How to answer “Tell me about yourself” questions at an interview

A job interview is the most important time you’ll discuss your skills, accomplishments, and experiences. For some people, this can be a little stressful. Whether you’re someone who doesn’t mind highlighting your achievements or not, you might find that it takes time to warm up to personal questions. It can be especially intimidating when the interviewer starts with a “tell me about yourself” interview question.

The “tell me about yourself” interview question is common, but unless you’re prepared for it, you may be caught off guard.

Why interviewers ask you to talk about yourself

The hiring manager often begins the interview with a tell me about yourself question as a way to break the ice and build rapport. It allows you to talk about yourself in a more relaxed manner instead of jumping right into answering questions about why you should get the job. This question also helps the interviewer get their bearings as they assess your personality type and see how comfortable you are with an open-ended question like that.

It also can serve as a starting point for other topics. For example, if you begin talking about a special project you just completed, the interviewer may want to use that as a jumping board for more questions about your experience and skills.

How to answer “Tell me about yourself” questions

So, how should you handle it when you hear the infamous “tell me about yourself” question? When the interviewer gives you an open-ended “tell me about yourself” question like this, try to use any of the three approaches listed below based on what fits your situation or personality best.

Provide an overview of your main accomplishments

You can highlight your past accomplishments or achievements and how these led you to your current job. Talk about the role you play in your position and lead into what your long-term goals are. Your answer can include how their organization is an ideal fit for your skill set.

Highlight your soft skills

Instead of talking about your work journey, you could highlight your soft skills. Talk about any activities you’re involved in that showcase these skills and characteristics. All organizations need employees who possess hard and soft skills.

Build the relationship

Some people try to shine during this time by making a personal connection. You can share a few tidbits about your hobbies, interests, or involvements. This can build a rapport with the person.

Tell me about yourself examples

Here are several “tell me about yourself” sample answers:

Example 1

I was on the yearbook committee in high school, and I handled all the editorial responsibilities for the yearbook and organized its sale. I enjoyed the job and learned a lot about writing, money management, and marketing in the process.

Example 2

I volunteer time on the weekends to assist with a homeless mission. We take a bus around the city, giving out food and other necessities. I’ve been involved in fundraising for necessary supplies. This experience has made me more appreciative of life and empathetic with others. It has also enhanced my skills in motivating others.

Example 3

I am a collector of antiques and love to find a good deal. I hunt for bargains by visiting yard sales and online sites. I have quite a collection of unique antiques, many of which I got for a good price. In the process of collecting, I’ve learned how to negotiate with others.

Other “Tell me about” questions

You may encounter some other questions that are similar to the “tell me about yourself” question but not quite. Listen closely to how the interviewer words the question to determine how you answer it.

Tell me about your journey

Sometimes the interviewer may specifically ask you to tell them about your “work self.” They may say something like, “tell me about how you got to where you are today.” That question is slightly different from “tell me about yourself,” which could be open to personal versus only work-related information. In this case, you will have an open door to discuss your work-education journey.

Tell me about a time

Other interviewers may narrow down the question even more with one of the “tell me about a time” interview questions. This could be something like, “tell me about a time when you had a problem completing a project.” In this instance, the interviewer is looking at how you work under pressure and what type of problem-solving skills you have. Other “tell me about a time” interview questions you may want to prepare for include:

  • Tell me about a time when you made an error on a job
  • Tell me about a time when you clashed with a coworker
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with how your boss wanted to do a project

When answering a “tell me about a time” question, you want to narrate your answer, weaving in as many “soft skills” as possible. Always end on a positive note, even if the incident has some rough spots.

Final tips before the interview

The best advice you can get is to practice your answers before going for an interview. Be prepared to give a couple of different answers. Practice saying the answers so you feel natural.

However, don’t be bound by a script. If things go differently than you expected or the conversation balloons, go with it. Don’t hold yourself back or trust your gut instincts just because you practiced it a certain way.

At the same time, be sure you don’t get carried away and ramble on too much. Be sure you are concise and make good use of the time. The interviewer will appreciate that trait.