How to Answer: “Tell Me About Yourself”

So, tell me about yourself,” says the recruiter, looking up from her notepad expectantly. Your heart picks up the pace as you take a breath and blurt out an answer—a jumbled mess of biographical notes, work experience, and some nonsense about your pajamas-in-public phase.

Tell Me About Yourself

It seems like such a simple question, but “tell me about yourself” is notorious for wrecking many interviewees’ chances to make positive first impressions. The difficulty lies in its potential breadth. How do you boil down everything that makes you

you, into a coherent answer? Turns out there’s a simple formula, and we’ve got you covered.

Prep Work

Before you use the formula, you’ll need to do some prep work.

Good interview questions serve one purpose: to prime you to provide information that will help the recruiter determine if you’re the right person for the job. With this in mind, make a list of four or five skills, personality traits, professional experiences, etc., you want to highlight. Since “tell me about yourself” will likely be the recruiter’s opener, these qualities should be the most relevant to the job. If you’re stuck on what qualities to highlight, go back to the job posting and what qualifications you line up best with.

When working through the formula, knit these qualities into your response. You can be overt, but there’s a lot to be said for subtly and subtext. You may also want to write out a rough response and practice it a few times. Having a memorized response at the ready will make it easier to get back on track if you go off script.

Step One: Unearthing Your Lede

Sure, the recruiter should know who you are (she called you after all). But now is your chance to become more than a name on a resume. This step introduces you as a potential employee.

For example, if a candidate is interviewing for a sales manager position, he may open with, “I'm a personable sales representative with ten years’ experience leading sales teams and surpassing quotas.” Notice how this statement begins aligning the candidate with the job. It points to relevant experience and successes in similar positions. It also drops in “personable,” an excellent quality for a customer-facing position.

For this step, remember the reporters’ adage: Don’t bury the lede. In other words, this is not the time to start pitching your memoir and discussing where you grew up, how you aced the spelling bee, or who was your first kiss. You’re not getting paid by the word, Dickens. Get to the point.

Step Two: Highlight You

Highlight what makes you a good fit for the position. Do you have any special training or experience? Do you have a specialization that makes you unique in your field? Or perhaps a personality trait that's beneficial?

Going back to our sales manager candidate, if he led his sales team to record years three years in a row, then he’ll want to mention that here. He doesn’t have to be too specific. The recruiter will ask him more pointed questions later, giving him an opportunity to relish the details of his success.

This step is where you can highlight personal qualities, such as a hobby or adaptive skill. Just be sure they reveal why you would be a good fit. Does the job post mention writing skills? Then your morning crossword habit may be worth a mention. What about networking? Organizing last year’s PTA fundraiser could be just the thing.

Another advantage of mentioning a hobby or non-work skill is that is starts things off with a personal touch. Of course, you should avoid subjects like politics, religion, or controversial topics. No need to get that personal.

Step Three: Call to Action

Conclude your response with a call to action that indicates why you are there. Are you looking for a new challenge? A way to expand your knowledge of the industry? Do you want to work for the organization because of its excellent reputation?

Whatever the case, be sure to let the recruiter know why you're there. This conclusion will flow naturally into more business-related questions, and recruiters always appreciate an interview that goes smoothly.

If the difficulty of “tell me about yourself” lies in its breadth, then the solution is to narrow the spectrum of possible answers and pinpoint the best you for the job. This easy-to-follow formula will help you do just that, leading to many positive first impressions. Oh, and did we mention not wearing pajamas at the interview? That’ll help, too.

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