“Tell me about yourself.”
This should be a softball interview question, but it’s surprisingly difficult to answer.
This question comes up near the beginning of almost every interview, yet many job seekers find themselves scrambling to answer.
One big 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 because it’s an icebreaker; it gets you talking about something, anything.
It also gives the interviewer a glimpse of how well-rounded and personable you are as a candidate before diving into your work history and qualifications for the relevant job. 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? How do you come up with a strong and succinct response that leaves a great impression?
If you want to make a great 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 some “tell me about yourself” answer examples.
How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” (A Formula)
A few points to keep in mind while preparing your answer. First, you aren’t telling your life story here. Keep it brief! In addition, don’t just regurgitate your resume. Finally, however you decide to answer, tailor your response to the specific job.
Beyond that general advice, you can also follow a simple formula:
This will help you organize your response to create a strong first impression in almost any interview.
Here’s how the formula works:
Step 1: Tell them how you got to where you are today
The first step is to discuss your background and professional experience as it relates to the position.
This includes how you got to where you are today and how your career path has led you to this point. Consider these questions:
- What first made you interested in your professional field?
- How did you get started in your industry?
- How have you worked your way up from a recent position to your current position?
You can also mention any accomplishments or awards you’ve earned along the way or in your last job. (You should also highlight these in your resume).
Be careful not to share your entire life story. Only include personal interests and stories if they relate to the job you want.
It’s important to start your answer by talking about your previous experience because it shows how you’ve developed your skills and how those skills can help the company.
“I’ve always been interested in how technology can help people communicate better, so I started working for a small company while still in school. Eventually I worked my way up to this role. It’s fascinating how technology has evolved over time, especially how it allows us to reach more customers on a global scale.”
Step 2: Talk about your current job and responsibilities
The next step is to transition into your current role and responsibilities.
This includes how you’re currently helping your company succeed and how your position contributes to its overall success.
While discussing your present position, be sure to touch on your relevant experience applicable to the role for which you’re applying.
This will help give hiring managers context on how your experience can be used to help them.
“Currently, I’m leading my team in designing our next generation of products. We create technology that allows people all over the world to communicate better. It’s important for us to stay up-to-date on the evolution of tech so we can better serve our customers.”
Step 3: Explain what your future goals are
The last step is to talk briefly about where you hope to go in the future. This could include how you want your career path to progress or how much longer you plan on staying in your respective industry.
While explaining your future goals, it’s important to include your next goal: getting the job for which you’re applying.
This is when you can mention how you see yourself fitting into their company and how the role aligns with your career goals.
Explain how your past and current job experience has given you the tools and skills necessary to succeed in this new role and how you can continue to grow as a professional.
“I’ve seen how technology can connect people worldwide, and I’ve led the development of new products to grow that connection. In my next role, I want to work with customers on a global scale and demonstrate the worldwide usability of our company’s products.”
Additional Tips for Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
The Past-Present-Future formula is just one way to answer “tell me about yourself.” Feel free to adjust your answer based on how the hiring managers word their questions. Here are a few related questions they might ask instead:
- Walk me through your resume.
- Tell me something that’s not on your resume.
- Tell me more about your background.
- I’d love to hear more about your career path.
- Tell me something unique about you.
You can still use the basic formula for these interview questions. Beyond that, here are more tips and examples to help you craft the perfect answer for the common “tell me about yourself” question:
Practice your answer out loud
Practice saying your answer out loud, so it feels comfortable when answering verbally or in writing. This will help you be confident when answering the question. You confidence will show that you’re well-prepared.
When preparing your answer, make sure to pause between each section so it sounds natural instead of rushed or choppy.
Don’t try to write out your entire answer and memorize it — that will just sound robotic and rehearsed.
Keep your answer concise
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. Keep it brief.
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” question is often used as an icebreaker. You will be asked to go into more detail with your answers as the job interview progresses.
Understand who’s interviewing you
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. Demonstrate your willingness to learn. Share why you’re a good fit for the team.
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.
It’s a good idea to prepare multiple answers for “tell me about yourself,” based on who is asking and how they present the question.
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.
“[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.
Enthusiasm goes back to culture fit or culture add. The hiring manager is interested in a candidate who wants this job, in this industry.
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 or unnecessarily humble, you might appear unqualified. On the other hand, if you brag about yourself or criticize your colleagues, you’ll appear obnoxious.
You want to be confident, not arrogant. Keep this in mind as you form your “tell me about yourself” answer.
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.
“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 to how you can help the company
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 go 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 into:
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Why do you want this job?
With all of these questions, focus on how your skills and experiences fit into their requirements for this role.
“Tell Me About Yourself” Sample Answers
Here are three example answers that will help you create your own “tell me about yourself” response. Each job candidate provides key points from their past, present, and future work experiences. Each answer includes their:
- technical skills
- problem-solving skills
- key accomplishments
- any extra personal information that may be relevant
Sample Answer 1: 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.”
Sample Answer 2: 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.”
Sample Answer 3: For Candidates Who Are 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.”
Conclusion: How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
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 while answering 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. Show your enthusiasm for the role. Most of all, be yourself! This question can help you relax into the interview.
Now that you know how to answer, “tell me about yourself,” it’s time to put what you’ve learned into action.
Get your job search started by heading over to the Insight Global job board, and we’ll help you schedule your next interview today!