Out of all interview questions, one of the most dreaded is also the most simple: “Tell me about yourself.”
Usually one of the first questions you’ll encounter in an interview, it seems straightforward enough and not nearly as intimidating as something like “Tell me about a time you failed.” But, if you’re not properly prepared for this question it can trip you up.
In this article, we’ll:
- Explain what interviewers are looking for when they ask you to tell them about yourself
- Show you how to answer the “tell me about yourself” question
- Provide you with insightful tips for responding
- Give you several sample answers to draw from
Why do employers ask the “tell me about yourself” interview question?
“So tell me about yourself” is a classic interview opening question for a reason. It’s an easy ice breaker that gives the interviewer an opportunity to transition from introductory small talk, like during your self-introduction, to more serious interview questions.
Some popular variations include:
- Tell me a little bit about yourself
- Please introduce yourself
- Please tell us more about yourself
- Talk about yourself
While your interviewer wants to get to know you, remember that the goal of the interview is to see if you’re a good fit for the role, and that’s what you want to demonstrate.
When interviewers ask you to tell them about yourself, what they really want to know is why you’re interested in the job and what makes you qualified.
It’s okay to add a personal touch, but be careful not to divulge too much of your personal history.
How to answer the question “tell me about yourself”
It can be difficult to know what to say in an interview about yourself, and where to start. The best way to answer “Tell me about yourself” is to construct a narrative centered around your professional life. Your answer should include the basic elements of how you got started, your current career situation, and your future goals.
To make it easy, follow these three steps to build your “tell me about yourself” answer:
1. Start with a (relevant) experience that shaped you
It can be tempting to start your answer with where you were born, but to keep your answer more concise it’s best to pick a formative experience that launched you on your current career path.
This way, your answer will provide the interviewer with some insight into your background while keeping it relevant to the discussion at hand.
For some candidates this might be when or how they discovered a professional passion. For others, it might be an academic experience. Whatever the case, finding a solid starting point for your answer will help the interviewer understand your current job search and interest in the position.
“When I started university, I had planned to become a business analyst, however I found myself continually drawn to marketing classes, and developed a strong interest in consumer behavior, marketing research, and advertising strategy. I ended up pursuing a Master’s degree in Marketing from the University of Denver, and graduating with distinction.”
This is a great beginning because it sums up how the candidate developed an interest in the field, hits on some keywords, and highlights their academic qualifications.
2. Illustrate how that experience led you to the present
In the second part of your answer, give a brief overview of your career progression from that formative experience to where you are currently.
Along the way, be sure to highlight your key achievements and professional accomplishments, because these will help make you look more qualified.
Describe your current or most recent role, highlighting any particularly relevant experience you’ve gained. Then, discuss why you’re looking for a new opportunity.
“After graduating, I worked as a Marketing Intern for the Denver Broncos, where I gained experience creating promotional materials, executing digital marketing campaigns, and conducting market research. I launched a social media campaign that increased our engagement by 19%.
Currently I work as a Marketing Research Analyst at Monster, where I lead consumer research projects. I use qualitative and quantitative research to analyze consumer value and sales points, and present research reports to support decision making in product development and brand marketing. My research contributed to the decision to launch a new product in collaboration with the Nuggets, leading to $2 million in sales.”
This answer works well because it highlights the candidate’s relevant experience and qualifications as well as some key professional accomplishments. Additionally, by using hard numbers to quantify their achievements, this candidate shows the interviewer what benefit they can bring to the company.
3. Describe your professional goals
In the next part of your answer, explain some of your professional goals going forward.
In particular, you should demonstrate how your goals to grow professionally align with the position and company goals. This will help the interviewer see you as a strong candidate right from the beginning of your interview.
Showing how this new role ties in with your projected career growth is especially important if you find yourself needing to justify why you’re leaving your current job.
Here’s an example of how to connect your larger professional goals with your desire to get the job:
“I’m applying for the Market Research Consultant position for the Denver Nuggets to blend my love of market research with my passion for sports, and basketball in particular. My goal is to help drive brand awareness and sales through thorough and extensive market research that makes strategizing easy.”
In this answer, the candidate provides a clear professional goal and showcases their interest in the position, letting the interviewer know that they’ll be a dedicated employee.
Tips for how to respond to “Tell me about yourself”
Now that you know how to structure your answer, here are some extra tips to make sure your answer is as effective as possible:
1. Do your research before the interview
It can be tempting to skip the effort of planning your answer and just respond off the cuff (and many candidates do), but doing research into the company and the role in preparation for your interview is a simple and effective way to improve your performance.
When you know what a company’s mission and vision are, you can tell your interviewer how you’ll help advance their goals. When you know exactly what responsibilities the position will involve, you can make sure to hit on all the relevant points when you discuss your professional experience.
Here are some things to research before you walk into your interview:
- Start with the job advertisement to get a solid understanding of what the role entails
- Look at the company website for information about company values and goals
- Review any financial statements available on their website
- Check their social media accounts (if applicable) to see what they’re doing
- Search for recent information about the company in the news
2. Tailor your answer to the role
You can and should tailor your answer to the position you’re applying for.
This might sound like a challenge, but if you’ve done your research, you have all the information you need to create an impressive answer.
One easy way to tailor your answer to the position is to pick out keywords from the job advertisement and include them in your response. These are the key responsibilities, skills, and qualifications required in the role.
Here’s an example of how you might do this for a hotel front desk position, with relevant keywords in bold:
“As a receptionist at the Four Seasons Spa, I have learned to provide uniquely tailored experiences to guests, and have been recognized by management for consistently delivering the most exceptional customer service. In my interactions with guests I always maintain the highest level of professionalism and hospitality, which are skills that I will be able to immediately apply as a Front Desk Agent to put your guests at ease and ensure all of their needs are taken care of.”
By starting your interview off with these keywords, you’re helping your interviewer check off several qualifications they’re looking for.
3. Make your answer brief but informative
One of the biggest pitfalls for candidates answering “tell me about yourself” is giving a response that’s too long and doesn’t address the whole reason you’re there.
In your “tell me about yourself” response, you should also speak to the question interviewers ultimately want the answer to: “Why should we hire you?”
Giving a concise answer that’s loaded with relevant professional highlights will hook your interviewer and set you up for follow-up questions about all of your greatest achievements.
4. Strike a balance between the personal and the professional
Telling an interviewer what your hobbies and interests are can help demonstrate how you’d be a good cultural fit. Mentioning your hobbies can also be helpful for showcasing some transferable skills if you don’t have a lot of professional experience to draw from.
However, your interests aren’t always the right thing to bring up in an interview. For example, if you’re applying for a job at a law firm it might be best to just focus on your professional life.
If you’re applying for a position at a company that elevates a particular lifestyle or value, then discussing your related interests can boost your position as a candidate. For example, if you’re applying for a PR position at REI, telling your interviewer about your love for rock climbing could help you land the job.
While it’s good to include some personal details that give the interviewer a sense of who you are and offer a chance to connect on a personal level, the bulk of your answer should focus on your professional qualifications.
5. Practice, practice, practice
So you’ve done the research and you know what to say when asked “Tell me about yourself”. The next step is to practice your answer.
You want to sound as natural as possible, so it’s best to practice until you can answer fluidly, but avoid memorizing your answer so you don’t sound robotic or rehearsed.
“Tell me about yourself” example answers
It always helps to have some examples to refer to so you know how to structure your own answer.
Take a look at these three “Tell me about yourself” sample answers:
1. The experienced candidate answer
I gained several years of experience in UI/UX design, development, enterprise UX, and user experience at Weir Design. I thrived working alongside clients to make their vision a reality, which is why I pursued a position at Legacy Collective, where I would be able to oversee client projects and help emerging companies build their brands by developing cohesive designs.
In the last two years I have designed brand campaigns for several companies that have risen to notable success in their niche markets. In the process of collaborating with companies across so many industries, I’ve discovered my passion for helping tech start-ups find their identity through design, which is why I’m applying to a Senior Graphic Design position at Clay.
In this next phase of my career, I want to leverage the skills I have gained to delve deeper into branding and creating effective digital strategies to grow start-ups that can change the world.
2. The recent graduate answer
I knew I wanted to work in the travel industry from a young age, when my family took an Icelandic cruise and stayed in Reykjavik. I found the adventure so exciting and decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life exploring all of the beautiful places the world has to offer.
At University I studied Hospitality Management and went on to get a Master’s degree in Travel and Tourism Management. Each summer I have worked as a tour guide in my hometown of Mendocino. I designed and launched the first walking ghost tour, which quickly gained popularity and generated an additional $3000 in profits the first summer. Interacting with all of the customers has helped me to develop very strong communication skills, and I am very comfortable speaking with new people.
I believe that my communication, organizational and planning skills combined with my passion for travel and adventure make me a strong candidate for your travel agency, where I hope to grow my knowledge of the industry and build strong relationships with clients and customers.
3. The career change answer
I’ve been a retail sales associate at Shy Skateboards for several years, where I have gained extensive product knowledge and firsthand experience interacting with the skating community on a daily basis. Because of my deep love for skating and my ability to test out new products as they arrived, I started the alwaysbeskating channel on TikTok, which took off after a few months and has now gained over 400,000 followers.
From my TikTok channel, I expanded into Instagram and YouTube, creating large followings on both. The experience I have gained on social media throughout the experience has been invaluable. I would love to bring my skill set and knowledge to contribute to the marketing success of Crailtap’s social media team.
Other interview resources
Now that you’ve mastered your response to “tell me about yourself”, prepare for the rest of your interview using our guides to the following common questions: