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How to Answer the “Tell Me about Yourself” Question

Because, “Tell Me about Yourself” is such an overarching question, it can be difficult to formulate a focused response. But to get the interview off on the right start, it’s crucial to be prepared with targeted and succinct answers. While there is no one right or wrong way to respond, a team of WinterWyman’s expert recruiters offer their suggestions on the best ways to answer this commonly asked interview question.

Scott Ragusa - President, Contract Staffing

When sharing personal information, it is usually best to err on the side of our best qualities. No one wants to hear that you cry at Disney movies. Look for examples that show the things that are important to you and will look favorable. Talk about charities you are committed to, volunteer opportunities that helped shape you, etc. Discuss the favorable traits you developed from a parent, mentor, or coach. Make it personal, but not too personal.

Lauren MacArthur - Partner, Information Design & Delivery

This open-ended question can make or break the interview. Assuming that you have done your homework on the company and the role, your comments to "Tell me about yourself" should revolve around relevant job history, successes that you have achieved, or skills that you possess that would relate to the job you are interviewing for. Candidates who clearly present passion, a "can do" attitude, skills and performance results in a focused upbeat delivery usually get the offer!

Erica Baldacchino - Senior Staffing Manager, Accounting, Finance & Administrative

This question is one of the most common asked in interviews. I always tell my candidates to keep it short, like a 30-second “elevator pitch.” You don’t want to recite your resume or get into too much detail on this question, but you do want to articulate your experience and background relevant to the role. The easiest way to figure out what to say is by putting your resume side by side with the bullet points on the job description and elaborating on 3 to 4 main topics. Tell a story and don’t forget to mention why you are excited about the role and why you think you are right for it. The interviewer should ask you to elaborate on any points you may have glossed over in your pitch.

Jenna Bartolomei - Senior Staffing Manager and Team Leader, Technology

The best way to answer this question is to give a clear and concise recap of your professional background, highlighting any relevant projects or roles as they relate to the position you’re interviewing for. Go in chronological order, ending the recap with your most recent role, as well as with a reason why you’re looking to move on from it. You can practice with friends and family, so you feel more comfortable each time you say it. If you jump all around your resume trying to highlight different projects out of order, the interviewer will likely have a hard time following you and become disinterested. 

Keep your response concise and avoid going into any unnecessary detail. By ending the recap with the reason you’re looking to move on from your current position, you can also weave in a reason why you’re excited about the opportunity. For example, an answer such as, “I am looking to move on from my current position because it is a small company and there’s not much room for growth. I am hoping to become a manager soon, and the open manager role at your company seems like a great stepping stone to do so,” is a wonderful way to end your pitch. 

Ben Hicks - Partner and Managing Director, Software Technology

The “Tell me about yourself" question is dangerous because it is too open-ended and open-ended questions can cause major pitfalls in an interview. You need to know what details the interviewer is looking for, otherwise you could burn critical and limited time talking about things that are not relevant to the meeting. Even more importantly, an open-ended question can force you to talk too long, which is always a bad thing in an interview. An interview should ideally be a healthy back and forth, with you speaking no more than 50% of the time.  

Often interviewers are not well-prepared or well-trained in the art of interviewing, so the "Tell me about yourself" question is either an easy start, an ice breaker, or sometimes a lazy approach to getting to know you. Of course, you have to answer the question, but start by asking a follow-up question. This is a good time to let your personality shine through so if you like to insert some humor you can do so, or if you are a straight-to-the-point sort of person your answer can be short and sweet. Your answer should go something like this: "I would be happy to tell you more about myself. Is there a place where you would like me to start, otherwise it could be a long answer?" Again, feel free to play around with a unique way to ask this question, or a way to be appropriately funny about how long your answer could be. Once you get a reply, again the strategy is to be as short and to the point as you can. Craft the answer to be focused around your career and in particular, your current role. Unless directed otherwise, stay away from too much personal detail. If you do cover your personal life, be brief. For example, a succinct answer could be, "I grew up in the Boston area, attended XYZ university, and landed in the ABC industry. I have focused my career on (insert detail) and currently I am with Anycompany. I am a member of a 12-person team focused on (blank). Hopefully that gives you a good sense of my overall background. Do you want me to go into any more detail about my current role or any of the rest of my background?”

The answer to your question should be seen as a starter for deeper conversation. Don't feel like you have to get too granular - ending the comments with a question around whether they want more is a great way to keep the dialogue going.

Julie Pomponi - Principal Staffing Manager, Accounting, Finance & Adminstrative

“Tell me about yourself” is the most underrated interview question that most candidates do not spend the time practicing. Crafting a succinct and intelligent answer to this question will help you set yourself up for the rest of the interview. Look at it as part of making your first impression. 

I always advise candidates to not be afraid to show some personality while answering the question with a focus. You want to link the qualities they are looking for in their ideal candidate, your professional goals, and some personal remarks all into one. Your strengths can be directly linked to the qualities they are looking for. Think of experiences you have had that are in direct correlation with what they are looking for in an ideal hire.  As a recent grad, it may be an internship within the same industry as the company you are interviewing for. As a more seasoned professional, it may be a previous job or a volunteer experience with your current company or alma mater that supports a cause you are passionate about. And you can add in information that you have researched about the company when you describe your professional goals, such as “I am looking to contribute to a Fortune 500 company” or “I am eager to contribute to a small company where I can wear many hats.”

Lastly, as you prepare your answer to this all-important question, showing your personality is important - after all we are people hiring people. Be yourself, without crossing the line of professionalism. Think of adjectives that best describe yourself - some examples may be innovative, competitive, or passionate.  

Here is one example for a recent grad: “I have spent the last four years as a student athlete at Bentley University, focusing my time off the field in the classroom and through internship opportunities within the footwear industry. Due to my competitive nature and passion for engaging with people, I have decided to pursue entry-level opportunities within recruiting. My goal is to join an organization where I can learn and grow from within.”

Cole Horgan - Account Manager, Accounting, Finance & Administrative 

The main thing to consider when answering this question is the context of your interview, and the situation your interviewer is in. If this interview is for a contract assignment or a job created from an urgent need, you’ll want to be concise, direct, and only mention what is relevant, leading with your skills that are most important for the job. If you are interviewing for a permanent role where “culture fit” is stressed, feel free to open up a little more and give the interviewer some background as to who you are on a personal level, using that as a segue to get into your professional background and goals. 

In either situation, it’s important to bridge the gap between your personal and professional life. Try to draw some parallels between what you enjoy about your hobbies, and what you enjoy about your work. This can help bring a human aspect to the impression you give and will show how the enthusiasm you have for personal interests carries over into your career.