Interview Question: "Tell Me About Yourself"

Job interview meeting
•••

Pixelfit / Getty Images

Interviewers will sometimes start an interview with an open-ended question like, "Tell me about yourself."

This question is a way to break the ice and make you feel more comfortable during the interview process. However, some people might find this – and other interview questions about you – slightly stressful. If you’re someone who doesn’t like bragging about yourself, these kinds of questions can be difficult to answer. But they’re a good way for the hiring manager to get insight into your personality, so it pays to prepare to answer them. 

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Interviewers ask these kinds of questions in order to determine if you're a good fit for the job. They’re looking not only for indications that you’re qualified to do the work, but that you’ll gel with the team and the company culture.

For example, a startup that lets employees bring dogs to work and has beers on tap in the breakroom will be inclined to hire the person who works at a no-kill shelter and/or brews their own beer. (Provided, of course, that the candidate possesses the hard skills they’re looking for, as well.)

The interviewer will also note how comfortable you appear answering open-ended questions. This will speak to your ability to think quickly on your feet, as well as to prepare for important conversations at work. 

How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question

1:11

Although it might be tempting to share a list of your most compelling qualifications for the job at hand, a more low-key approach will probably help you to develop a personal rapport with your interviewer.

One option for your response is to share some of your personal interests which don't relate directly to your career.

Examples might include a hobby that you are passionate about like quilting, astronomy, chess, choral singing, golf, skiing, tennis, or antiquing.

Interests like long-distance running or yoga that help to represent your healthy, energetic side are worth mentioning.

Pursuits, like being an avid reader or solving crossword puzzles or brain teasers, will help to showcase your intellectual leaning. Interests like golf, tennis, and gourmet food might have some value if you would be entertaining clients in your new job.

Volunteer work will demonstrate the seriousness of your character and commitment to the welfare of your community. Interactive roles like PTA volunteer, museum tour guide, fundraiser, or chair of a social club will help show your comfort with engaging others.

Remember, as with "tell me something about yourself that's not on your resume," one of the goals of this question is to get to know you a little bit beyond your career and on-the-job attitude and experience.

How to Construct a Response

If it feels daunting to generate an answer from scratch, you can rely on a simple formula to construct your answer. The “present-past-future” formula is a way to share key background points while ending on a high note.

  • Begin with a brief overview of where you are now (which could include your current job along with a reference to a personal hobby or passion)
  • Reference how you got to where you are (here you could mention education, or an important experience such as a past job, internship or volunteer experience) and
  • Finish by touching on a goal for the future.

Bonus points if you’re able to identify how the position you’re applying for aligns with how you envision your future.

Examples of the Best Answers

The best answers to this request are honest, brief, and confidently delivered. Your goal is to share something interesting about yourself that illuminates who you are as a person and an employee. Come prepared with a few things to share and be sure to tie them to the skills and qualities that are most valuable in this job.

When I’m not working, I like to spend time exploring with my dogs. I take them hiking, visiting historical sites, or even just walking around town. A surprising number of people are drawn to dogs, and I always enjoy talking with who I meet. I feel that communication is one of the most important aspects of my professional life as well. When talking with people, being able to guide the conversation in a particular direction is one of the ways I’ve been successful in different situations at the office.

Why It Works: In addition to sharing a seemingly unrelated fact (“she likes dogs!”) this answer also establishes that the candidate enjoys talking with people and understands the importance of communication – a valued skill in many roles.

I participate in charity walks several times a year. Recently, I did the Walk for Hunger and I have a few events planned for the summer and fall, as well. I walk for exercise with friends after work and on the weekends. I enjoy the fresh air, learning new routes, and connecting with new people. I also like the fundraising aspect, which has come in handy in my job. I’ve learned how to connect with people to increase their commitment to the cause.

Why It Works: This answer ties the candidate’s hobbies back to skills that are useful on the job and demonstrates that they’re responsible, community-minded person. Also, hobbies that involve fitness activities demonstrate energy and a commitment to health.

The past few years, I’ve gotten really into geocaching. I love the challenge of finding caches and spending time outdoors with friends. I like using my problem-solving skills to find the ones that are really well-hidden. Learning how people hide things – and where people are likely to look – has helped me tremendously in my design work. It’s all about learning to see things through someone else’s eyes.

Why It Works: This answer demonstrates an ability to learn from experience and work as a team, as well as an adventurous spirit.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Transition to professional from personal. After sharing a few interesting personal aspects of your background, you can pivot to mentioning some key professional skills that would help you to add value if you were hired for your target job.

Consider using phrases like "In addition to those interests and passions, my professional life is a huge part of who I am, so I'd like to talk a bit about some of the strengths that I would bring to this job."

Share your expertise. Be ready to share three or four of the personal qualities, skills, and/or areas of expertise which would help you to excel in the job for which you are interviewing. Ultimately, you will want to mention several other strengths before the interview is over.

Make a list of your strengths before you go into the interview, so you know what you will share. Look at the job description and match it with your skills. Then make sure you talk about the top few skills which make you an ideal candidate for the job.

Be careful not to overwhelm the interviewer. After mentioning three or four strengths, you might mention that you have several other assets that you would like to discuss as the interview unfolds.

At first, you should only mention the asset and allude only briefly to some proof of how you have tapped it to your advantage. For example, you might say that you love to give presentations and that this has helped you to generate lots of leads at sales dinners for prospective clients. Later in the interview, you will want to be more specific and detailed in discussing situations, interventions, or results flowing from your strengths.

Be honest. It might be tempting to claim interest in hobbies or activities that seem like they’d appeal to the interviewer, but if you stretch the truth, it will become apparent pretty quickly. Get caught in a lie, and the interview will be over before it gets started. Worse, you could get hired and wind up spending years pretending that you’re an aspiring triathlete or competitive Scrabble player.

What Not to Say

Don’t share too much or too little information. The interviewer doesn't want to know everything about you, but disclosing too little can make him or her wonder why you aren't more open.

Avoid potentially contentious subjects such as political or religious leanings, unless you are absolutely positive that your opinions would be well-received by your interviewer.

Don’t talk about a hobby that might seem to be more important to you than your career. No employer wants to take a chance on hiring someone who will miss a lot of work or ask for extensive vacation time to pursue their passions outside of work.

Avoid sharing personal information about your family. There is no need to discuss spouses, partners, children, or any other strictly personal information.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

  • BE HONEST: Don’t claim hobbies and interests that aren’t your passions.
  • TIE YOUR ANSWER TO THE JOB: Use your response to demonstrate skills and qualities that are valuable in the role.
  • AVOID CONTROVERSY: Don’t talk about politics, religion, or anything that could cause offense.
  • DON’T GET TOO PERSONAL: You don’t need to share information about your family or personal life.