Introduction – How to answer “tell me about yourself”
The most common question I get from job applicants is how to answer”tell me about yourself”. A deceptively simple start to countless interviews all around the world. Useful to assess anyone from a CEO at a Fortune 500 company to a new hire at a fast food joint. Acing this question will immediately set you apart from all the other job applicants and improve your chances of moving along to the next round of the hiring process. In this article, we’ll look at how to answer “tell me about yourself” in the best way possible and ensure that you maximize your chances of landing your dream job. After you are done reading, head over to Voomer where you can practice answering this question yourself and get AI-powered feedback on your answers for free!
Why is learning how to answer “tell me about yourself” so important?
Let’s think like a hiring manager for a second. Hiring managers need to assess applicants in a fast yet effective way while also being seen as nice – given their role as the face of an organization. Starting an interview by asking an applicant “tell me about yourself” helps hiring managers accomplish the following:
- Start the interview with a softball, icebreaker question
- This is a versatile question that can be asked to any applicant, regardless of role, seniority level, or industry
- Hiring managers and recruiters prefer structured interviews which allow answers to be easily compared between applicants
- Since the applicant usually brings up (or should bring up!) something interesting, this is a great way to dive into the interesting bits of their career and ask follow up questions
- Test an applicant’s communication and summarization skills. Being able to effectively communicate is a key skill for any role
What does this all mean? That if a hiring manager or recruiter can only ask one question, it is going to be “tell me about yourself”!
Your answer’s objective
Research shows that 60% of interviewers make up their minds on whether an applicant will be accepted within the first 15 minutes of an interview. Therefore, your answer to “tell me about yourself” has to blow the interviewer away on minute one to a point where the rest of the interview is simply them confirming that you are indeed a rock star future employee! In your answer, make sure you display the following skills and competencies:
- Active listening – Demonstrating to the interviewer that you understand the question and its implications are the first step
- Storytelling and public speaking – Communication is key in the modern workplace, so crafting a compelling story that will move others is a highly valued skill
- Synthesizing messages – You can ace the above two points, but if your answer is 5 minutes long, say goodbye to your application! Show the interviewer how you can summarize a lot of information
- Achievement orientation – Let’s face it, virtually every hiring manager wants someone who can get things done. Showing right from the get-go that you deliver results is a great way to get into their good graces
- Self-confidence, self-motivation, and energy – showing the interviewer that you are driven – especially by a desire to build something that matters – is critical and highly valued by hiring managers
The above list might seem like an unreasonable amount of information to be conveyed in just one interview answer. However, by planning things out and rehearsing, you’ll ace this question and impress your interviewer. Let’s find out how!
How to structure your answer
The following structure is based on my years of experience as a hiring manager at a major corporation at the top of the Fortune 500 and interviewing countless applicants for all sorts of roles. Applicants that follow this structure have been very successful in landing jobs. Organize your answer to “tell me about yourself” in three short steps:
- Executive summary
- Your greatest achievement
- What you want for the future
If you look back to the step where we discuss your answer’s objective, you’ll immediately realize that this short, simple structure will ensure that your answer reaches all objectives. Let’s take a look at each step in more detail
Step 1 – Executive summary
Start your answer by summarizing who you are. Mention your specialty, and if relevant, the geographic area you’ve worked in, how much experience you have, notable clients or projects you’ve worked with, awards, etc. What you say in this section has to be enough for someone to stop the interview 20 seconds in and still be able to know what you are about. So only touch on the highlights, use recognizable names/brands, and don’t worry about keeping things in chronological order. If you need a hand to understand what a strong step 1 looks like, you’ll find some great examples further down this article.
Step 2 – Your greatest achievement
After you’ve introduced yourself with the executive summary above, now it is time to showcase your greatest achievement. This is essential since it will show the recruiter or hiring manager the level of work they can expect from you. Structure this showcase using the CAR method, break down this step along these lines:
- Context – What was going on before you got involved
- Action – What you did
- Results – What were the results of your actions
Whenever possible, use an example from your career that is closest to the line of work of the organization you are applying to.
Step 3 – What you want for the future
This step is relatively easy to get through but as crucial as the preceding steps. A hiring manager does not necessarily need to know what your expectations are for the future when they ask you “tell me about yourself”, but you are going to tell them anyway! You benefit from closing the question with this in two ways:
- You help establish that you are a self-motivated person that thinks long term
- The interviewer’s next questions are more likely to be framed along what you want to get out of the hiring organization rather than what they want out of you!
Pulling it all together
While it is worth rehearsing answering the “tell me about yourself” question, don’t try and memorize a script. As long as you remember the main themes of your answer, you are set. Keep each section to around 20 seconds long so that your total answer time is around a minute. Ensure you are ready to go by following these helpful technical tips to avoid any nasty surprises and ensure that you’ll look great on video.
Mistakes to avoid
Avoid these classic mistakes that many people make when answering “tell me about yourself”:
- Read off your resume. The interviewer already has your resume, it makes no sense for you to repeat that information word-for-word!
- Take longer than 60 seconds to answer. Your answer should not be a retelling of your life up to this day! Keep things short.
- Getting nervous! Remember that you are the person that knows the most about you! So don’t let your nerves get the best of you, just relax and tell them about yourself!
I’m currently an undergrad in college looking for an internship role in private equity. I’ve always been fascinated by business news and how seemingly well-run organizations can actually deliver so much more value. My greatest achievement so far was building a stock-picking model that has outperformed the S&P 500 by 4 points in the past three years. I want to focus on investing in and turning around manufacturing organizations. I firmly believe that there is a massive upside hidden in this often-overlooked sector.
I’m an NMR researcher, focused on exploring how this technology has enabled faster drug discovery patterns. I recently completed my Ph.D. at Yale University. My greatest achievement so far has been to publish a peer-reviewed paper in Nature about the links between different diets and breast cancer incidence. I want to work at a start-up where I can quickly apply my research to help real patients.
I’m currently a high school student and will graduate in three months. I really enjoy dealing with people and have always sought out front-of-house jobs when working at summer jobs. My greatest work achievement so far was to quickly sort out a DJ no-show at a wedding venue I worked at. While we were setting up the venue I found a replacement DJ in 30 minutes that fit the bill! I want to keep working with people but in a more dynamic role, like sales, where I have more control over my schedule and can spend more time outdoors.
Follow the method outlined in this article and you’ll ace the “tell me about yourself” question. This is a great opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd! Your next step should be to practice how to answer “tell me about yourself” on Voomer! Take advantage of their free AI-powered interview prep to get instant feedback, quickly improve and land that dream job! If you still have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] I’ll be happy to help you ace your next interview!