Many people think it’s easy to talk about themselves until the recruiter asks them to do so during the job interview.
Before you even know it, you start questioning yourself. What exactly should you answer when someone asks you to tell them more about yourself? Is there anything you should refrain from saying? How detailed should your answer be?
The good news is that we have the answers and can teach you how to answer the “tell me about yourself” question in the best possible way!
To answer the “tell me about yourself” question effectively, you should use the most effective formula for answering this question—Present-Past-Future.
To perfect your answer, don’t talk too much about your hobbies, don’t overwhelm the interviewer with details, and be honest.
Your answer should also be tailored to the company and show why you’re passionate about the job you’re applying for.
If you find it too difficult to come up with an answer, look at some “tell me about yourself” samples for inspiration.
How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
The “tell me about yourself” question is open-ended, meaning there are numerous ways to answer it. This is the exact reason why so many people dread it—they don’t know what information they should provide in the answer to satisfy the recruiter’s curiosity.
On the other hand, if you don’t provide a decent answer, your entire job interview can go downhill. After all, it is true when they say you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
What The Interviewer Is Asking
Understanding the purpose of any question is essential for coming up with an effective response.
By asking the “tell me about yourself” question, the interviewer is looking to:
Ease into the interview without stressing you out
Set the direction for the rest of the interview
Get to know you professionally
Examine your soft skills
Ultimately, their main goal is to get to know you to determine not only whether you’re a good fit for the job but also how well you’ll get along with the team. On top of all that, they want to check if your beliefs and behaviors align with the company’s culture and its core values.
By correctly answering the “tell me about yourself” question, you’ll show that you’re confident, professional, as well as capable of communicating clearly and effectively.
Not to mention, more than 80% of employers consider interpersonal skills—including verbal communication—important. As such, providing a coherent answer can significantly increase your chances of being invited to the next stage of the hiring process.
Our Formula For Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
If you’re having trouble structuring your answer to the “tell me about yourself” question, we recommend using a simple yet effective formula called Present-Past-Future. This formula will help you keep your response clear and concise.
What you need to do is:
Start by giving a brief overview of your current situation, i.e. your current job. Don’t just state your professional title and call it a day. Instead, explain what you do and mention one or two professional achievements to start your answer with a bang!
Explain how you got to where you are now by summarizing your previous professional experience. You can mention your education, previous jobs, internships, volunteer work, or any other relevant experience.
Wrap up by mentioning yourprofessional goals for the future and explaining what made you interested in this job opportunity.
If you’re using the Present-Past-Future formula, your answer to the “tell me about yourself” question should look something like this:
I’m Joel Hutchins, and I’ve been working as a Customer Service Agent at Company X for the last 7 years. During this time, I have handled thousands of customers’ requests and complaints via phone, email, and chat with an average customer satisfaction rate of 93%.
Before that, I worked as a social media manager for Company Y but decided to switch careers and go for customer support, as it means even more interaction with people.
When it comes to my future plans, I’d like to use my interpersonal skills and the experience I have gained to represent companies that match my personal values. For this reason, I decided to apply for this job as soon as I saw the job listing, as I admire your company’s focus on diversity and inclusivity.
Another formula that works equally well is Past-Present-Future. Consider using it if you’re changing careers and your past work experience is more relevant to the desired role than your current position.
Whatever order you choose, make sure to tie it to the desired position and company. Your goal is to leave the interviewer with the impression that discussing this job opportunity with you makes perfect sense.
8 Tips For Answering Tell Me About Yourself
Need more tips on how to implement the formula and come up with the best answer to the “tell me about yourself” question? Here are some you may find useful:
Tip #1. Practice Your Answer
The good news is that you already know what the recruiter will ask you first, so make sure you prepare the answer in advance.
Take your time to think about what you want to say to them and how you want to introduce yourself to the hiring manager, and practice it in front of a loved one or a mirror!
Tip #2. Customize Your Answer Based on the Audience
Form your answer wisely depending on the person that’s interviewing you. You may be required to talk to multiple people during the recruitment process, but it doesn’t mean you must repeat the same thing every time someone wants to know more about you.
This means, for example, that you should avoid terms that are too technical if you’re speaking to a hiring manager or any member of the HR team. They probably aren’t experts in the field you’re experienced in, but expect some simpler answers related to your future plans or the competencies you possess.
Tip #3. Don’t Overwhelm the Interviewer With Details
Even though the answer to the “tell me about yourself” question should sum up who you are, you shouldn’t overdo it with details. You’ll have more time to talk about your professional experience during the interview, which means you don’t need to go in-depth right away.
This doesn’t mean you should skimp on important information. Simply emphasize the achievements you’re most proud of and leave the rest for later—the recruiter will probably ask you about other experiences, too.
Also, try to answer the question in less than one minute, as people tend to stop paying attention to what you say after 40 seconds of uninterrupted talking.
Tip #4. Be Honest
You may think that adding an “innocent lie” here and there is nothing wrong as long as it impresses the recruiter. However, that’s entirely untrue!
You shouldn’t mention any skills you don’t have or say you worked at a place you have never even seen. Be truthful and talk only about the things you have experienced.
If the recruiter or the hiring manager notices you’re being dishonest—and they can easily check it by asking sub-questions—you’ll probably have to kiss the job goodbye.
Tip #5. Show Why You’re Passionate About the Job
The fact that the conversation should be professional doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show how eager you are to work in the specific field or company.
So, try to explain—without rambling—what makes you passionate about your profession, the company, and/or the position you’re applying for. As long as you don’t go over the top, showing some emotion in your response can help you stand out from your competition.
Tip #6. Avoid Rushing Too Much Into the Future
Don’t rush into discussions about your future goals within the company—it’s too early for that.
For starters, you can explain what made you pay attention to the specific job ad. Whether you have used the company’s products or heard positive impressions from other employees, you can mention that.
Also, you can tell the interviewer how the way the company operates inspires you, as all that can help you grab their attention and be invited to the next round of interviews.
However, you should save the extensive conversations about your long-term plans within the company until later in the interview process. Don’t jump the gun before you’re sure you've got the job, as it may make you seem pretentious.
Tip #7. Don’t Talk Too Much About Your Hobbies
It is not a good idea to talk too much about a certain hobby because it may seem more important to you than your job. No employer wants to hire someone who may be absent from work in order to pursue their hobbies.
Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn’t mention a few hobbies that, for example, represent your energetic, healthy, or witty side. One of the goals of the “tell me about yourself” question is to get to know you outside of your profession, as it also speaks about you and your personality.
Tip #8. Tailor Your Answer to the Company You Want To Work At
Another important thing is that you should do your research and learn more about the company before the interview. Once you know how the company operates and what they’re looking for in a job candidate, try to base the answer to the “tell me about yourself” question on what you discovered.
For example, if you are applying for a job in the education field, make sure you mention previous jobs in this industry or any similar positions you’ve worked in. Avoid talking about jobs that are irrelevant to the role you’re applying for, such as waitressing or house cleaning.
“Tell Me About Yourself” Sample Answers
Every candidate is unique, so you definitely want to come up with a good, original answer to the "tell me about yourself" question on your own. Still, sometimes it can be harder than you’d expect.
So, if you’re looking for inspiration, here are 4 sample answers for all types of candidates, from students looking for their first job to seasoned professionals applying for a managerial role:
#1. Sample Answer—Student, Intern, or Fresh Graduate
My name is Annie Smith. I’m 23, and I recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Business and Economics. During my studies, I attended courses related to international financial markets, business strategy, corporate communication, international political economy, and more.
I put a lot of effort into my education and took the subjects rather seriously, maintaining a GPA of 4.0.
I may not be experienced when it comes to working for companies of your caliber, but I’m eager to learn how the corporate world works. I believe the problem-solving skills I gained while working with real companies during my studies would make me a useful addition to your team.
Now that my university journey is over, I’m ready to put what I've learned through all these years to use, which is why I’m applying for this job.
#2. Sample Answer—Mid-Level Professional
Since graduating from college five years ago, I’ve worked as a data scientist for several companies. My last role—Principal Data Scientist at the X Company—allowed me to focus on designing and supporting the pipelines of data transformation.
During this time, I mastered using Java, Scala, and Python, as well as solving complex big data problems, which I would gladly demonstrate if I got the chance to work with you.
Regarding my future plans, I hope I’ll be able to further advance my career by pursuing a PhD in data science. This could enable me to become an expert in data science and boost my knowledge in other related disciplines.
In my free time, I enjoy doing yoga and solving brain teasers.
#3. Sample Answer—Management
I've worked as a project manager for more than ten years now. I graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Project Management and a GPA of 4.5.
Immediately upon graduation, I began my career as an Administrative Assistant at the X Agency. During my time at this company, I managed schedules, arranged meetings, and assigned administrative projects, while also maintaining the company’s digital records.
In 2011, I started working as an IT project manager at Y Company, and I’ve worked there ever since. So far, I’ve coordinated 10+ large-scale IT projects, making sure they are delivered on time and within the available budget.
With this experience under my belt, I believe that I’m a good match for a senior-level position at your company. What draws me to leadership roles is the possibility of overseeing important activities and improving the existing business procedures to achieve impeccable results.
#4. Sample answer—Career Change
Since my graduation from Yale University in 2012, I’ve worked as an attorney at three international law firms, one of them being the prestigious Z Law Firm. During this time, I’ve represented 100+ pro bono clients, which I found truly rewarding. This made me realize that I want to change careers and engage in helping non-profits pursue justice.
Thanks to the previous job positions I’ve worked in, I got a chance to advise various clients on crucial legal matters and help them negotiate complex cases. Since I also enjoy serving a greater purpose and helping people solve legal dilemmas, I’m positive that the experience I've gained makes me a good match for your non-profit organization.