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How to answer “tell me about yourself” interview question

“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most popular interview questions so knowing how to answer it is critical. This question is a way for your interviewer to learn more about you, beyond what’s written on your resume or LinkedIn profile. While it may appear to be an easy question to answer- because, hey, they’re just asking you to talk about yourself, the truth is it’s not that easy. And it’s a question asking for more than it appears, it’s really part of the why should I hire you question. When you answer this question properly, you are communicating the ‘why’, what motivates you, what makes you interesting, special and valuable. Answering this is an art, not a science, so it takes work and practice.

Here’s a 5 step approach to how to answer tell me about yourself interview question.

1. Understand what the question is really asking.

The first thing you’ll note is that it is an unstructured question. That’s because the person asking wants to see how you’ll reply. Do you ramble or do you have a cohesive story? The question is not for you to tell them your entire life story, rather it is to explain the relevant parts of your background and experience that helps answer why you want the job and are interested in working with them.

2. Think about what make you different than other candidates.  

In order to sell yourself, you need to know yourself. What skills and traits do you have that are relevant to the job? What are you known for among your peers and colleagues both professionally and personally? Are you an analytical person who is always curious? Are you a lifelong learner who loves marketing? Are you known for building relationships and interpersonal skills? Even though you may have a number of skills and traits, pick 2-3 most relevant to highlight.

3. Summarize who you are, what you’ve accomplished and are working on.

This summary is the heart of your answer to the question and it’s where you get to bring to life your resume. It’s also an opportunity to share relevant anecdotes that showcase your personality and background in a genuine way. Don’t be afraid to bring in your personality, just be mindful of staying professional. Pique your interviewer’s interest by sharing examples- but don’t go into too much detail, let them follow up with more questions.

4. Connect to your audience. 

Your answer should be tailored to your audience – meaning the company and the interviewer. For example, say the job is a sustainability position at an environmental social enterprise- it would be helpful to highlight your experiences that relates to your lifelong interest in sustainability and understanding of the social enterprise sector. This strategy can be applied as well for informational interviews or networking events. It’s always important to tailor your answer to the type of person you are chatting with so make sure you do your research on knowing your audience.

5. Practice. Practice. Practice. 

Write it out and say it out loud, even take it one step further and video yourself. When you see and hear yourself, you realize more clearly what works and what doesn’t. Now you may be thinking, why do I have to practice talking about myself? The answer is- it’s hard to talk about yourself in way that shows off your best features without sounding braggy. The key here is to practice, not memorize. Be polished but not rehearsed or robotic. Remember the key points you want to get across and allow yourself the freedom to ad-lib. Another reason why practicing is important is to build confidence. You know this question is coming in an interview but without being prepared, the nerves and stress may get to you, making it harder to think on the spot. By practicing out loud how you’d answer the question, you’ll be more relaxed and genuine.

Ps- some bad habits to avoid and best practices to keep in mind for “tell me about yourself”:

Don’t ask the person what they want to know

Don’t give TMI (too much information) or your life story, rather tailor the highlights to make it relevant to the situation

Don’t ramble, try to keep it to 30-60 seconds or so

Be enthusiastic, let your passion and interests shine

Keep in mind your body language- how you’re sitting, smiling and eye contact (remember, you’re having a conversation)

While there’s no perfect template to follow, the best answers leave the other person with a positive impression and an idea of who you are. Think about what you want them to remember about you. People connect with people and their stories. Tell yours in a way that shows off the best version of yourself. And remember, no one knows you better than you. Follow this 5 step approach to answering tell me about yourself interview question and you will rock the start of the interview!

If you know anyone who’s going for an interview, do your friend a solid and send them this guide.

What did you think? Did I miss any other tips you’ve used to answer “tell me about yourself” interview question?


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