How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself" [in 2020]
All interviews start with the same question:
Tell me about yourself.
The question sounds easy on paper, sure. After all, we talk about ourselves all the time.
But when you think about it, it’s a really open-ended question.
Do you start with your background? Do you go through whatever’s on your resume? Or do you introduce yourself more as a person than a professional?
Worried and unsure of how to answer?
Relax, you’re not the only one!
Most people struggle with this question.
Here’s some good news, though: there’s a very easy way to answer the dreaded interview question.
Want to learn how?
Read on to find out:
- Why do interviewers ask this question?
- How to answer “tell me about yourself” with a simple formula
- 4 essential tips to keep in mind when answering
- 3 sample answers for experienced professionals, students, and prospective students
How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
To better answer the question, you first need to understand why they ask it in the first place.
Hint: the interviewer isn’t looking for your life story, or what you had for dinner last night.
Rather, the question is a way for them to ease into the actual interview and get a general idea of what you’re all about.
It acts as an introduction and depending on how you answer, it’s going to help the interviewer decide what to ask next.
This is your opportunity to leave a lasting first impression.
Give a good answer, and the interviewer will enthusiastically bombard you with more questions.
Answer wrong, though, you’ll instantly be labeled as the “OK Candidate.”
So, what’s a “good answer?”
Well, it’s actually pretty straightforward. A good answer should be
Tailored - Applying for an accounting job? The recruiter doesn’t care about your work experience as a real estate agent. Your answer should be tailored to the job you’re applying for.
Based on Experience & Achievements - Your answer should be super-specific. Don’t just say “so um, my name’s Mike and I’m a sales manager.” Your answer should consist of background (what did you study?), top achievements (how do you stand out from the other candidates), and interests (why are you applying for this job?).
Structured - Your answer should follow a simple, easy-to-follow format. We’d recommend sticking to the tried-and-tested “Past-Present-Future” formula. Meaning, structure you answer as follows:
- The past - what is your background and relevant work experience? How did you get to where you are now?
- The present - what is your current role? What do you do and what are your top accomplishments?
- The future - what are you looking to do next? Why are you interested in the position?
Keeping these tips in mind, here’s what a good answer to “tell me about yourself” would look like:
“Sure, so, my name is Joe and I am 27 years old.
For the past 5 years, I’ve been working as a business analyst at Company X and Y.
I have some background in data analysis, with a degree from University XY. What really got me into the field, though, is the internship I did at Company Z.
Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that I’ve always been good with numbers and handling data.
For example, when I was working at Company X, I led a project for migrating all operations data to a new data warehousing system to cut down on costs. The new solution was a much better fit for our business, which eventually led to savings of up to $200,000 annually.
Moving forward, I hope to expand my experience across different industries. Particularly fintech, which is why I’m interested in your company..”
Here’s what’s done right:
- The answer is tailored. Joe doesn’t stray off-topic, he talks about his experience as a business analyst, and his past achievements in working with data.
- The answer is based on experiences and achievements. Joe talks about his work experience as a business analyst, and covers some of his top achievements.
- The answer is structured right - past, present, future.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Now that we’ve covered the basics on how to answer “tell me about yourself,” we’re going to cover several essential tips that can help you stand out even more.
So, let’s get started.
4 Essential Tips on Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
1) Keep It Professional and Brief
When answering, try to keep it under 1-2 minutes, at most.
No, the HR manager doesn’t want to know your entire life story.
They don’t care about which kindergarten you went to, how your first internship went, or what you studied in high school.
You want to stick to your main selling points that are relevant for the job.
Pro tip: If you can see that the interviewer is getting distracted, you should take that as a sign that it might be time to wrap up.
Here’s how you WOULDN’T answer this interview question...
Well, I’ve always been interested in tech.
But it all probably started when I was a kid, and at the age of 9 I first got my computer.
I always loved playing around with code and learning new things. But it wasn’t until that high school where I first had my first class about it that really made me fall in love with the subject.
Since then, I started learning more about it and decided to major in IT at University X where I learned how to.
2) Practice, But Don’t Memorize
You’re bound to hear “tell me about yourself” on just about every interview.
So, all you have to do is practice your answer a bit!
Grab a friend and do a quick mock interview.
Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t memorize your answer. Sure, it might seem like the safer option, but if you end up forgetting something on the interview, you might mess up your entire answer.
Instead, come up with a general idea of what you’re going to talk about, memorize the structure, and just wing the rest on the interview.
3) Know Your Audience
Or, know thy interviewer.
It’s important to keep in mind who you’re talking to.
Is it the HR? Business manager? The hiring manager? The CTO? CMO? CEO?
You might be wondering, why does this matter?
Well, the thing is, each of these people expect a different answer.
Let’s say you’re a software engineer, and you’re being interviewed by the HR manager. If you start going on and on about how much you love coding in Assembly, you’ve practically lost them.
See, the HR manager doesn’t know anything about coding or assembly.
They’re expecting a more generic answer about you, your career, and reasons for applying at the company.
On the other hand, if you’re being interviewed by the CTO or the hiring manager, you can geek out as much as you want.
4) Remember W.A.P. (Work, Academic, Personal)
Every good answer to “tell me about yourself” should consist of:
- Work - This should make up about 80% of your answer. Focus on your previous experience and accomplishments here.
- Academic - 10-15% of your answer should then be about your academic background (university, academic achievements, etc.).
- Personal - Finally the last 5-10% should be about you as a person, while still keeping it relevant to the company.
Keep in mind, though, that the W.A.P. rule isn’t set in stone.
If you’re a student, for example, your entire answer could be about your academic career and personal interests.
3 Tell Me About Yourself Sample Answers
Need some inspiration? Here are 3 sample answers for:
- Experienced professionals
- Fresh graduates and college students
- University admissions
Ready? Let’s start with:
Sample Answer for Experienced Professionals
Sample answer for an experienced professional:
Sure, I’d be glad to. I’m an tech-focused project manager for up to 8 years now.
I graduated from University X, where I made the Dean’s List, with a major in business administration and a minor in computer science. After that, I first got into the industry working as an administrative assistant at Company X. There I provided clerical support with interdepartmental communication, helped in managing schedules, and maintained the digital filing system.
After that, I was working as a project manager for Company Y that provided cloud computing solutions for about 6 years. There, I personally managed 5+ teams of software projects, and made sure everything went smoothly in terms of business goals, deadlines, budget, and more.
In my downtime, I enjoy reading about AI, tech, and robotics. Since you guys do all 3, I thought I’d apply.
Sample Answer for Fresh Graduates and College Students
Sample answer for fresh graduates:
My name is Jane Doe, I’m 22 years old and I recently graduated from University X with a B.A. in international business. While there, I learned a lot of theory in subjects like corporate communication, international economics, corporate governance, and more. I was also part of the student government, and maintained a GPA of 3.6.
I’ve worked hard in my education and now I’m ready to apply my knowledge into practice.
While I don’t have any real-life work experience, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the business environment. A lot of my courses involved working with real companies to solve real problems.
Now, I’m looking to leverage everything I’ve learned in uni and get some hands-on work experience.
Sample Answer for University Admissions:
Sample answer for university admissions:
So, my name is John, and I’m a senior at School XYZ.
This year, I managed to maintain a 3.7 GPA, while working on a few different school projects. I started an ‘Ernest Hemingway Book Club’ which has up to 15 active members as of now. And I also launched a recycling program for the campus, through which we raised awareness and invited an outside guest lecturer to speak about the subject.
I tend to be teamwork-oriented and reliable, as I’ve never missed a deadline. I’m also proud of my ability to preserve and overcome any challenges as they come up. For example, last year, I was having some trouble with trigonometry. I realized I needed to dedicate more time to the subject, so, I met with a teacher outside the class and set aside two extra hours per day for the subject. Eventually, I ended up with an A in the subject.
At University X, I’m planning to either major in English or Journalism. I love reading and writing, so I think both programs are going to be interesting and relevant to my interests.
Now, to recap, here’s the most important tips on how to answer “tell me about yourself…”
- Structure your answer in a way that makes sense. Stick to the past-present-future format, and you’re all good!
- Keep it relevant and brief (1-2 minutes max). No one wants to hear your whole life story.
- Mention any of your top achievements and relevant work experiences.
Now, as this is only the start of the interview, expect them to follow up and ask a bunch of other questions.
So, if you want to make sure you’re definitely ready for the interview, check out our complete list of 35+ common interview questions and answers to help you prepare even more.
Looking for more job-search advice? Check out our blog more industry-leading career articles!