The Job Interview: “Tell Me About Yourself.”

We can virtually guarantee that the first question you will be asked in a job interview will be some variation of “Tell me about yourself.”  If handled skillfully, this can provide an opportunity for you to lead the conversation and make a great first impression. However, since this question is so open-ended, many people find themselves drawing a blank when trying to answer it. Here are some tips for polishing your answer:

mistake #1

“Ok, yeah, sure! Well, my name is Lynnette, I’m 36 years old, and I’m married to a wonderful man named Caleb. We don’t have any kids yet, and we don’t have any pets because we’re allergic. So it’s just the two of us, and we have a great time together. We spend most of our time playing videogames together, or watching sci-fi, or talking about what books we’re reading. Except on Tuesdays, when I go to my crafting group to work on my cross-stitch. I just completed a great project, wanna see it?”

How this hurts you: This answer focuses on personal things, which the employer is probably not interested in learning about you. This is an understandable mistake – after all, if you met someone at a party and were asked “Tell me about yourself,” you would probably include details like your family life, hobbies, and interests. But a job interview is not a social setting; it’s a professional one. Therefore, your answer should focus on who you are as a professional only. Your hobbies and interests should not be mentioned unless they are directly relevant to the job. And there are certain facts about yourself – such as your age, marital status, religion, number of children, etc. – which you should NEVER mention in a job interview. These details could open you up to discrimination, which is why it’s illegal for the employer to ask.

mistake #2

“Okay, well. . .my name is Lynnette. . .but I guess you already know that. . .. well, honestly, I’m not really sure what to say, I mean, everything was already in the application, and you’ve got my resume in front of you, so there’s not much for me to add.”

How this hurts you: If you know that you’re not supposed to talk about your personal life, you may struggle to know what you can say, and something like the answer above may slip out of your mouth. But this sounds both unenthusiastic and uncooperative. And if it were true – if hiring managers really could make a decision based on your resume alone – then why would they bother asking you to interview? (That is, assuming that the person interviewing you actually read your resume, which is not guaranteed.) They called you in for a reason. They want to hear you discuss, in your own words, how your background and skills have prepared you to excel in this job, why you’re interested in the job, and why they should hire you.

so how do you answer this question?

Well before the interview, you need to brainstorm to figure out your main talking points. You don’t want to simply regurgitate everything that’s on your resume, but do give a good idea of what your area of expertise is and what you have to offer. (An ideal answer to this question is probably an expanded version of your elevator pitch.) How exactly you answer this question will vary depending on your individual situation and the type of job you’re applying for. Some of the most common aspects to consider including are:

  • An opening statement that catches their attention and sums up, in a few words, who you are as a professional.
  • A brief overview of your work history, including where you currently work, how long you’ve been there, and what sorts of work you do there. That may be enough, or you may decide to mention some of your past jobs to showcase more experience. For every job you talk about, focus on the tasks you do and skills you use which most directly translate to the new job you’re applying for.
  • Degrees and certifications you’ve earned, only if they’re relevant.
  • An explanation of how your skills, education, experience, personal traits, etc., match the job requirements and would be of benefit to the new employer.
  • A statement about why you’re interested in the job and excited for this opportunity.

If you’ve done it right, this question will set the tone for the entire interview. In answer to later questions, you will probably find yourself referring back to, and elaborating on, things you mentioned in your opening statement.

winning example

“As you can see from my resume, most of my career has been in customer service, beginning with my position at JC Penney, where I won an award for customer service. I’m currently at Chase Bank, for five years now, where I began as a teller and was then promoted to the loan department. Most of the work I do involves assisting customers face-to-face, organizing paperwork for loan officers, and processing documents electronically. That’s why I was so interested when I saw your administrative assistant position, because I think it’s a great fit for my skills with computer applications, organization, and customer service. I also recently received an associate degree in Office Administration, and I’m excited for the opportunity to put these skills to use.”

If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee