"Tell me about yourself" may sound like an effortless interview question to answer - after all, you know enough about yourself to talk for hours! It's a good thing too, because it is generally the very first thing a recruiter will ask you - whether it's during a preliminary screening, interacting with your future boss, or sitting down with the CEO during the final round.
However, responding to this opportunity to talk about yourself at a job interview may be challenging and ambiguous. Al Dea, Muse career counselor and BetterWorks Labs founder says, “Depending on what you say, it's going to help them figure out the next question”. Because this question will set up the rest of the interview so it’s important to know how to answer it in a way that will benefit you..
Career Coach Lily Zhang suggests a simple and efficient formula for constructing your response – Present, Past, and Future.
When speaking of your present, talk about the details of your present position, what you like about it, and any recent accomplishments.
Present your past in a way that shows how you got to where you are now and discuss experience relevant to the position you are applying for.
Then explain what you want to accomplish in the future, and why you are interested in this position.
Of course, this is not the only method of answering this question so adapt it as you see appropriate. Whatever you do, make sure you incorporate the following tips to really nail your next interview!
First Impressions Triumphs All
We only have one shot to create a first impression, and when putting it in perspective, the majority of hiring choices are decided in the first minute. This includes your greeting, handshake, eye contact, and the first words that come out of your mouth.
A first impression can influence the rest of the interview. So don’t mess it up. If you must spend the rest of the time making up for a poor first impression, you're in a far worse situation than if you offered a brief, confident, and relevant response straight away.
Know Who Your Audience Is
It’s important to research the person you are interviewing with, so you know what’s important to them. The Director of Marketing is going to have a different focus than the CFO, and vice versa. The CEO may have a more general interest in your expertise, while the Operations Manager might want more demonstratable details. Focus your response to what they wat to hear.
For example, to CEO:
“I led a department which increased productivity by over 35% in 2021, due mostly to reorganizing the structure and reassigning product lines.
For example, to Operations Manager:
“My team processed 10,000 orders in the 3 months by streamlining the product workflow. I upped the hours for the procurement team to 50 hours a week, simplified the packaging, and increased the number of delivery trucks to ensure quick delivery.
Customize You’re Response
When an interviewer asks this dreaded question, what they want to know is how you relate your expertise to the position they are filling. Make most of this opportunity by reading the job description thoroughly, researching the company, and planning how to convey your narrative in a way that makes it apparent why what you bring to the table is relevant to the role.
Keep Your Answer Brief
Interviewers appreciate a person who gets directly to the point, so keep your answers to 2 minutes or less.
Don't squander this time regurgitating every aspect of your professional life. Too many people respond as if they're presenting a dissertation on their resume, but this will bore the interviewer to tears. Make sure, while you are speaking, you assess the room. If the interviewer(s) appear preoccupied, it may be time to end the conversation. If they perk up at one aspect of your response, it could be worth elaborating on that point. Consider the conversation a teaser that should spark the interviewer's attention and allow them to ask follow-up questions regarding whatever piques their interest the most.
Your Professional Life Is the Focus
As you may have guessed, this inquiry has an unspoken qualifier; keep your response focused on your professional history. You should avoid talking about your family and hobbies. While some interviewers may find it interesting that your climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, most won’t care as it doesn’t apply to the position at hand. Yes, the fact that you ran an ultra-marathon shows commitment to a project. However, how does that translate into your work performance?
Practice Your Answer Out Loud
Before the interview, consider the info you want to convey and then practice saying it loud. Meet with a friend and practice, with them giving you live feedback on what sounds good and what doesn’t. Is it short enough, does it get to the point?
One thing you can do is try a dry run and record your answer. How does it sound to your ear?
While you should keep your responses professional, don’t let this prevent you from expressing why you are enthusiastic about the work or the organization. Remember, you don’t have to be stiff. It’s perfectly fine to let your personality shine through to help the interviewer connect what drives you and the company’s goals.
“I discovered my passion for drawing at age 10. My parents couldn’t get me to put my pencils down and eventually bought me an iPad so I could draw digitally. Over the next 10 years, I cultivated my skills and am lucky enough to have completed several major graphics projects for Disney Animations. I love what I do!”
End each question on a positive note. This can sometimes be difficult to do, especially if your last position or project didn’t end well. If you must mention a not-so encouraging aspect of your career, put it in the middle of your answer. Then circle back to a positive comment and end it there.
“I really loved the work culture at ABC company. Even though my time there ended abruptly due to an error I made, I took the lesson and applied it to XYZ company. There I performed in the top 5% of my department and never made that mistake again.”
If you follow these tips, you will get better with each interview. It will take time, but you will eventually be able to answer this question expertly without a second thought.