Simple as it may seem, “tell me about yourself?” is not an interview question to take lightly. Also sometimes phrased as “tell me who you are” or even “describe yourself,” how you answer sets the tone for your entire interview – and how they potentially see you fitting into their company!
Many interviewers lead off with this. Your answer is a great chance to help shape the interview in your favor. You get to start things off with a naturally-presented picture of who you are that helps the interviewer begin to get a feel for you as a person – and hopefully see how well you match the job.
What does an interviewer want you to tell about yourself
I can’t tell you what every interviewer is looking for, of course. But I can tell you a little something about how I like to use the question to find out more about the person than I can get from a mere resume:
(1) First, I just want to know what the person thinks is important enough to tell me. It helps me see how they might approach work situations – can they zero in on the relevant points or will they wander off in all kinds of unrelated directions.
(2) This is also a great question for seeing how the candidate organizes their thoughts. Is the story connected and linear or do they jump all around in time and location.
(3) Do they show me anything that helps me see how well they understand the job and the way their experience relates to the job – or are they just telling me a nice story.
(4) Are they being real, or does it sound like a rehearsed, canned speech. This is the time to try to connect on a human level. Great words don’t win the interview if you never connect with the interviewer.
(5) Have they told me anything they shouldn’t about a prior employer or something personal that makes me question their true interest in, or aptitude for, this job.
How to handle the tell me about yourself question
Since this is your big moment to set the tone and shape their image of you, do your best to be natural and conversational. Think of telling a new friend about yourself or maybe think of it as a good first date, where you want the person to know about you in a way that will make them think “Hey! This is a good match. I want to spend more time with you.”
Use your unified career story, carefully weaving together the most relevant pieces of your work history (and any personal things like education and special projects / volunteer work) that relate to the job you’re looking to get. Even if things in your history don’t seem to connect easily, the trick is to think this through ahead of time and find the best set of experiences to present in your answer.
Remember to refer back to the job description and your research on the company when you’re preparing for this “tell me about yourself” question. Compare that to your resume and see where you can connect the dots as best as possible with similar experiences and / or transferable skills.
It’s how you tell the story!
Tell the story as naturally as possible, painting the picture of a person whose history – and the choices you made – somehow fits nicely with the new job. For instance, if you’re going for a job that requires analytic skills, maybe a reason you left an earlier job was that it didn’t give you a chance to use those skills and the next one did.
You’ll have to figure all this out. Like a big puzzle, with the final picture being you … as you fit to this new opportunity.
Not that each thing you mention has to fit exactly, but where possible see if you can come up experiences and personal choices that help paint that unified picture. One that feels in synch with how you got to this point in your career, where you and this job match so well!
The “describe yourself” question variation
The interviewer may be looking for some extra insight about yourself, along with any of the experiences you want to tell about. So add descriptive language like “I enjoy solving problems” or “I love it when a project goes really well” or whatever rings true for you. In fact, this is probably a good idea whatever the form of question.
And of course, it will be very helpful if the things you decide to tell them about yourself once again mesh really well with the job in question!
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