TRAPS: Beware; about 80% of all interviews begin with this “innocent” question. Many job seekers don’t take the question seriously, thinking it’s just an icebreaker meant to put them at ease. Candidates, unprepared for the question, skewer themselves by rambling, recapping their life stories, delving into ancient work history or personal matters. But they should carefully consider their response, because “tell me about yourself” is more than a throw-away 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 will give them a better sense of who each job candidate really is.
BEST ANSWER: Start with the present and tell why you are well qualified for the position. Remember that the key to all successful interviewing is to match your qualifications to what the interviewer is looking for. In other words, you must sell what the buyer is buying. This is the single most important strategy in job hunting. So, before you answer this or any question it’s imperative that you try to uncover your interviewer’s greatest need, want problem, or goal.
To do so, make you take these steps:
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 suited 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 skills and experience.
Next, prepare a short script that highlights your most relevant abilities, strengths, and areas of expertise. 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 brief 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 GreenCO 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.”
Work on summarizing your answer before your interview, and aim for keeping your answer within a specific time (e.g., 2 minutes). Remember: You don’t have to give them every single detail. Let the conversation flow. “If the interviewer wants to know more about a specific skill or job, they will follow up with another question later in the interview.”
Stay positive yet professional
This is your chance to make a good first impression. Smile when you introduce yourself and thank the interviewer for their time. Be confident and friendly, but present yourself as reliable and professional to everyone you meet.
Interviews can be nerve-wracking and that is completely normal, but it’s good to try to control those nerves. It is easier to be more personable when you have a sense of control.
A few key things to keep in mind when interviewing in person is to be polite to everyone you interact with within the office.