“Tell me about yourself.”
This should be a softball interview question, but it’s surprisingly difficult to answer. It comes up near the beginning of almost every interview, yet many job seekers find themselves scrambling to answer it with confidence. The challenge? “Tell me about yourself” is such a broad inquiry, with nearly unlimited ways to respond. You might share:
- What you’ve done in your career
- How you got to where you are today
- How well-rounded of a person you are
- Why they should hire you over other candidates
- What makes you unique as an individual
“Tell me about yourself” isn’t a simple question with a straightforward answer. It’s an open-ended question designed to learn more about you as a job candidate. In this article, we’ll show you how to answer the common question, “Tell me about yourself.” You will learn:
- Why interviewers ask this question
- A simple 3-step formula to shape your answer
- Tips to prepare your answer
- “Tell me about yourself” sample answers
Once you learn how to answer “tell me about yourself,” you’ll feel confident and prepared for your job interview!
Let’s jump to it.
Why Do Interviewers Ask, “Tell me about yourself”?
“Tell me about yourself” is a question that many employers ask during the beginning stages of a job interview process. It gets you talking, plus it gives the interviewer a glimpse of how well-rounded and personable you are as a candidate before diving into your work history and qualifications. They want to get a better sense of who you are beyond what they can find on your resume or cover letter.
It’s also commonly asked because the hiring manager wants to know how well you’ll fit in with the company culture. This is your chance to show how much of a culture match you are with the role, department, and/or group that’s interviewing you.
But how do you go beyond just a basic answer? If you want to give a strong response and make a positive first impression, you need to demonstrate that:
- You can fit into the company’s culture
- Your current skills align with what they’re looking for in an employee
- You are well-rounded
Let’s look at how to answer “tell me about yourself” in a job interview.
How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview (A Formula)
When telling employers about yourself, you want to provide them with valuable information that tells a story and enriches your application. They already have a baseline understanding of your professional history, so focus on ways to add more context and share engaging details about your professional journey.
A simple way to structure your response is by using a three-step formula that builds a narrative around you and your professional experience:
- Explain how your background influenced your career trajectory
- Discuss your current position as it relates to your desired role
- Describe how your desired role can help you achieve your career goals
By walking your interviewer through your past, present, and future, you help them envision how the role fits in with your overall career. You also demonstrate how each of your experiences and goals makes you the ideal match for the position you’re seeking.
Here’s a breakdown of how to successfully accomplish each step with a specific job title as an example: UX Designer.
Step 1: Tell Them How You Got to Where You Are Today
Although your resume likely includes short descriptions of your past positions, it likely doesn’t share your motivations for pursuing those roles. Set the stage for the rest of your answer by explaining what motivated you to pursue your chosen career and what aspects of your past roles interested you the most. Consider picking out a few key anecdotes or accomplishments that showcase your interests.
Make sure to keep the information relevant to the role you’re seeking. This helps the interviewer clearly understand how your past experience has prepared you for the position.
Sample answer: “I discovered my passion for web design when taking a computer science elective. Ever since that first web design assignment, I became fascinated with how website layouts impacted each user’s experience. In my first role as a junior web designer, I worked closely with the UX design team to implement better interfaces through extensive A/B testing. When a role became available on the UX team, I jumped at the opportunity and have since been looking for ways to create more engaging, accessible experiences for web users.”
Step 2: Talk About Your Current Job and Responsibilities
Next, showcase your success in your current role and explain how it’s prepared you for the position you’re seeking. Discuss how you’ve made an impact on your team or organization and highlight how the role has helped you develop in your career.
When describing your current position, focus on how your personal characteristics have helped you thrive. This gives the interviewer the opportunity to envision how those same skills and characteristics would apply to their organization.
Sample answer: “In my current role as a UX designer, I work to optimize both our website and our app design to improve the sales funnel and make our content more accessible. I’ve since created a new user research and testing system that has completely streamlined how my organization applies user feedback to its interface design. Working with so many aspects of a single organization’s UX has prepared me to move into a consulting role where I can use my expertise to solve the unique problems of multiple clients.”
Step 3: Explain Your Future Goals
To finish your answer, explain how the role you’re applying for fits in with your future goals. Your goals can include moving into a specific role, leading a team, or working toward a meaningful company mission. This completes the story of your career trajectory and shows your long-term interest in the role—and the organization as a whole.
Discuss both the job you’re currently seeking and how you can use it as a stepping stone for your long-term career goals. This helps connect the job to your core values, demonstrating how your desires align with the company’s needs.
Sample answer: “Joining your team as a UX consultant would allow me to leverage my extensive web design experience to support a broader range of products and services. As I gain more experience promoting innovation in different organizations, I would hope to eventually move into a director role where I could help shape the company’s philosophy for promoting positive user experiences.”
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Common Variations of “Tell Me About Yourself”
While “tell me about yourself” is the most common form of this interview question, there are variations that an interviewer might use to get to know you better. Here are a few related questions they might ask instead:
- Tell me more about your background.
- Can you tell me about your professional history?
- Walk me through your resume.
- I’d love to hear more about your career path.
- Tell me something that’s not on your resume.
You can still use the basic formula for these interview questions, as each of these variations are meant to achieve the same underlying goal: to get to know you better and test how you might fit into the organization.
How Long Should Your Answer Be?
The goal is to stay within a two-minute timeframe, so the interviewer doesn’t get bored or distracted. It’s okay if you go over that limit, but try not to ramble on about personal details of your life story or unrelated experiences. It’s best to keep your answer brief and concise.
Simply mention how you got into the industry and how your role has evolved over time instead of going into extensive detail about each experience. After all, the “tell me about yourself” interview question is often used as an icebreaker. You will be asked to go into more detail with your answers as the job interview progresses.
Additional Tips for Answering the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
Practice your response out loud so it feels comfortable when answering verbally. This will help you display confidence when answering the question, and your confidence will show that you’re well-prepared. But avoid memorizing your answer—you don’t want to sound robotic and rehearsed.
Beyond that, here are more tips and examples to help you craft the perfect answer for the “tell me about yourself” interview question:
Understand Your Interviewer
For most roles, you’ll be interviewed by multiple people. It’s important to understand who’s interviewing you during your job search because you’ll likely get the “tell me about yourself” question from each person.
A recruiter or HR person is looking for a more general answer. Talk about your overall experience, soft skills, and interests. Connect that to the job and the company. Your prospective colleagues or boss, however, wants to know if they’ll benefit from working with you on a daily basis. Talk about your hard skills here while demonstrating your willingness to learn.
Finally, if someone in senior leadership interviews you, they are interested in the big picture. Your answer needs to relate to the company’s overall mission. Highlight your accomplishments, and share your ability to repeat that success at this company.
You can also improve your response by making it more specific to the position and company based on what you learn throughout the interview process.
Sample answer: “[Recruiter Name] really emphasized your company’s core values and that resonated with me because…”
Show Some Enthusiasm
Inserting some enthusiasm into your answer can help make it more memorable for the interviewer. For example, you can mention how much you’ve been looking forward to this job interview or how excited you are about the role. This will show how passionate and motivated you are in your career path. Plus, your genuine enthusiasm—and willingness to learn—can outweigh a minor weakness in your job experience.
Be Confident, Not Arrogant
A big challenge to answering any interview question is how to sell yourself as a candidate. If you’re unsure of yourself, you might appear unqualified. On the other hand, if you brag about yourself or criticize your colleagues, you might appear conceited. You want to be confident, not arrogant. To strike this careful balance, focus on facts. Don’t make broad, grandiose statements about your expertise.
Instead, briefly explain your accomplishments and how you achieved them.
Sample answer: “I pay close attention to details, even when working to meet tight deadlines. In my last role, I worked on the launch of a new app. I discovered a bug shortly before the launch date. By working closely with my colleagues, and adjusting our internal deadlines for other projects, we were able to fix the bug and keep our scheduled launch date. Our app had 20% more downloads after the first week, with an overall higher star rating, compared to our company average.”
Keep it Relevant
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important that your answer is relevant to:
- How you’ll be able to contribute to this new role
- How your experience aligns with exactly what they’re looking for in a candidate
- What additional assets they’ll gain from hiring someone like you
When preparing your “tell me about yourself” answer, always refer to back to the job description.
Prepare for Common Follow-up Questions
Prepare for follow-up questions so you can remain comfortable and confident during the interview. “Tell me about yourself” often leads to questions like:
With all of these questions, focus on how your skills and experiences fit into their requirements for this role.
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“Tell Me About Yourself” Sample Answers
“Tell me about yourself” is a big ask, and each candidate will have a unique response based on their experience, interests, goals, and training. It can be nerve-racking to distill down who you are into 30 seconds. And, to be fair, this isn’t a place to talk for 5-10 minutes straight detailing each element of your resume. This is a great opportunity to talk about you in the context of the role you’re interviewing for and highlight what you think will help propel the interview forward.
Let’s review some sample responses to help you think more about your answer and give you inspiration for what to include.
Remember, your goal is to give the interviewer more insight into who you are and help both of you determine if this role is right for you. So, your answer should primarily relate to your professional experience but showcase your authentic self.
A few things to think about including:
- Technical skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Key accomplishments
- Any relevant personal information that may be relevant—if you’ve got a gap in your resume or are changing careers, this might be the place to start that conversation.
Here are a few sample answers for different situations:
Sample Answer for Candidates with Significant Experience
- “I started my career in the financial industry and later moved into management consulting after several years. I changed industries because I really enjoy how fast-paced and dynamic the consulting position is. My first consulting position was at [company name], and I helped them grow from a small organization to a global corporation. While I was there, I earned a promotion to a management role and began training new consultants.
- I really enjoyed working with and training the new consultants because it helped me learn how to break down complex concepts into simple components. I also learned how important it is to keep an open mind, listen carefully, and help them find their strengths.
- In my current role at [company name], I oversee a team of consultants and help them deliver on their projects. One of the things I love about my job is how much variety there is to each project and how it never gets boring.Recently, I made the decision that it was time for me to look at how I can make an even bigger impact in my career and grow professionally by taking on a more active consultant role.
- So, when this new job came up, it was a great fit for my experience and my career goals. It will afford me the unique opportunity to help build a bigger team of consultants and create my own training system that will teach them how to run successful projects.I’m excited about how much I’ll be able to learn from this position as well because I’ll be immersed in how the consulting process works from start to finish.”
- “Even though I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, I still think back to the science teacher who inspired me to enter the field. Their creative approach to education inspired me to constantly explore new modalities to teaching and expand my skillset.
- My passion for learning and continued education inspired me to make a mid-career switch from elementary school social studies to Advanced Placement high school history courses. Because I was earning my advanced history degree while teaching, I was able to experience the perspective of both student and educator, which I used to enhance my teaching strategies.
- By moving to an adjunct professor role at the college level, I hope to apply my same passion for creative teaching at a higher level. Working in this role will allow me to pursue teaching alongside research, giving me the opportunity to design a more enriching curriculum about meaningful subjects.”
Sample Answer for Candidates with Good Experience
- “Right now, in my position at [company name], I’m responsible for handling our business development and client relations. Every day I work to ensure that our team is providing the best possible service for our clients so they can reach their goals. This role includes how we communicate with clients about their results as well as how we continue to grow new relationships and maintain current ones. In fact, our business development team was just awarded [award name] for how we were able to contribute to our company’s growth because of how much we’ve been able to successfully grow new relationships.
- I’ve been with [company name] for a little over five years now. Before this, I worked at [company name] for over five years as well. What I’ve appreciated about both companies is the value of the work that we do for our clients.
- What excites me the most about this opportunity is the chance to work in a more active client relations role and to work with bigger clients. It’s always been a goal of mine to partner with Fortune 500 companies and help them solve their biggest problems because it can have tangible positive effects for millions of people.I love how this position will allow me to grow my skill set and learn new things because not only do I get to work with a variety of different high-profile businesses, but I also have the chance to meet people from all over the world who share similar interests in making an impact and growing their business.”
- “Although I started out in a customer support role, I quickly discovered an interest in instructional design. I noticed how the resources and tutorials we provided to customers had a major impact on their experience. After creating some of my own tutorials and guides, I approached my manager about making this a permanent part of my role.
- After learning that my guides drastically decreased complaints and reduced the average call time, my manager created a new instructional design position for me to move into. The role has evolved over the past five years, and I now oversee two other content creators on the support team.
- Now that I have my degree in instructional design, I’m ready to apply my skills to a broader scope. I’m inspired by the opportunity to create a central database of support materials for your organization and look forward to managing larger teams to produce consistent, high-quality guides.”
Sample Answer for Recent Graduates
- “Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been drawn to how businesses operate and how I can help them grow. I was so fascinated by the input and output of cash flow that I interned 15 hours a week at a local accounting firm where I was able to learn how businesses run from the inside.
- Once I started at [university name], I was able to leverage my financial skills to land a part-time bookkeeping job at [company name]. It was a challenge to juggle a job and a full class load, but I recently graduated with honors, earning a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. While I have loved working at [company name], I’m excited to join an accounting firm where I can work with multiple clients. I know my education and my experience would serve your business and your clients well.”
- “I discovered my passion for community programming by chance when my social sciences class completed some volunteer work as part of a project. I started regularly volunteering at the community center on my own and was excited to get even more hands-on experience as an intern. I discovered all the day-to-day details that make free community programs come to life, and I eventually changed majors to non-profit administration.
- Every summer since then, I’ve worked as a volunteer coordinator for the center’s summer programming. I’ve learned how to manage complex schedules, design engaging activities, and, most importantly, bond with the community.
- I’m looking forward to taking on a management role where I can apply the fundamentals of my degree and my real-world experience to a larger community. I hope to eventually become an activities director of a local non-profit, and working as a program manager would give me the opportunity to build towards that goal.”
Sample answer for switching careers
- “When I first started working in human resources, I quickly realized that my favorite part of the job was hosting events for employee engagement and education. I started looking for ways to incorporate more of these activities into my job and eventually discovered the field of event planning.
- Although planning events is just a part of my current role, hosting large-scale corporate events has equipped me to thrive as a full-time event planner. My current role has taught me how to coordinate complex schedules, manage budgets, and gather feedback to improve future events. As an HR professional, I’ve developed sharp communication skills that would be a major asset when working with vendors, suppliers, and venues. After gaining hands-on experience as an event coordinator, I hope to work with your company at larger venues where I can collaborate with clients to fulfill their creative visions.”
“Tell Me About Yourself” is Your Chance to Shine
The “tell me about yourself” job interview question is usually one of the first questions asked in an interview. And while it might seem like a simple icebreaker, how you answer this question will set the tone for your entire conversation with the hiring manager. The best way to answer this open-ended question and make a great first impression is to follow the 3-step formula laid out in this post.
- Answer how you got to where you are today
- Talk about your current job and responsibilities
- Explain what your future goals are
While steps one and two can be interchangeable, the most important thing to remember is to tailor your responses to the position for which you’re applying. Demonstrate how your expertise is relevant to the job description and how it may assist the company in achieving their goals. Be honest, keep it brief, and show your enthusiasm for the role. But most of all, be yourself!
Now that you know how to answer “tell me about yourself,” check out our tips and best practices for how to end an interview!
Ready to put what you’ve learned into action? Head over to the Insight Global job board, and we’ll help you schedule your next interview today!