How To Properly Answer The Dreaded Tell Me About Yourself Question
We’ve all been there: You finally made it to the interview stage of your next job which could determine the trajectory of your career. Then the interviewer prompts you with the common open-ended question, “Can you tell me about yourself?”
Though expected, this question can freeze even the most seasoned job hunter. How exactly do you answer? Sure, you could tell the interviewer or panel about your personal life, family, and hobbies but is that really what they want to hear?
Hiring managers use the question as an icebreaker to make you feel at ease, but it’s also a strategic move to uncover insight into your personality -- and see if you are a good fit for their team, and the job.
But before you tell the hiring manager about your pets, siblings, and favorite book series, consider formulating the perfect response before you even enter the interview. Read on to learn how to answer this dreaded question, how to practice your reply, and best practices for which responses to avoid.
How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
The right response is succinct, not too short, not too long. Remember: Your interviewer wants to get to know you, but they also do not need to hear your life story. You have to share the perfect balance of unique information and personal anecdotes to present to them a three-dimensional view of who you are as a professional and person.
Think low-key over oversharing, with a goal to develop a personal connection and rapport with your interviewer(s).
We all live exciting lives in and around our day jobs. Describe yours here for the interviewer, with a focus on the hobbies that you are most passionate, to the interests that don't directly relate to your day job.
Maybe you enjoy exercising, boating, yoga, painting, music or reading -- share what you feel comfortable, it's up to you. But don't spend too much time on personal activities; mention them and move on.
Volunteering is a wholesome, selfless act that can connect to the values of the organization that you desire to enter. Volunteer work shows a commitment and cares for the environment and community, whether you are a part-time tour guide, fundraiser for a cause, or assist at a church or homeless shelter for outreach.
When you share this tidbit with the hiring manager, you show that there is depth to your character.
As we aforementioned, mention your personal life, then seamlessly move into your professional one. Connect your own life to the pivot into your professional skills with a simple phrase, such as, "In addition to all of my pursuits and interests, my professional career is a huge part of who I am as a person, which I will bring to this role. My key strengths are…"
Your goal here is to quickly describe how you will add value to the company with the professional skills that you have cultivated.
You'll want to share three to five of your best qualities and curated skills, also which area of expertise that you developed to thrive in the job you are interviewing. To hone in on which skills to mention, make a list to study before your interview.
Another tip: Match the job description to your competencies; align everything. And highlight the core skills that you believe make you the best candidate.
It's easy to overshare which is overwhelming for the hiring manager. Reserve your supporting strengths as the interview continues to progress. Then share when appropriate.
Expertise is a delicate subject to communicate, but you'll want to connect your skill to a work-related example with tangible results. You can continue to discuss the patterns and results reaped by your strengths at critical moments during the interview; here, you need to be brief.
Your interview is a presentation of who you are as an employee and person. Your hosts are getting to know you beyond your professional role, which you can leverage to build rapport and show that you are a well-rounded individual. But you must not get too comfortable, here; everything is not worthy conversational content.
Answers to Avoid
If you are involved in politics as a pollster, volunteer, activist, or donor, it is best not even to mention your involvement. While you should be proud of your beliefs and passion for whatever cause you to embrace, you cannot be sure the hiring manager feels the same way.
Politics is a hot-button issue and can be a distractor to the goals of an organization. And you do not want to disqualify yourself from the position.
Likewise, religion is another controversial topic to leave as a footnote to the response you should give. (Example: "I like to volunteer at my church…")
While you have worker protections that shield you from being persecuted or discriminated against because of your religion, it is a weighty discussion topic that can take the focus away from you as a professional during your interview.
Your family is great, but stay mum on them in a job interview. This information can be considered too personal to demonstrate your skills and personality adequately. Remember, the meeting is about you, not your partner, spouse, or children.
How To Prepare
Focus on defining a few essential elements of your personal and professional life to start. Try to describe, on paper, what you do that relates to the role you're interviewing. Then list the top five strengths that you possess and which you will bring to the new job.
These could be experiences, skills, characteristics, and more. This brainstorm will position you to deliver a message to the interviewer about what they should think about when considering you:
For example, you can frame in the interviewer's mind that you are active in a particular area, with a proven success record in another field, and that your core strength is a specific characteristic. So think about how you want to position yourself for the meeting.
Consider creating a script to transition from your hobbies and into your professional line of expertise. A script doesn't have to be memorized though, just an outline for you to follow to help frame your thoughts.
You can start by writing out your past success:
“I have worked in communications for the past five years. My most recent job experience has been coordinating internal communication for a corporate leader. I enjoy this role and business, even the challenges that come with it because it provides me with the opportunity to meet and learn from many people. In my last role, I created internal standards that resulted in a 30 percent increase in efficiency and sales in just a few short months.”
Next, detail your significant strengths and skills:
"My major strength is my ability to break down complex details into information everyone can understand. I also pride myself on being able to connect with all levels of an organization to get the insights needed to create stronger communication systems."
Finish with a statement about why you desire to leave your current job:
"What I'm seeking now is an organization that values innovation, where I can join a diverse team and immediately helps enhance communication for business success."
Make sure to recite your script out loud. Then cut away any unnecessary phrases or words. Be brief yet specific.
Give It Your Best Try. Prepare Well.
Regardless of what industry you are in, interviews are stressful. Not only do you have to condense your professional background into less than an hour, but you must set a good impression and respond confidently to questions as well.
The circumstances are daunting as is, which is why education and preparation are essential. With enough thought and practice, you'll have the answers to any questions posed to you through the interview.
One more tip for success is to over-prepare new answers. This extra step will keep your anxiety down. Here are a few extra to craft responses too:
Remember To Practice
Once you have your sample answers in a draft, and you feel confident about its content, begin to bring your statement to life by practicing it in script-form.Rehearsing it will show you what you should emphasize and what to minimize.
You can get an idea of overall length, and the preparation will help you distinguish your key selling points. You will emerge with a more significant line of sight into what makes you a dynamic candidate, and how you can sell your best self to the hiring manager.