|  October 21, 2013

Common interview questions: Tell me about yourself

Out of all the interview questions you will ever answer, there is one you need to know cold… TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF.

Other ways this common interview question may be phrased include:

  • Walk me through your resume
  • Walk me through your background/experience
  • Tell me your story

It should also be the easiest question to answer for 2 reasons. One, it is your story and no one knows that story better than you do.  Two, you absolutely without a doubt knew the question would be asked, so you are totally prepared.

tell me about yourself

Remember that this story shouldn’t be a long story or your life story. It should be the simple story of why you want the job you are interviewing for and how your education and experiences have prepared you for it.

The most common mistakes people make are talking too much, over-sharing, shooting themselves in the foot by saying the wrong thing, being negative, and being inarticulate/unprepared. Here are my recommendations to really nail this question.

Keep it brief

A good rule of thumb is to keep your story to 5 minutes or less. Your total interview will probably only be about a half hour and you don’t want to find yourself talking for 15 minutes straight.

It is important to leave the interviewer time to ask you what is important to them as well. Also, unless your story is super interesting and full of twist and turns, it can get a little boring (sorry!)

Connect the dots

Make sure the way that you describe your different experiences build on each other in some way. As an example, “I did X because of Y and then based on what I learned there, I knew I wanted to do Z, so…”

Depending on your personal story and also the job, the response can look different each time.  A common place to start is with your formal education but perhaps the industry you are focusing on has actually been a passion of yours since middle school.  It’s different for everyone but make sure the things you mention are interconnected and seem purposeful (example below).

Tailor it to the job – You probably have lots of different elements of your story that you can talk about. You’ve likely done many things in your life and of course you won’t be able to address all of them in a 5-minute run-through.

Think about the job you are interviewing for and what pieces of your story make the most sense to share. If you take a look at the image below, you’ll notice there are certain things that are part of your experience, but were cut out of the story.  All this being said, if you’ve done something truly impressive feel free to mention it even if it is outside the box. Perhaps the fact that you ran the NYC marathon doesn’t have anything to do with this job but it does show dedication and commitment.

Come up for air

Every interviewer will have follow-up questions based on the things you share with them. As you walk through your story, insert some small pauses to let the interviewer ask a question if they want to.  If you get the feeling they just want you to run through and ask questions afterward, that’s fine too.

Proactively address anything negative

There are certain things that can be perceived as negative that may not be. As an example, if you have large gaps in between jobs or had a particularly short stint at a company, go ahead and address that up front. Not mentioning it means the interviewer will ask you later (putting more pressure on the answer) or leave the interview wondering what was up.

Stay diplomatic

Even if your last boss was terrible and the company culture was a nightmare, keep it constructive. Trash-talking a former employer never landed someone a job. There is always a way to be diplomatic and not throw anyone under the bus. It’s a small world and you never know who knows who!

Wrap it up and endorse the company

As you are finishing your story, end it in the present moment. As an example, you can say something like  “…and this is why I was looking for jobs in the XXX world. When I started learning more about X Company, I knew it would be a great place for me to apply because of X, Y, and Z.”

You may have other times in the interview to prove you were thoughtful in applying but why not say it here. It’s a great way to end your answer.

If you stick to these few points, you will have a stellar answer to this question.  This question sets the tone of what is to come in the interview so it is an important one to get right.

Rehearse it with someone you know well and trust. Have them give you honest feedback on things you can say differently or if there is anything that was unclear. Practice a few times – the more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will become. Nerves may get to you on the day of the interview and those rehearsals (whether in front of a friend or the mirror) really come in handy!

answers to interview questions

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