This question came from one of our blog readers.
“Hello Manasi, I had an interview recently where they asked me the dreaded question, “Tell me about yourself”. How do you answer this interview question? I felt stuck. I don’t know what to say, what not to say, and how to say it.
In reflection, I don’t think I did such a good job answering that question in the interview. Do you have any tips for me for the next time I face it?” – GH
I am so glad you brought up this question! It is one of the most common questions asked in an interview, and yet so many of us feel stuck, frozen or just not confident while answering it.
And in all honesty, I feel this is one of those questions that people continue to ask just because it is a tradition. I personally hardly ever ask that in an interview because I feel there are so many other ways of really getting to know a candidate than asking them this.
However, since many interviewers like to ask it, we need to make sure we are prepared to answer it. Here are my tips for answering this question with confidence so that it makes an impact on the interviewer.
Know why the interviewer asks this question.
When you have clarity on what they are trying to achieve by asking you this question, you will have a much better idea on how you can help them by answering what they need.
Here are some possible objectives an interviewer may have in mind:
1. Get you started talking about yourself: It can be uncomfortable or feel unnatural to many people to talk about them. So if an interviewer asks this question at the beginning of an interview, it’s usually for the warm up. (Granted that it hardly ever achieves that purpose. 😉 )
2. Recall who the candidate is: They have (or have not) read your resume or cover letter. But they want a short version of it from you. It is difficult to remember every single quality they noticed on your resume which landed you an opportunity to sit down and have a chat with them. And it is even more difficult to recall what you never read. 😉 (Yes, there are interviewers out there who don’t do their work.) This question is their opportunity to establish a foundation from where they can take off.
3. Get to know you more informally: Resume is a tool to pique enough interest in an interviewer’s mind about you. Now that they are talking to you, hearing your voice, maybe seeing you in person, they want you to introduce yourself to them informally – in a more natural and conversational manner. If I ask this question, I assess a candidate’s communication skills from the answer I receive.
4. Assess how well you know yourself: Self-awareness is a great quality to have in any employee. If you answer this question with clarity and confidence it certainly lets them know that you care to find out more about yourself, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important to you. It is one indicator that you can bring the same attitude of evaluation and improvement to your job.
5. Assess how comfortably or confidently you present yourself: Ultimately, we are all humans. We prefer working with people that we feel comfortable with. If some personal qualities come through in your answer that they connect with or admire or find interesting, they may “like” you more. If you come across as an awkward individual who cannot carry on a conversation, that may weigh it against you (depending on the type of job anyway). This question can help them screen candidates who may not be the best fit to their company culture.
Now that you know various objectives an interviewer may have in mind while asking this question, you can strategize your answer such that it gives them what they are looking for.
How do you format your answer?
1. Be strategic: You are not here to reveal your whole life. You are here to sell a product that is you. No matter what question you get in an interview, it should answer their ultimate question, “Why should I hire you?”
2. Be yourself: Sounds obvious, right? But many times the pressure of answering “right” pushes you over the line where the answer starts coming out fake. That’s not to say what you are saying is not correct but how you say it feels inauthentic and you fail to connect with another human being.
3. Do not embellish the facts: Be confident that you are interesting as you are. Why? Because there is nobody else like you in this world. Your combination of skills, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses is unique and that’s what makes you interesting. They don’t need to be hyped up to sound interesting. You just need to practice how you will present those with some polish and enthusiasm. But you are enough just the way you are!
4. Don’t be afraid to show you are a human: 80% of what you say should directly or indirectly communicate why you are a good fit for the job. But it’s that other 20% that makes you “likable”. Sharing some personal qualities or hobbies lets them see the “YOU” underneath that veil of a candidate who is striving hard to come across as the most ideal employee they will ever have. Do you enjoy singing? Tell them that. If you are interviewing for a Software Engineering position, share your most favorite video game. That adds the much desired spice to your otherwise straight forward answer.
5. Be professional while sharing personal information: There is no need to give out the personal details that are irrelevant to the job or play no part in establishing you as an interesting individual or a competent asset. For example, I don’t care what you love to eat unless I am interviewing you for a position of a Chef. Knowing or hinting towards your religion or caste or social status is not going to get you a job in the Western world, in fact it may be frowned upon. In some Eastern cultures, it might not hurt you but in general, such references should be avoided.
In short, format your answer keeping in mind that you want to communicate you are a competent professional and an interesting individual that they should get to know more.
1. Do not start with your name. They already know it.
2. Do not just recite your resume or cover letter; that’s just boring.
3. Do not be a robot; smile, be enthusiastic, be conversational. If you don’t feel happy about who you are, why should they?
Imagine you are talking to an old classmate whom you are seeing after 20 years. Answer this question as if you are telling it to them. This will help you communicate more like a friend but give you the restraint that you need to keep it professional.
How to prepare:
1. Write down your answer. Like any interview question, your answer should be about 1-2 minute long. That comes out to be about 250 – 300 words based on your speed of talking.
2. Make it conversational. Start by reading out loud your answer. Then you would know if it feels conversational or robotic. It should feel natural otherwise you would not feel confident while delivering it. And in this question, confidence is everything. Confidence is what makes you attractive.
3. If it does not sound natural or true you your speaking style, edit it until it does.
4. Finally, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Just practice answering the question as if you are answering it in an interview. Do not memorize the answer, internalize it. Remember the main points you want to highlight. Ironic quality of rehearsing is that the more you rehearse, the less rehearsed you sound. So practice it until you feel comfortable about your main talking points.
5. Remember it’s not about you, it’s about them. Sounds totally counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Especially when the question is “Tell me about yourself”. 😉 But the objective is for them to get to know you. Change your focus from “talking about me” to “helping them” and you will feel much less stress.
Here’s a short example of an answer:
This one is formatted for my speaking style keeping in mind that somebody wants to hire me as a Career Strategist in the USA. (The reason I mention this is what you include in your answer and how you present it changes from culture to culture, if you want to make the most impact.)
“Hmmm… What can I tell you more about me that will help you get to know me a little bit more? Well, I am an engineer turned marketer turned career strategist. Right from my childhood I have been curious about how things work so I thought I am best suited to be an engineer. But I realized I love something else much more when I took a class on entrepreneurship in my MS Engineering. I was so attracted to the possibility of working in a business function that I immediately went on to do my MBA in Marketing and International Business. I enjoyed all the new age marketing – social media, blogging etc.
About 2 years ago I started my own blog which has now led me to where I am. I started receiving consulting offers from my blog readers who heard my thoughts and my journey of finding what I love doing, and then doing it as a career. I discovered a new strength in me which can help others. They wanted me to help them get to their ideal career just the way I have done it in the past. So that’s what I do now.
I am also a strong believer that we human beings need to keep evolving – not just in our careers but also in life. That’s why I constantly look for new things to learn as a hobby, and challenge myself. That’s how I became a member of Toastmasters International. Have you heard about it? It’s an organization dedicated to the art of effective communication and leadership. And that’s how I took on learning pottery, Italian, and HTML coding in my free time this year.
[After a pause, say this] Is there anything more you would like to know about me?”
By the way, if you are interested, check out my “About” page on the website. I rewrote it just last week because what I had there before was so “not me”. It was boring and robotic. I like this version 2.0 much better. That may also give you some ideas on how to share more about yourself. Warning: It’s long!
I hope this has given you some helpful pointers on how you can rock this answer next time somebody asks you the question.
Ultimately, remember this:
There is no wrong answer to this question. All you are doing is presenting what’s already there. You just have to learn how to polish it so that it generates the interest it deserves.
So the next time you are asked this question, do not stress out or become self-conscious. Instead keep in mind you are helping out the interviewer. Then deliver your answer with poise, confidence, and enthusiasm.
All the best for your next interviews!
Now it’s your turn:
Which of these tips resonated with you the most? Share in the comments.
If you feel curious about whether you should include something in your answer or not, ask me in the comments. I will let you know what I think.
And yes, if you have a friend who is currently interviewing or is planning on doing so in nearer future, share this article with them so that they know these tips as well. (Of course, share only if you found them useful.) 🙂