Interview Tip: How to Approach the Interview Question “Tell Me About Yourself”
We know that recent graduates are out there interviewing or at least trying to interview to get that first professional position. This can be very stressful and awkward as you put on different clothes and try and manage the shift from being a college student to presenting yourself as a young professional.
At the top of the list of interview questions that our clients hate, is the ever-present “Tell me something about yourself”. This question can be especially nerve-wracking for new graduates trying to do everything right. The fact that it can seem to be so open-ended makes it show up to new graduates as being chock full of opportunities to do it wrong.
The first thing to understand about this question is when asking it, interviewers mean what they are saying, and they want you to tell them about yourself. It isn’t a trick question despite the fact that answering it correctly can seem tricky. They want to hear from you, in your own words and as such it is THE foundational question of the interview; how you answer this question sets the table for what is to come. It requires the interviewee to be thoughtful about how they frame their answer and to be able to share their story in a relatable and concise way. So we thought we would give you our perspective on the critical ingredients to an opening question like this, and then share an example of what it can look like.
So here we go – what goes into a strong answer to “tell me about yourself”:
- Share some information about your personal background. This is not the place to offer up traumatic events from your childhood, if there are any, but to give the interviewer a bit of an overview into your life – and if you were able to interject a small dab of humor – extra points. If there are aspects of your personal story that are relevant to who you are today, but not so dramatic that they can derail the interview, you can bring them in. For example saying you were raised by a single mom can be important, but saying that your house burnt down when you were six killing your dog, is too much information for an interview.
- You then want to be able to move into storytelling mode and talk about a couple of specific college or work accomplishments that you are proud of – and more extra credit if your stories are clearly relevant to the job you are applying for.
If you can bring in the perspective of others to support your claims – that is a nice layering on.
And then you are done. Smile at the interviewer and get ready for the next question!
Here is an example of how one of our clients did this really well.
It took him awhile to develop a clear picture of his strengths and his accomplishments, but he did the work and ended up with a way of answering this question that felt honest and presented him in a strong light. And he did it in just over 1 minute which is a great ballpark amount of information to give, and time to take.
Meet Paul – what follows is in his voice.
I grew up in the suburbs of Providence RI. My dad is a police officer in town and my mom works as an administrator in our high school which made for some interesting situations when I was in high school – but we made it work! In HS and college I worked for a local landscaping company, and by the time I left I was the right-hand person for the owner, independently working with customers and managing work crews that were often made up of much older employees.
I have always been impressed with the firefighters I have known and became a cadet firefighter during high school. I pursued a lot of training in my work with our local fire department and I am proud of the fact that I became a volunteer firefighter last year.
I chose my college because of the strong safety program that they have. I want my career to involve improving the safety of employees and potential consumers. I am proud of the fact that I have maintained a 3.3 GPA overall and a 3.5 in my major and that I did this while working 20 hours a week throughout college.
I know I am a hard worker, and that I thrive in situations where I can be part of a team. My prior bosses have told me that I seek out, and can handle, responsibility, that I am a good communicator and a self-starter. I am so ready to get started in my career!
Here is How You Can Use This Example to Create Your Own Answer:
- Here, Paul shared a bit about his background and lightly offered some humor when talking about the fact that his parents worked as a police officer in his town and as an administrator in his high school. In part this was to get a question about what was that like, as he has a funny story to tell if they ask a follow-up question.
- Talking about managing work crews at a young age was relevant and important because in Safety roles he was going to inevitably be placed in positions where he had to influence older and more experienced employees.
- Paul presents himself as self-directed when talking about becoming involved with his local fire department and eventually becoming a volunteer fire-fighter. He highlights the academic achievement that he is proud of and makes it clear that he worked throughout college while getting those grades. He explains a bit about what is behind his interest in his Safety major or at least positions it as a relatively long-term interest. And then he closes by bringing in the voice of his prior bosses from in to substantiate his claims of being a good communicator, etc.
Once he put the pieces together, answering this question was easy for Paul because it was an honest introduction to his background and his capabilities. He had to work for this with some self-reflection, and some review of his accomplishment stories, but he is now able to introduce himself to potential employers in an engaging and informative way. It is an effective opening to an interview and helped him move from dreading the question, to seeking it out in an interview.
So think about your strengths, work to embed them in your answer to this question and practice, practice, practice. Getting this right and your interviews start to flow.