How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself" at an Interview

Job interview meeting
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Interviewers will sometimes start an interview with an open-ended question like, "Tell me about yourself." The question is a way to break the ice and make you feel more comfortable during the interview process. It's also a way for the hiring manager to get insight into your personality to help determine if you're a good fit for the job. This is one of several interview questions about you that you might hear during your interview.

Don't Share Too Much - or Too Little - Information

Sharing too much or too little information isn't a good idea. 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.

Also remember to be careful about what you include in your answer – 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.

You should also avoid talking too much about family responsibilities or hobbies that might make your interviewer wonder whether you could commit yourself 100% to the job.

Read on for advice on how to respond to this question — and, perhaps more importantly, what not to say in your answer. 

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

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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 which you are passionate about like quilting, astronomy, chess, choral singing, golf, skiing, tennis, or antiquing.

Interests like long-distance running or yoga which 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.

One note of caution, however – while you should regard this question as an opportunity to build rapport with your interviewer and demonstrate that you are well-rounded, be careful not to be so enthusiastic about a hobby that it raises a red flag that it is 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 a favorite hobby. 

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 which 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.

However, be careful not to overwhelm the interviewer with too much information. 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.

Sample Answer

Here's an example of an effective answer that transitions from talking about your personal interests to your professional expertise.

  • 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.

    Avoid Politics and Controversy

    Typically, you would steer clear of controversial topics like politics or religion. It's important to avoid any references to topics that would cause concern about your ethics, character, productivity, or work ethic.

    Answers to Avoid

    It's best not to mention your involvement in politics, unless you are interviewing for a political job where you know your views would be welcomed.

    • Don't say this: When I’m not working, one of the things I spend time on is voter registration and canvassing for the Democratic party. I belong to a group that goes into schools and low income communities to explain the importance of voting, and the process of registration.

    A Better Option for Responding

    Here's a way to mention your community involvement without getting into a potentially controversial discussion.

    • When I’m not working, I volunteer at the community center. We offer a variety of civic and sports programs, and I really enjoy working with the teenagers.

    What Not to Say When You Respond

    You also don't need to share personal information about your family. There is no need to discuss spouses, partners, children, or any other strictly personal information. Here are some of the things you should never say during a job interview.