“Tell me about yourself” is a favourite interview remark. So how do you respond?

Why “tell me about yourself” is so hard to answer

The question can really confuse job candidates who wonder how to summarize a 10 or 15 year career into a short interesting answer.  Uncertain about exactly what the hiring manager is looking for, candidates sometimes go through their resume point-by-point or ramble on about their achievements through school, family, hobbies and passions.  All this is not at all helpful for the hiring manager who is trying to decide whether you’re qualified for the job.

What hiring managers really want

With one after another non-stop interviews with candidates, the hiring manager may have only glanced through your resume and forgotten the information that was on it.  What the interviewer is really asking when they say “tell me about yourself” is to understand what your professional story is.  How you progressed to this point, and why does it make sense for you to be here talking to the interviewer about this particular job?

How to answer the interview question “tell me about yourself”

Try to make your response to the question highlight why you’re the right person for the job.

Talk about experience—why you took a particular position, what you achieved, and what you were looking for when you left.  Then explain why you’re a good fit for the job you are applying for.

Should you get personal?

“Tell me about yourself” can leave some job candidates wondering if they’re meant to talk about their childhoods or their academic achievements.  While your focus should primarily be on your professional experience, it can be useful to weave in some personal information specially if it shows some form of personal achievement like excelling in a sport or working part time to pay for college.

Bringing up personal experiences can also be a way to gauge reactions from a potential employer that will shed light on their values and culture.

If you have a particular hobby or passion outside of work, discussing that can also make you standout—particularly if you can show a connection between that pastime and the role you’re interviewing for.

A good formula to follow is:

  • Start with: Two to three sentences summarizing your career, for example “I’ve spent the last 5 years in product management, the last two of which I focused on xxx”..
  • Resume highlights: Pick a few experiences that directly connect to the role you’re interviewing for, and explain how they’ve prepared you to succeed in that position.
  • Conclusion: Two to three sentences summarizing why this particular job, company, and team was attractive to you, based on your previous experiences.

However you answer the question, it’s a good idea to keep your answer short and sweet, while still helping to drive the conversation about your suitability for the job.

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