background includes … (specify industries, company cultures, and/or community experience)
One of the things I am most proud of is … (an example something you were proud to accomplish)
Based on what I know about this opportunity, I believe I’m a strong fit because … (select 2-3 reasons why you’re interested)
What you’re presently doing that relates to the opportunity
How your past qualifies you for the role
Why you’re interested in this opportunity/company
Everyone’s response to this question should be unique. You must tailor it to your career, the job you’re trying to get, and your personal experiences.
However, you can turn to these sample answers for inspiration.
Example Answer 1
The first example comes from a job-seeker hoping to get a similar role to the one they have now. They seek employment at a new company and use their past experiences to show why they’re a good fit for the role.
The response works because it’s well organized and focuses on strengths. The candidate provides examples of those strengths in action, effectively selling their potential.
“Well, I’ve always had a passion for writing. I decided to pursue that passion in college. I eventually became the editor of my University’s newspaper.
That experience taught me a new approach to writing and helped me learn how to lead a team under tight deadlines. After graduating, I spun my experience as an editor into a job at [COMPANY.] There, I managed the company’s social media presence. I created content for the business website and multiple social media platforms.
A few years as social media manager led me to gain new responsibilities in building communication plans for product launches. That’s when I discovered my love of marketing!
I switched to a marketing role and successfully managed two product launches just last year. While I enjoyed that job and learned a lot, I’m ready for a new opportunity. That role helped me discover that I work best marketing products I enjoy using.
I’m a big fan of your company’s products, so I jumped at the chance to apply when I saw the open position. I hope to join your marketing team and continue improving my skills here at [COMPANY].”
Example Answer 2
Our next example answer is an individual seeking employment with an interior design firm. This response gives the interviewer a glimpse at the candidate’s natural motivations. It covers their early inspirations and why they entered the industry, proving that the candidate is eager to succeed in the open role.
“I’ve loved interior design since I was a kid. My parents renovated my childhood home when I was an early teen, and I was lucky enough to be involved in the design process.
That experience pushed me to pursue interior design professionally. I studied at [SCHOOL], graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in interior design about four years ago. Immediately after graduation, I accepted a job at [FIRM] in Dallas, Texas.
During my time there, I built my portfolio as I completed both residential and commercial projects. My work on a big commercial renovation project was even featured in a couple of local publications.
In my years as a working interior designer, I’ve built up my skills in emerging technologies that I believe will shape our industry moving forward. For example, I’m proficient in imaging software, using it frequently to create designs and share ideas with clients.
Some of my proudest work is in renovating historic buildings. There’s an art to preserving these structures, and the unique approach is something I enjoy.
I’m excited to possibly work for [COMPANY]. I know your firm takes on many rehabilitation projects on historic buildings in the area. I hope to apply my skills here, and I believe that my experiences would be a great asset to the team.”
Example Answer 3
This answer is from a candidate seeking a leadership position. The response is short and to the point. However, the job-seeker does an excellent job putting their best foot forward, highlighting skills that a hiring manager wants to see.
“Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked as an operations leader in various industries. My experience is broad, ranging from retail companies like yours to customer-facing businesses in healthcare and insurance. I’ve learned how to navigate complex corporate challenges, using my strong sense of leadership to motivate teams and pave the way to long-term success.
In my last position, I led a small team to revamp the company’s entire approach to customer service. Within a year, we improved customer satisfaction scores by 25 percent!
I’m ready to apply my skills to a new challenge, and I think that my skills will be an asset as your company works to meet its goals. I take a creative yet analytical approach that I believe will be beneficial in this role.”
Example Answer 4
And finally, this concise answer is from a recent MBA graduate who is pursuing a data analyst role. They provide an overview of their journey and success while also expressing interest in the company.
“I’ve been recognized for my analytical skills and ability to interpret data and convert it into actionable information.
I recently completed my MBA which gave me the opportunity to hone these skills and develop data visualization skills.
My experience in consumer packaging and customer service helps me understand the customer’s needs and I use that knowledge to formulate new products and ideas.
I saw XYZ company listed as a top innovator in the consumer goods space and I’m excited to learn more about this opportunity and how my experience will fit.“
Knowing how to answer “tell me about yourself” is crucial for anyone who has an interview coming up. Not only is it incredibly common, but interviewers pay close attention to your response.
But don’t worry, you’ll do just fine as long as you stick to the tips above. Just because it’s important doesn’t mean it has to be scary.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.