Things are going so well! You were on time to your interview, the role seems like a perfect fit, and you are getting great vibes from your potential employer—but then the tables are turned on you. You’re suddenly asked the question, “Tell me about yourself.” Your life quickly flashes before your eyes. You freeze up. You’re not alone.
A question like that could have many answers… and you may not be sure exactly what your interviewer wants to know. Yes, you like long walks on the beach, but is that applicable to your potential new role? Here are some tips for how to effectively answer the question.
Avoid starting with personal information
You’ll often spend more time interacting with co-workers than you do with family and friends, so being a good cultural fit is important when joining a new team. While you may be eager to share information about where you grew up or your latest hobbies, your interviewer likely doesn’t want to get to know you on that level just yet. If you’re being asked “Tell me about yourself,” you’re probably in the beginning stages of the interview process. Focus on what makes you a good fit for the role, and really hone in on your skills and experience. If you ace the first round, you’ll be brought back for a second interview where you’ll likely have a chance to share more personal details about yourself.
Highlight why your skills make you the right person for the job
You’ve been invited to the interview because the hiring manager believes that you just might be the right person for the job. Now is your chance to prove that you are.
Review your resume ahead of time so you’ll easily be able to reference your skills in conversation. Think about how your experience relates to the job you’re interviewing for, and things you can mention to make yourself stand out. For example, if the job requires event planning experience, and you recently pulled off a successful event, find a way to sprinkle that in. If there are parts of the job specification or things about the company that really piqued your interest, mention that as well. It’s never a bad idea to show enthusiasm.
Think of your answer as a story
You want to be as organized as possible when answering the question—highlighting the key things that make you right for the role. Therefore, it’s important to think about your story ahead of time and practice it. Similar to a story line, try to keep your points in chronological order.
If you’re early in your career, try starting with where you attended school, what degree you graduated with, and how you officially kicked off your career. Then go through interests you have or experiences that relate to the job you’re interviewing for. If you’re a bit later in your career, try starting with more recent experiences and success stories.
Ultimately, think about what got you to where you are today and why you’re currently sitting at the interview looking for your next step. Here is an example using an event planning role:
I graduated from [Insert University] with a degree in [Insert Degree]. I started my career at [Insert Company] but moved on after about a year to try something new. That’s where I really found an interest in event production. I’ve managed over 15 successful events, the most recent one being 2 months ago at my current company. I have experience finding speakers, writing talk tracks, and creating presentations for different types of in-person and virtual events. I really enjoy event planning because I work well under pressure and thrive in fast-paced environments—which is what interests me about this role. I also feel the industry is very rewarding. I am currently looking for a career change as I would like room for growth and to work for a larger, more established tech-forward firm like your company.
Keep it short and sweet
While you may have a lot to say, keep your answer succinct. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Oscars. Music will not start playing if your answer is too long, but your interviewer may have to cut you off. This could make things uncomfortable for both of you. Not every bit of your experience needs to be mentioned. Avoid any “fluff”—meaning things that aren’t relevant. You want to be respectful of your interviewer’s time and allow room for the conversation to naturally progress.
Confirm if you’ve answered the question
There may be something you said that wasn’t as clear as you anticipated—or perhaps your answer was too short. It’s always a good idea to confirm if you’ve answered the question. It could be as simple as saying, “I hope that answers your question, but I’d be happy to elaborate on anything if not.” This will give your interviewer a chance to ask you to clarify anything or potentially lead to another question. It also shows that you care to give them the answer they are looking for, and have good conversational skills.