While this is often among the first questions asked at the start of the interview, the goal of the interview is not to become best friends or to hear your read your resume.
Their goal is to determine if you are a good fit for their job, so your best strategy is to focus on this employer and your fit for this job.
This is an opportunity to market yourself as a qualified candidate — presenting yourself as the “solution” (right candidate) to their “problem” (a job to fill).
How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” In Two Parts
The best way to answer this question?
Focus on this opportunity! Tell them about your accomplishments and experience that make you an ideal candidate for the job you are seeking.
This is not an invitation to tell your life story or share any secrets about your current or former employers. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes — what would you want to know if you were them?
Emphasize what will make you stand out as qualified for the company and for the job.
Break your answer to this question into two parts:
1. How/why you are qualified.
Summarize what you have done that qualifies you for this opportunity. Don’t recite what is on your resume or job application, but don’t assume that the interviewers, who may have been interviewing several candidates, will remember all of your qualifications.
- Start with your current/most recent job, and present the most significant highlights, the ones that would be most relevant to this job. These are the qualifications that make it clear that you are a very good candidate for the job.
- Add other relevant details and accomplishments that demonstrate you are qualified for this position.
MORE: Read top recruiter Jeff Lipschultz’s tips for analyzing job descriptions — 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist.]
2. Why you have applied.
Focus on advancing your career. Stay away from reasons that are not clearly career-related. Emphasize the opportunity to move forward in your career without saying that you are dead-ended in your current job.
Focus on the future — this opportunity and your career, demonstrating your interest and enthusiasm for the job and the employer:
- This job really interests you because…
- This job is the logical next step for your career.
- This employer is one of the best and a place where you have always wanted to work.
Avoid the purely personal reasons. Do NOT say:
- You want to work closer to home because your kids sometimes get out of school early and you want to be able to be there with them.
- You are too tired from the long commute to enjoy life.
- Your boss is a jerk and you want a better job.
This is where you must tread very carefully and not say anything that might be interpreted as trashing your current/former employer. DO tell them how well you fit, using the 2-part answer, above.
Don’t spend more than 30 to 60 seconds answering this question.
Sample Answer for “Tell Me About Yourself”
Someone seeking a management position with a local branch of a transportation company might say:
Part 1: Why You Are Qualified:
I am currently the Team Lead for ABC Freight Company in this area, reporting directly to the District Manager. During the last 9 years, I have progressed through positions of Package Loader, Courier, Dispatcher, and Team Lead.
In my current position, I have had the opportunity to complete numerous management training programs, provide supervision and leadership to all positions within the station, and participate in special projects in conjunction with Senior and District Managers.
My team includes over 50 drivers, loaders, and couriers and includes Big County. Since I was born and raised in this county, I have an excellent knowledge of this area as well as the 2 neighboring counties — North County and South County.
I enjoy being a Lead and the opportunity to empower and motivate my team. Last year I was awarded ‘Top Lead ‘ for greatest team gains in productivity.
Part 2: Why You Applied
I believe this experience and training has prepared me to take the next step and pursue a management position with XYZ Trucking. This company has a reputation for excellent management. This opportunity looks perfect to me, and I look forward to working with the best.
Yes, this person prepared and practiced his response in advance. Smart move!
As you can see from this sample answer, this individual:
- Emphasizes the tangibles that qualify him for the job, from his knowledge of the local area, long-term tenure with the employer, and recognition for management results within the industry. He does not focus on fluffy stuff or personal information, but paints a picture as to why he is a perfect candidate for the job.
- He also looks forward to advancement in his career, seeking a management position with this new employer.
[MORE: Smart Answers to Interview Questions.]
How to Prepare for “Tell Me About Yourself” In An Interview
Fortunately, this question is one of the easiest job interview questions to prepare for.
KNOW YOURSELF in terms of qualifications for the job and match for the company:
- Carefully review the job description to note where you meet or exceed the requirements.
- Research the company.
- Identify, catalog, list, and review your successes and accomplishments.
- Identify and list your relevant expertise, strengths, and unique value.
- Write out your 2-part answer, as described above.
And, practice, practice, practice so you sound natural and confident.
Then, you will be ready to put yourself in the employer’s shoes, and emphasize what will make you stand out for the company and for the job.
[For more tips on preparing for a job interview, read Pre-Interview Preparation so you will have a solid understanding of the position and the employer. ]
What You Do NOT Tell Them
I call this question a “spider web” because if you simply tell someone about yourself without planning or context to the target job for which you are there to interview, you could give away all kinds of information that leaves them with the impression that you are:
- Ditsy or naive
- Unprepared for the interview (so not really very interested)
- Simply a risk for the company
Most people talk about what they know, ramble on about where they live, kids, likes/dislikes, but, remember, THIS IS A JOB INTERVIEW. Sharing details about your personal life is not appropriate or smart.
An employer isn’t going to select to hire you because you have such cute children (causing you to miss work), a wonderful husband or wife (causing you to miss work), or interesting hobbies (causing you to miss work).
Your goal is to avoid answers that give away personal information about yourself, particularly because some of that information might take you off the top-candidates list.
The Bottom Line on Responding to “Tell Me About Yourself”
With advanced planning and practice, you can know your target employer and how to sell yourself for the job. “Tell me about yourself” then becomes a positive and fun exercise in demonstrating your value and getting one step closer to winning that great new job!
Your preparation for this question will also work well for the “Why should we hire you?” question.
More About Successful Job Interviews:
- Smart Answers to Interview Questions
- Smart Strategies to Answer Behavioral Questions
- Guide to Successful Interviews
- 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist
- Pre-Interview Preparation
- How to Answer: Why should we hire you?
Answering the Common Job Interview Questions:
Questions About You:
- What Is Your Greatest Achievement or Accomplishment?
- Tell Me/Us About Yourself
- Why Should We Hire You?
- What Do You Want?
- Why Do You Want THIS Job?
- What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
- What Is Your Greatest Strength?
- Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?
- What Is Your Current Salary?
- What Are Your Salary Expectations?
- When Can You Start?
- Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
- Smart Strategies to Answer to Behavioral Interview Questions
Handling Special Career Situations:
- Why Did You Quit Your Last Job
- After a Layoff: Why Did You Leave Your Job?
- After Being Fired: Why Did You Leave Your Job?
- Explain Your Gap in Employment
Questions About Them:
Questions for You to Ask Them:
- Do You Have Any Questions? — choose from 50+ good questions to ask them
- 5 Absolute Must-Ask Questions for the End of Your Next Interview
- The Second Interview: 5 Key Questions to Ask
- 45 Questions You Should NOT to Ask in Job Interviews
- 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist
- The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation
About the author…
Laura DeCarlo is recognized as the career industry’s ‘career hero’ making a difference to both job seekers and career professionals as the founder of Career Directors International. She possesses 11 top-level certifications in resume writing, career coaching, and career management; 7 first place resume and job placement awards; and has written three books on interviewing and job search including Interview Pocket RX, Interviewing: The Gold Standard, Resumes for Dummies,and Job Search Bloopers. Follow Laura on Twitter at @careerhero.
More about this author…