“So… tell me about yourself.” An open-ended question like this tends to set the tone for the rest of the interview. There’s no traditional right or wrong answer that determines whether you land your dream job, but structuring it correctly and allowing yourself to tell a great story about yourself in a short amount of time can go a long way.
It’s a conversation starter. The interviewer wants to know a little about you. It’s completely normal for a question like this to throw you off, especially because they’re so ambiguous and you never know the ‘right thing to say. Despite that, never respond to “tell me about yourself” in an interview with something you think the interviewer wants to hear.
If you’re worried about how you’ll answer this question in your interview, here are some examples you can use for inspiration.
1. An unemployed response
If you’re in a situation where you’re unemployed and are applying for a role, don’t shy away from bringing it up. Whether due to COVID or because you were focusing on starting a family, you can reference this in your answer when you tell the interviewer about yourself.
“My last role was at <company name> and I was there for <number> years. I was responsible for <list your responsibilities> and I really enjoyed my time there. But one year ago, I lost my job to due COVID, but the timing was great, as it meant I could do <name a passion>.
“I applied for this job because not only is it time to get back into the world of work, but I also read the description and it’s perfect for me. You need <highlight some of the job ad> and with my experience, I can bring this and more to the table. In my last company, I achieved <list some relevant accomplishments> and I helped them achieve <a goal>. I’m confident I can help this team get even better results if I’m hired.”
2. Leaving your current job
In most cases, people interview for another role while currently employed. Be prepared for this question to come up, so try and work in your reasons for leaving when you give the interviewer an insight into your life. If there’s anything in the new job spec that lets you open up about your life some more, bring it up.
“Well, right now I’m employed by <company name>. I’ve been there for around <number> years now and my typical responsibilities include <responsibilities>. I feel like it’s time for a change, to be honest. With my current situation, a remote working role suits me better and a strict office policy doesn’t let me enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Everyone at your company seems happy about your working environment and I’d love to be a part of that.
“I saw on the job description that you need someone who brings <traits and responsibilities> to the table and I’m confident I can help you achieve your growth goals. An example is when I helped my current organization <list an impressive achievement> which changed the way the company works. I can help your team get those same, if not better, results.”
3. If you don’t have much experience
The working world is quite frustrating. You get turned down for lack of experience, but companies don’t hire you to offer the experience in the first place. In some cases, it’s even more difficult when you’re in the middle of a career change and you’re finally starting to chase your passion.
“I majored in business management and had a career in that industry for over <number> years now. It was always interesting to me, but over time, I realized it wasn’t my passion. In my spare time over the past couple of years, I signed up for some coding courses and academies and started freelancing on the side.
“I managed to work on some really exciting projects such as <list your accomplishments> and I’m ready to dive into a full-time position now. This career change has helped me <list your traits> and it’s something your business will really benefit from.”
4. If you have lots of working experience
Many recruitment and hiring experts have claimed that if you have plenty of experience, the last thing an interviewer wants to hear is your life story. They don’t want a play-by-play or a timeline of your entire career — that’s what your resume or LinkedIn is for — or they’d ask specifically to walk through your background.
The aim is to skip the in-depth career story and cut to the chase as much as possible. Run through why you’re the best candidate and why they should hire you.
“I majored in <degree name> in <year> and was offered a <job name> I did an internship with. I loved working there and with their customers. It improved my communication and leadership skills, so I’ve always been a strong leader and know how to run a team. I learned a lot there and ended up becoming the top performer despite managing other people simultaneously.
“Since then, I’ve worked at <multiple company names> in <several job titles> to build on my experiences. I have a proven track record and I bring <list of traits> to the table. I’m ready to take my career to the next level and I’m confident I can help take your company to the next level, too.”
5. If you’re looking for a more senior role
Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like you have to massively justify yourself in an interview when you’re applying for a more senior role. Don’t waste the question of “tell me about yourself” with a long-winded justification on why you deserve the job. Angle it in a way that explains why you’d be a good fit and a better option than others.
“I’ve been working as a <job title> for four years. Right now, my responsibilities include <list some duties> but I feel like I’m ready to take on more. I have experience managing <number of> people and have also started to take on more higher-level tasks on and off, so I’m more than ready for that next step.
“I’m detail-oriented, organized, a team player and I don’t miss deadlines. I can handle multiple tasks at once and my enthusiasm and energy were always raised as key positives in my performance reviews. With this experience, I’m looking for an opportunity to jump to the next level, improve my skills and leave my mark in your organization.”
Tips on how to answer “tell me about yourself” in interviews
The best advice on how to answer this question is to be concise. The people interviewing you are busy and will be impressed if you tell them what they need to know about you in a snapshot. Just share a few essential details that will pique their interest in keeping your resume at the top of the pile. You should also:
- Mention past experiences: Go ahead and talk about your experience and your successes — if they’re related to the role you’re applying for. Note down the skills you have and make sure it matches with what the new position requires.
- Compare your current job: Hone in on your current role and run through the responsibilities you currently undertake, so the interviewer knows what will translate to the vacant position.
- Highlight your abilities: Give examples where you can about your skills and strengths. If you’re saying you improved something, explain how and what the result or impact was. It doesn’t need to be the exact percentage, but a realistic value will work.
- Don’t shy away from showing your personality: You’ll need to do this in some aspect to break the ice. Whether it’s a hobby you have or something quirky that they’ll remember about you, share it. Although, don’t dive too much into the personal details just yet, so try and keep it top-level. Personal interests is a great way to wrap this question up while staying professional.
- Your qualities: Think about what you genuinely think makes you stand out from other applicants. Whether it’s your experience, huge projects you worked on or specialism you have, mention it to the interviewer.
- Touch on your interest in the role: Why does the position excite you? How does it impact your life progression? Explain this to the interviewer so they can sense your enthusiasm, hunger and passion.
- Why you’re interested in the company: This one is easy. Do your research, get a sense of the company’s mission and explain how their values align with your personal values, making you a great fit.
- What will serve you well: Curious? Generous? Patient? What positive trait do you have and how will it help in the role you’re applying for? If these traits will give you a head start, work them into your answer.
“Tell me about yourself” can easily translate to “what do you want the interviewer to remember about you?” It all starts with your resume. Without a strong resume to send, getting interviews is more difficult and makes candidates challenging to remember.
To make your resume as powerful as possible and leave an impression in your interviews, set up a profile on VanHack. Create an engaging profile today and stand out from others to increase your chances of landing your perfect role.
If you need help with the interview process, the VanHack Premium Academy is also on hand to help you get prepared with effective interview answers.