Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and get ready to answer what many consider one of the most uncomfortable questions in an interview. When a hiring manager asks you to “tell me about yourself,” you may be wondering if you should tell them about growing up with two older siblings or if you skip over to that assignment you completed last week.
It’s difficult to know where to start and what a hiring manager really wants to know. But that’s the point, often the question is an ice-breaker to get the conversation going. And how you answer what is the most common interview question will go a long way in how you’re perceived by a future employer.
All job seekers should petition employers about why they include this question in every interview. Seriously, though, although the question seems almost too open-ended to be useful, there are reasons why being asked “tell me about yourself” is so common and relevant to getting hired.
Companies today are keen on new employees fitting into their culture. Having the technical skills and ability to deliver on your tasks is one thing, but more and more, employers want to ensure your personality complements the other employees. How you answer “tell me about yourself” helps the interviewer assess if hiring you is in line with the culture the company has created, or wishes to create.
Although “tell me about yourself” may be broad, don’t forget that you’re in a job interview. As part of your response, be sure to include something about why you’re qualified for the position. It’s okay if your response ties into a personal story, rather than a work situation. Just be sure that you demonstrate to the interviewer that this is a position you’re ready to take on.
Open-ended questions leave room for some creativity in your answer. It shows that you’re capable of communicating in a way that’s not directly tied to your work. Answering this question also gives a good perspective on how well you’ll be able to communicate with other colleagues at work.
Don’t take this question for granted. Show your personality, connect it back to your qualifications, and be yourself.
While the intent of the “tell me about yourself” interview question is meant to be at least somewhat impromptu, there are some elements that you can prepare for. Preparing how to answer common interview questions is key and there’s nothing wrong with equipping yourself to answer what is an important part of your interview.
Consider these suggestions when thinking of how to best answer “tell me about yourself” in an interview:
We touched on this before, but it’s important you let the employer know that you are qualified. When answering, it’s okay to touch on other parts of your life unrelated to your professional credentials, but be sure to include your training and how your current job or program has prepared you for this opportunity.
It’s actually really uncomfortable to talk about yourself, so if you feel this way, you’re not alone. To make it a little bit easier, focus on the skills, projects, and successes that relate to the position you’re applying for. That way you won’t feel like you’re bragging. You’re basically showing that you’ve done some cool things in the past that you’re hoping to replicate at the company you’re applying to.
It’s one thing to list the projects you’ve worked on. It’s an entirely different thing to give specific examples of how you contributed to the success of that project. There’s a difference.
Here’s how it sounds when listing your projects:
“I volunteered at Canada Arts Council, interned at the Nia Centre and then helped on a community project for the library.”
Now here’s how it sounds when you give examples:
“I co-created a new submission process for the Canada Council of the Arts grant. I also hosted a series of marketing workshops with the Nia Centre for the Arts where I helped emerging artists create strategies to market their projects.”
See the difference?
As important as it is to quantify yourself professionally, it’s just as important to show off your personality. When a future employer asks you to “tell us about yourself,” they want to know about who you are as a person. Leading with your personality is actually a great way to break the ice and relieve some of the tension in the room. It’s okay to be a little bit casual here. Talk about an article you’ve recently read or a sport you’ve played since childhood. The point is to show up authentically, which is a powerful way to communicate with anyone.
Okay, we’ve told you what you need to do to answer this question, now here are some tips on how not to answer.
It’s safe to assume that the interviewer can read and that they’ve viewed your resume. You don’t need to recite your resume line-by-line. This is a big no-no and likely to bore the interviewer.
This is a tricky one because you should include information in your answer that shows your personality. On the other hand, you don’t want to go too far off on a tangent. If you’re sharing personal information, keep it relevant to the position you’re applying for or personal information that showcases your passion and hardwork. Bottom line: know when to draw the line.
You know this question is coming. We’ve already listed several ways you can answer. Don’t go into an interview without preparing your answers or at least outlining talking points. Not being prepared can lead to rambling—and that’s not the impression you want to give.
“Tell me about yourself” is a broad question that requires you to focus. It’s a way for you to show off your personality, but also prioritizing your answer around your qualifications. Here are some key points to remember before you get into your next interview:
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