Updated: Feb 5
If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, you’ve most likely answered “Tell me about yourself” – perhaps the most common and most dreaded interview question that we encounter. I used to fear that question, especially because it could encompass anything from my favorite color to my educational background to my future career goals. However, with practice and preparation, I have learned to appreciate this question as an opportunity to introduce my professional brand to an employer on my own terms. In this post, I’ll break down a time-tested approach to successfully and confidently answer this familiar question.
Before we jump into our suggested approach, let’s establish a timeframe for providing your response – 30-45 seconds, max. That’s it! Anything over this and people’s eyes begin to glaze over and glaze is only good on pastries. More to the point, knowing that you have less than a minute means you are forced to keep it high-level. Read on for our suggested strategy!
First, and most importantly, develop a thorough understanding of the role for which you are interviewing. Spoiler alert – your answer to “tell me about yourself” may vary from role to role. Take some time to carefully review the job description (helpful hint: save a copy of each job description when you apply, as the post may be removed from the company’s website by the time your interview rolls around).
Make a list of the three or four most important qualifications for this role. Think about tangible ways in which you have demonstrated those qualifications throughout your education and experience. For instance, if the job description emphasizes innovation, think about a time when you’ve introduced a new process, initiative, product, or solution that positively affected the organization. As you reflect on these qualifications, remember that you’ll want to weave them through all of your interview answers, not just the one you give to “tell me about yourself.” These three or four qualifications will create the foundation for your professional brand, which you will continually emphasize throughout the interview.
One technique I like to use to structure this answer is the “present, past, future” method. Start with the present. Introduce yourself if you haven’t already and give a quick summary of why you’re applying to the role. “My name is Megan Elrath, and I’m excited to be considered for the project management role because it’s a perfect fit with my leadership skills and attention to detail.”
Then, touch on the past – this is when you will discuss your top qualifications for the role. Keep your tone conversational. While you will certainly want to be prepared, avoid memorizing your answer. I find it helpful to think in terms of bullet points rather than paragraphs. Emphasize how hiring you will benefit the organization, and incorporate language that indicates to the interviewer that you understand the specifics of the role.
Finally, hint at the future. This presents a perfect opportunity to thank the employer for taking the time to meet with you and emphasize your interest in the role. Furthermore, it helps you to wrap up your answer and move on to the next topic. “Thank you so much for having me here today, I’m looking forward to learning more about the role and discussing my background with you.” Expressing gratitude and excitement from the beginning of the interview helps you to connect with the interviewer and demonstrates that you take this process seriously.
Your response will look something like this when it all comes together:
My name is Jasmine Robinson and I’m excited to be here today to interview for your senior marketing coordinator position. I’ve reviewed the job description thoroughly, and I’m confident that my successes in social media marketing and project management would make me an excellent fit for this role.
Currently, I manage a small non-profit organization’s social media marketing strategy. During my tenure, we launched an Instagram presence and have already gained 5,000 followers by sharing heartfelt stories that underscore our mission. I manage all aspects of this initiative, from creating an annual topical calendar, to gathering testimonials, to tracking analytics.
Early in my career, I completed a marketing internship for a media company based in Austin, TX, and a post-graduation opportunity to grow at an innovative marketing agency in Houston. My five years of experience in marketing have given me a solid foundation that I’m excited to build upon in this position.
I noticed in researching your organization that you are dedicated to serving your community, and that fits perfectly with the professional values that I’ve developed so far in my career.
Thank you for having me here today and taking the time to discuss this position with me. I’m thrilled to be here!
Ok, so that’s a breakdown of what you want to verbalize, now let’s take a moment to discuss non-verbal communication.
By this point, you have already greeted your interviewer or interview panel with a confident smile and an assured handshake. When you answer “tell me about yourself” be sure to make eye contact with your interviewer(s), control your hand gestures, and present a friendly demeanor. Prior to your interview, you may want to practice answering this question a few times to make sure your pace of speech is appropriate and that you avoid using “fillers” (um, uh, you know). I tend to speak very quickly when I’m nervous, so practicing in advance helps me to slow down a bit.
By following these techniques, you will feel prepared to confidently answer “tell me about yourself” and begin your interviews with a fantastic first impression.