Kai Dickerson
Community Specialist
Posted March 16, 2021

How to answer the “tell me about yourself” question in a job interview — 7 tips and examples

Interviewers frequently ask applicants, "tell me about yourself." Find out how you should and should not answer it. See sample responses that you can adapt if you're asked this question in an interview.
Kai Dickerson
Community Specialist
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How to answer the “tell me about yourself” question in a job interview — 7 tips and examples
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Employers love open-ended questions during a job interview because they give you a chance to dive into your professional history and skills.

One open-ended favorite among employers is “tell me about yourself.” Sometimes, they’ll request that you “walk me through your resume” or ask you, “how would you describe yourself?”

They aren’t just trying to be vague on purpose, though. No matter which version your potential employer asks you, they’re looking for a specific answer from you.

In this post, we’ll dive further into why interviewers ask this question, then cover how you should and shouldn’t answer it. We’ll finish off with a few sample answers you could modify for your situation.

Why do interviewers ask this question?

It’s such a vague question — what exactly does the interviewer want to know?

Well, ultimately, the interviewer wants to hire as fast as possible while feeling confident you’ll be a great employee. After all, hiring is expensive: the average cost of hiring an employee is about $4,129, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.

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They’ll ask “tell me about yourself” partly to get the conversation going.

Some may take it in a casual direction and talk briefly about personal life and hobbies. However, most interviewers will use it to jump into work talk.

Your answer to “tell me about yourself” helps employers get a quick glimpse at your overall experience and skills, and see if you’re a good fit. Employers want to hear directly from applicants how their knowledge and skills fit the job.

What you shouldn’t say

There are many ways to answer this question, but let’s start out with what you should avoid saying (and why).

Do not recite your resume

Many candidates dive into a lengthy review of their resume, covering every experience and achievement listed on it.

However, you don’t need to do this — let your resume speak for itself. If you run through the entire document, your interviewer might disengage from the conversation.

Remember, employers are looking for a quick summary of why you’re interviewing for this current job and how past experience fits. You simply need to cover a few highlights.

Avoid diving into your personal life

Some candidates will take this as a question about their personal life. They’ll briefly mention who they are professionally but proceed to talk about hobbies and interests.

While it is important to fit in with your coworkers, those conversations can come after you get a job offer.

During the interview, it’s best to stick with your work accomplishments.

There’s one exception: if the interviewer does start talking about personal life — perhaps you and they share a hobby — it’s ok to exchange a few sentences about it. Doing this correctly could start you out on the right foot.

Don’t be vague or too humble

It can be hard to self-promote. It feels uncomfortable for a lot of people, even those that are confident in their skills. However, keep in mind that you may face some fierce competition out there.

You could lose out on opportunities to other candidates if you don’t try to pitch yourself as the best for the job — especially against candidates who aren’t afraid to highlight why they’re perfect for it.

No need to brag here, though — try to bring concrete examples that prove your skills. This helps you compromise between being humble and feeling like you’re bragging. Some examples of hard data include customer satisfaction levels, performance speed, and processing quotas.

Do not ask your interviewer to clarify the question

It seems unfair to be asked such a vague question and get penalized for clarification.

However, asking what they mean by “tell me about yourself” can make you appear confused, unprepared, and less confident.

How to answer “tell me about yourself” — 7 tips for landing that dream job

Follow these tips to wow your potential employer the next time you’re interviewing for a job.

1. Plan your answer in advance

The most critical part of nailing this question — and anything interview-related — is to prepare.

Spend some time a day or two before the interview reviewing your entire career and skill set. Hone in on those parts that highlight your abilities and are most relevant to the job.

After that, take a look at the job description again so you can tie in the role itself where possible.

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Once you have those, practice your answer in front of a mirror. Try it in front of a friend or family member to get their feedback as well.

2. Discuss past, present, and future

It’s best to briefly sum up all stages of your career — where you are, where you came from, and where you want to be. Doing so gives your employer a complete picture of your professional life.

A proven framework is “present, past, future.”

First, talk a bit about your current role and duties. If you recently accomplished something big in your job, mention it.

Then, elaborate on how you got to your role. Give a brief summary of how you arrived at your current job. Touch on experience (relevant to the job and company for which you’re interviewing) you gained along the way.

Finally, transition into discussing the next career moves you want to make. Talk about why this role fits into that plan and why your current and past roles make you the best candidate.

What if your past experience is more relevant to this role than your current job? In this case, leading with your past works best, followed by the present and future.

As mentioned earlier, keep the answer related to the job you’re interviewing for. Your answer is meant to give your interviewer a better understanding of what you bring to the table.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to show them you researched the company and role in question.

Even if you and the hiring manager connect on a casual topic, keep it to a few sentences max — just enough to establish some rapport and make yourself memorable. If they hire you, you can build those personal relationships further while on the job.

4. Highlight your personal interests the right way

Earlier, we mentioned you should keep things focused on your professional side. However, it’s a good idea to highlight your interests in the interview — as long as it doesn’t stray too far into “personal” territory.

Focus on hobbies that demonstrate your interest in pursuing personal and professional development. For example, perhaps you read a lot or study/play a musical instrument. These could be good to mention in the interview.

You could also mention a personal activity that demonstrates your drive and discipline. If you’re training for an athletic competition, for example, that shows you work hard and stay committed.

Another excellent activity to talk about is volunteer work. Volunteering shows the employer that you’re passionate about helping your community. You also use plenty of important job skills while volunteering, such as teamwork and communication.

Of course, you could also talk about a hobby relevant to the hard and soft skills you need for the job.

It’s best to reveal some of your personality at the end of your answer. Keep it brief, and it’ll help you wrap up your answer nicely.

5. Tie your answer to the company, if possible

You want to keep your answer related to work experience and accomplishments.

That said, you can and should go the extra mile by tying your “tell me about yourself” response to the company itself. Research has shown that about 47% of interviewers won’t consider applicants who don’t know anything about the company.

To do this, you’ll have to research the company’s mission, vision, values, and similar information. Find out what they care about, and see if you can relate your skills and abilities to their mission.

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6. Stay positive

If you left your previous job because you were terminated, laid off, or simply not enjoying it there, avoid mentioning the negative details. Similarly, don’t focus on any gaps in your resume from circumstances like unemployment.

Being negative about previous employers and other situations doesn’t impress interviewers — it leaves a bad impression.

It also makes it hard to keep your response to-the-point.

You can briefly give them a glimpse of the information, but don’t get too much into the details. They’re likely to bring up a question about why you left your previous job or have a resume gap later in the interview.

7. Try to stay under two minutes

Lastly, keep the answer brief — preferably under two minutes. Your response should serve as an “elevator pitch” on why you’re the perfect candidate for the job.

If your answer draws out much beyond the two-minute mark, you risk losing your interviewer’s attention.

Once again, practice makes perfect here.

Time yourself giving your response in front of a mirror. If you go over two minutes, look for ways you can explain parts of your professional history more succinctly, or if you can cut any parts out.

Do it in front of a friend or family member, too. You’ll always perform slightly differently in front of a live audience than alone.

Example answers to “tell me about yourself”

Here are some helpful examples of different ways you can approach this question and leave a memorable impression on your potential employer.

Example 1: A Career-Advancing Job Change

“Currently, I’m an HVAC technician at X Company. I’ve been there for two years. At my job, I’m responsible for {briefly list some key duties, ideally related to the job you’re applying for}... I enjoy the independence the company gives me in my work.

Before landing my current HVAC job, I was a retail associate at Y Store for two years. I honed my communication and customer service skills there, which have helped me immensely as an HVAC technician.

After working as an HVAC tech for a few years, I’ve found that I want to narrow down into refrigeration systems. I’m interested in this role at your company because it offers an opportunity for me to gain hands-on experience working with such systems.”

Example 2: Same Job, Different Industry

“I’ve been a customer service associate at X Company for 2 years. I’m responsible for helping customers by answering questions about their orders, fix problems with the products they purchases, and processing refunds. One thing I’m proud of at my job is my boss asks me to train new customer service associates on our processes for helping customers.

Recently, however, I’ve been getting into tech. I enjoy reading about the latest tech devices and taking things apart. I’d love to work a customer support role at a tech company like yours. I’m a big fan of your products, and I believe my problem-solving skills and friendly demeanor would make me a great asset to your customer service department.

Example 3: Changing Careers

“I started my career as an administrative assistant while I was figuring out what I wanted to do, but I found myself drawn towards tech and IT. Also, I’ve always been excellent at communicating with people and solving problems. I pursued an IT certification online through CompTIA, and I’ve been focusing on building my IT career since then.

In my current role as an IT Helpdesk Analyst at Y Company, I focus on communicating with company employees to help them with relatively complex L2 technical issues. My boss has commended me for my technical skills, quick thinking, and friendly demeanor when handling problems.

Outside of work, I enjoy reading — not surprisingly, about tech topics. I also train in martial arts and enjoy hiking.

Nail this question and set the tone in your next interview

The next time you’re asked this seemingly vague question, you’ll know how to answer in a way that wows the interviewers and sets you apart.

By researching the company and preparing a work-related answer that also infuses a bit of your personality, you will shine in the interviewer’s mind and boost your chances of a second interview or offer.

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Kai Dickerson
Community Specialist
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Shayna Resnick

Good thing to address

37w
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Mark Connelly

This question is not good if they only provide 30 minutes or less for an interview. It wastes time with information that may not be relevant. Better to ask more direct questions that pertain to the work.

For example, if the job is working as a manager in a clothing store, but the candidate has no prior clothing store experience, then ask "Since you do not have experience working for a clothing store, why do you have interest in this position? What are your motivations? The candidate might say, " I love working with people and I am conscious about today's styles." Or they might say "I like working with people and I am open to learn about new industries."

Nobody really cares about you at a personal level unless you are a convicted felon or have a resume that really does not seem to match the job.

The only exception would be recent school graduates without any job history. Then knowing about the person is more important sometimes. But there is a large grey area.

I have been asked this question a few times and it always comes across as if the interviewer is not prepared and is just trying to get a feel, like if on a blind date. I have experimented with different approaches and unless you say something they are looking to hear, it is awkward.

37w
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Ausrele Yasskiy

Thank you, there is a great suggestions and tips to get ready for an interview

22w
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Denise Falzoi

I appreciate your tips & advice. ALL 7 are extremely important & helpful. 😊

7w
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