If you’ve ever found yourself stumped or stalled by this relatively routine job interview question, you’re not alone. In fact, you’d be surprised by the number of interviewees who stumble and mumble their way through a response to this seemingly simple prompt.
And it’s not their fault. Tell me about yourself is an incredibly vague thing to ask somebody. Where are you supposed to begin? What exactly do they want to know? How can a person possibly be expected to cram decades of life experience in a neat 30-second response?
The answer is they can’t. And you shouldn’t try, either. Tell me about yourself is — at its core — a conversation starter. In other words, it’s just a way to get the ball rolling. The person interviewing you doesn’t literally want to know every detail about your life. All they need is some basic pointers that help reaffirm their decision to grant you an interview. That’s all.
Employers tend to begin with this broad sort of inquiry because it leads naturally to other lines of questioning. On your end, it’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, set the stage, and get warmed up. So don’t overthink it.
The trick is to pick the specific parts of your background that are most immediately applicable to that specific interview. And then, just start talking. The worst thing you can do as an interviewee is just sit there in silence trying to muster an answer.
As long as you make sure to include enough crucial details about yourself and your work experience, the person interviewing you most likely doesn’t care when you learned to ride a bicycle.
The main reason that people struggle with the tell me about yourself question is that they have a hard time deciding which key details to include in their description of “themselves.”
The solution this problem is to
a) know that this question is coming and have some sort of response ready, and
b) isolate in advance the parts of your work experience that are most relevant to that job.
The good news is, you can almost definitely count on this question (or some variation of it) being among the first things that you’re asked in the interview. No matter what you’re interviewing for, odds are the person who invited you wants to begin the conversation by getting to know you a little. It’s a basic social courtesy.
Again, remember that the best way to nail this prompt is by being prepared for it. Have your talking points ready to go, and when the person asks you to “tell them about yourself” just get right into it. Not delaying makes you seem sharp, confident, and competent.
Lastly, it helps if you add a detail about your life that sets you apart from other applicants. The strength of your candidacy hinges upon your ability to set yourself apart from the pack. If you’ve done something remarkable or experienced something extraordinary, be sure to bring it up! It will make the interviewer want to know more about you and it shows that you’ve led an interesting life. Plus, it exemplifies the sort of well-roundedness that any employer will surely be looking for.
Be ready, be friendly, be confident. You got this.