Regardless of your job sector, your level of experience, or job type, there are certain job interview questions that are almost guarantee to come up in most, if not all, of your job interviews. At the top of this list is the classic ‘Tell me about yourself’ (or variations like ‘Walk me through your background’ or ‘Walk me through your resume’).
Since this is frequently the first question asked in an interview, it’s your big opportunity to make a good first impression. Your response to this question sets the tone for the rest of the job interview by highlighting the key selling points that you want to convey to the potential employer.
So, don’t waste this chance by simply diving into a long recitation of your resume. This is also not the right time to ramble on about your hobbies and personal interests, as it’s a surefire way to make a weak first impression.
Rather, give a short, engaging response that summarises why you’re the right fit for the job.
Think of it as giving a beautifully tuned elevator pitch – a summary of your professional self – almost similar to a personal statement of a resume. In this article, we’ll provide you with a winning formula for devising your perfect response to ‘Tell me about yourself.’
The Best Way to Respond to ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
As an elevator pitch, you need to keep your response concise and focused, ideally in between 1-2 minutes. You won’t be able to fit all your greatest qualities into a maximum of 2 minutes, so you’ll have to spend some effort thinking about how to present yourself in a way that starts the interview on the right note.
A great response should tackle the following:
- Your primary selling points relevant to the job – such as years of experience in a specific industry or area of specialisation, professional qualifications, special training and technical skills.
- What made you interested in the available position – a good way to conclude your response is to mention why you’re actively looking for a new challenge and why you think this role is the best next step.
The Winning Formula for Answering This Question
A tried and tested method for responding to this question consists of 3 main components:
- Who you are – Your first sentence should be an introduction to who you are professionally, a brief synopsis to show off your strengths while giving a little sense of your personality as well. As it’s quite difficult to do this gracefully on the fly, take some time to prepare this a bit in advance.
Good example: “I’m a Project Manager with over 20 years’ experience in new development, construction and fit out projects in the healthcare sector, where I’ve delivered high-end projects valued in excess of $10M, from business case development to relocation management.”
This is a good example as it concisely summarises the interviewee’s 20+ years’ background in a single statement.
Poor example: “I’m fully dedicated to my work and don’t like short cut. What I’m doing is dedicated for my family, therefore I like to spend time with them playing games and cycling with my children. Also, I never have enough from learning new things and exploring new technologies.”
This is a poor example as it gives too much irrelevant information.
- Expertise highlight – Don’t assume that the interviewer has read your resume thoroughly and already knows your qualifications. Use your elevator pitch to briefly highlight 2-4 key strengths that are relevant to the role you’re applying for.
Good example: “I’ve spent the past 5 years of my career in leadership roles, managing program budgets and cross-functional teams of up to 60. My recent experience as Program Manager also strengthened my skills in resource planning, risk assessment and stakeholder engagement, enabling me to complete all of the assigned 25 programs on time, on budget and within scope.”
This is a good example as it showcases the interviewee’s experience, skills and proof of performance.
Poor example: “My first job was a Real Estate Agent. I learned a great deal in that role that served me well over the next 20 years. At the time, I wasn’t so sure about my career path, so I next took a position in civil construction. It only lasted for 4 months, but I sure enjoyed it.”
This is a poor example as the interviewer wouldn’t care about your first job 20 years ago. You are starting with the least impressive part of your career, and you are likely to lose the interviewer’s interest before you get to the good stuff.
- Reason why you’re here – End by telling them you want the role and why.
Good example: “Although I love my current position, I feel I’m now ready for a more challenging assignment. I’m excited about the opportunity to manage large-scale projects, not just locally, but in a global scale as well.”
This is a good example as it shows your enthusiasm for the role in a concise and positive way.
Poor example: “I’m a little bit worried about my job’s stability as the company is currently having a financial problem, so I’ve decided to start looking for new opportunities.”
This is a poor example as the interviewee comes across as negative. This response also makes it seem like you’re desperate and interested in a job, any job – not this job in particular.
Remember: You’ll have enough time later in the interview to walk through your resume in more detail and fill in any gaps. Avoid squeezing in too much info or your interviewer will start to tune out.
Other Responses to Avoid
There are also several common mistakes interviewees commit when answering ‘Tell me about yourself,’ similar to the some of the biggest blunders applicants often make when writing their resume.
- Rehashing your resume – Many candidates respond by launching into a long recitation of their resume from the very beginning. This can turn into a long monologue that starts with one’s oldest, and possibly the least relevant and impressive experience. By the time you get to you most impressive experience (usually your most recent job), your interviewer has zoned out already and is thinking about lunch. Even if the interviewer asks you to ‘walk him through your resume,’ don’t take the suggestion too literally. You can still respond with your elevator pitch and then shift into an overview of your most recent position.
- Being too modest – Some candidates are just too humble and are not comfortable promoting themselves. In today’s highly competitive job market, don’t rely on the interviewer to see past your humble exterior and figure out how great you are. For modest applicants, try focusing on factual statements. For example, instead of bragging “I’m the best salesperson in the world,” say: “I oversaw all sales activities of my team for the last 5 years where I’ve had the opportunity to bring in more than $10M worth of new business during that time.”
- Being too personal – This is particularly true among recent graduates who frequently misconstrue the question by talking too much about their personal lives and hobbies. In job interviews, focus on who you are as a professional (or maybe mention something about your academic achievements, if you’re a recent graduate).
- Asking too many questions – Surprisingly, quite a number of smart candidates totally fumble this question because they’re over analysing. Their answers sounds something like: “You mean about my job experience or about my volunteer works or what kind of information are you looking for.” Asking for too much clarification will only make you look confused.
So now that you know how to approach it, I’m sure you’ll learn to love hearing the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question. Take a few moments now to sit down and plan how you will respond in your next interview.
This exercise might even help you develop better cover letters.
Click here for more job search tips and advice.