How to Answer the Dreaded Interview Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”

Career Blog

Published: March 11, 2019 by Greta Snyder

As I mentioned in my last post, I signed up for a free “5-Day Interview Bootcamp” through Big Interview and will be sharing what I am learning. Day 1 focuses on a question which shows up in 99% of interviews: “tell me about yourself.” Ugh.

I dread this question, and so was relieved to learn I’m not alone in cringing just reading those words, as most people fear this question. It makes me want to just blurt out “I really want this job,” which would not only sound desperate, but would also in no way answer the question. Nailing “tell me about yourself,” which usually comes up first, is so crucial and sets the tone for the entire interview. So how should this loaded question, full of potential pitfalls be addressed?

Big Interview advises that if you don’t have a strategically designed and well-rehearsed answer then you run the risk of rambling or not providing the interviewer with what they were hoping to learn about you. Your primary objective is to let the interviewer know why you are there and what you have to offer that could directly benefit their organization.

You should have a succinct bullet point answer that showcases your best attributes and top highlights from your background by addressing the following 3 points:

  • Who you are:  a one sentence introduction to who you are professionally, that shows off your strengths infused with a touch of your personality. 
  • Expertise highlights:  do not assume the interviewer has thoroughly read your resume or cover letter. Concisely emphasize 2-4 points that make you stand out from other candidates. 
  • Why you are here:  conclude with a brief explanation of why you are there and why you want the specific position.

This is a breathtakingly simple structure providing a clear path for navigating the treacherous question. How have I never come across something like this before? The answer is that I have not dedicated enough time to dissecting and researching interviews. A key to developing your career is learning how to interview. Interview skills will not only help you get the job, these skills are also transferrable to professional and workplace communication.

So, now we know the steps, but trying to imagine executing this formula is still a bit intimidating. Luckily, Big Interview to the rescue with free video content to illustrate this process. Please check out: 

Just listening to the sample answer makes me feel calmer and more capable of designing my own. Here is a transcript of the answer:

“I have more than five years of experience as a technical project manager at top Wall Street companies. Most recently, I led the development of an award-winning new trading platform. I’m a person who thrives in a fast-paced environment so right now I’m looking for an opportunity to apply my technical expertise and my creative problem-solving skills at an innovative software company like this one.”

I was wondering how to add a bit of my personality to the answer, and as we can observe in this sample, we learn that she “thrives in a fast-paced environment,” and is “creative,” so we still get a sense of who she is, but in a way that directly applies to why this job and workplace appeal to her. Sprinkling in the positive adjective “innovative” to describe the company is a seamless way to emphasize interest with a subtle compliment. Keeping her “tell me about yourself” answer as precise and relevant as possible allows her to come across as engaged, self-aware, and already invested in the organization. She handled it like a boss.

Follow my upcoming posts for recaps of the next 4 weeks of “interview bootcamp,” and please email me or comment with questions or suggestions for future topics.

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Interviewing 101

It’s really important to be prepared when (usually after they’ve asked you all their questions) you’re asked if you have any you’d like to ask. This is another opportunity to demonstrate how smart, capable, and prepared you are – the worst thing you can do here is answer “no.” Not sure where to start? Check out our list of starter questions here.

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