Interview Tip: “Tell Me About Yourself”

March 2nd, 2009 by lewis

Mark Zuckerberg

“Tell me about yourself” is the most frequently asked interview question.  It is also the most challenging because most candidates don’t know where to start when it comes to this broad, open-ended question.  Before you use this question to talk about your family, pets, or hobbies — ask yourself, “What is the question behind the question?”  In this case, the interviewer is really asking, “Why should I hire you?”  With this in mind, here are three key points you should drive home in your response:

  • Summarize your career.  Don’t assume that the interviewer has read your resume. Maybe they were too busy.  Or perhaps they read it but forgot the details.  In any event, highlight where you went to school and where you worked.  Quickly recap your career, so they know a little bit about who you are.
  • Elaborate on specific skills and experiences.  The next step is to help the interviewer understand why someone with your educational and work experience is a good fit for the job.  For instance, one of my clients is applying for a job where the company is looking for someone with strong technical and project management skills.  For his response to “Tell me about yourself,” I asked him to mention specific work examples that demonstrate his technical and project management capabilities.
  • Explain why you are interested in the company and/or position.  99% of the time, I get canned responses to this question.  I often hear candidates reply, “I want to work for a top notch company” or “I want to work with smart and talented people.”  As a hiring manager, I want to hire someone who is passionate about the job; those that are passionate are less likely to churn and more willing to put in extra effort.  When I hear generic responses, it tells me the candidate hasn’t taken the time to figure out why they really want the job.  So do your homework; be detailed and specific on why you want to join a company.
And one more thing, think of your response to “tell me about yourself” as a trial lawyer’s opening statement.  It’s your opportunity to establish your credibility and stimulate the interviewer’s curiosity.  If you do well, the interviewer will be engaged and follow-up questions will flow easily.

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4 Responses to “Interview Tip: “Tell Me About Yourself””

  1. March 07, 2009 at 7:49 pm, Charles said:

    “Tell me about yourself.”

    That’s a question I get and feel that I answer it well.

    A question that I have been asked in the last two interviews has thrown me off – “now’s the time for me to get to know you as a person” or something to that effect.

    In both cases I took it for the the tell-me-about-yourself question and was promptly corrected when I answered it as such. No, they really wanted to know about me, what I did in my free time, what I did for fun, etc. They said that they wanted to make sure that I was a “good fit.”

    When I then try to explain that I consider myself a professional and a team player who gets along well with others, I was again corrected in that they really did want to know about me personally.

    Any suggestions on what they might be looking for? Any suggestions on how I should answer it if it comes up again?

    Or am I really missing something?

  2. March 08, 2009 at 8:31 am, Lewis, AKA Seattle Interview Coach said:

    In this case, the interviewer does want to know more about you personally, not professionally. There’s no hidden question here.

    Here’s my tip: next time they ask: “now it’s time for me to get to know you as a person” — follow-up with a clarifying question. “Did you mean professionally or personally — like my hobbies?” If they say “personally,” then just roll with the punches. The interviewer is in charge, so if learning more about your hobbies is going to help you get you the job, then just go with it. If you don’t answer his or her question, the interviewer may incorrectly assume you are avoiding the question or have poor listening skills.

  3. March 12, 2010 at 10:17 am, Trent said:

    Charles: I was asked an extremely similar question in my most recent interview as well. Lewis got it spot on.

    Hope you don't mind me jumping in Lewis.

    I am currently a job developer for homeless adults, and do very similar work as Lewis. One thing I tell me clients is to remember that the skill set that you have is great, but in reality they can probably find that in the next 100 applicants as well. You have to be likeable, you have to fit in with the company culture. With the most recent hire for a position within my company that I assisted with, we hired an individual with ZERO experience in my field (although had social service experience), we hired this individual because he would mesh well and was extremely trainable. Other candidates who had 2, 3, 5 years of experience were skipped over because they probably would not have been able to fit.

    So bottom line, they truly want to know who you are! They can see the skill sets in the resume, cover letter, application (and any other documentation needed for applying). Like Lewis said, roll with the punches, and be excited to have the opportunity to get off the professional interview path and use it to make yourself more comfortable. 🙂

  4. July 24, 2010 at 9:00 am, Sean Haggard | Interview Backdoor said:

    I agree with both Lewis and Trent. When we are on the firing end of interviews, we often feel that we must stay on-topic and use every minute to sell ourselves.

    At the same time, as a hiring manager, I always use "fit" as a deciding factor. I have rejected qualified candidates because I did not believe they would mesh with the team dynamic. I can train you to perform a task but I can't train you to cooperate with your coworkers. (This mindset can vary drastically, however, been the private sector and public sector.)

    For a personal question, I don't want to know how many beers you had Saturday night, but I do want to know a little bit about you as a person. What are your hobbies, or what are some interesting things you have done? (can provide indirect details about motivation, energy, intelligence, interest, service, etc.)

    In short, have your elevator speech ready but always be prepared to be true to yourself.