One of the most common interview questions you’ll hear at the start of your interview is, “Tell me about yourself.”
So, what are the best ways to answer this question?
We asked experts to provide some examples.
TEDx Speaker | Sales Keynote Speaker | Author of “Better Selling Through Storytelling“
You need to bring your resume to life
It is a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Many people just start at their most recent job in an interview and you need to take the interviewer on the journey of how you became you and lessons learned at each job you have had!
Instead of telling an interviewer you work hard, tell a story of when you went above and beyond what was expected of you. You can also get that same information across when you are asked if you have any questions for the employer and you say:
What would it look like if I were to exceed your expectations in this job? That question got a client of mine hired because the interviewer saw the candidate as someone who would go beyond just the basics.
Keynote Speaker | Learning Designer | Master Facilitator
When I teach job search skills I introduce a 5 part framework to help create a compelling answer to this question.
What did you achieve in your last job? What problems did you solve for your previous employers? It should be clear to the interviewer how you will help their company solve similar problems. If you are young in your career you can also include your qualifications here. eg: I also have an MBA from Duke.
I’m a guy that likes to work with my hands and fix things. For the past 18 years, I worked at Hudson Cement works installing tool and dye equipment for our clients. I’ve learned a lot and am looking to pass my knowledge on by being a team lead at a construction company.
What words describe you? Are you hardworking? Self-Motivated? Detail-oriented? Fun?
It’s a job where you have to work well with the team, keep everyone safe, and stay calm, cool and collected.
A sentence that validates that you are good at what you do from the point of view of someone that has either managed you or worked with you.
My buddies would tell you I did that by being the team joke teller. My old boss would probably say I should’ve been a stand-up, but I always get the job done. Work hard, play hard is my motto.
Share why you are passionate about your work.
There’s nothing like the sense of pride you get at the end of the job when you step back and can say: I built that. That’s what gets me up every day.
This involves something non-work related that reveals your personality and interests.
When I’m not troubleshooting someone’s stamping equipment I love to take my kids to camp. Last week we caught a 20-inch speckled trout. Made for a delicious dinner.
Professional Recruiter | Owner, Amplio Recruiting
This is a tricky interview question but here is a quick formula that I find works very well:
- Think about your best qualities.
- Identify instances when these qualities came in handy.
- Look to the future.
Well, I am someone who is a risk-taker with steadfast resolve. Although I calculate risks, I do not get hung up on the details. I do what needs to be done to achieve the desired results, which is necessary for such a competitive industry.
For example, at an agency I worked for in the past, I persuaded my boss to launch a direct mail campaign targeting millennials, a demographic known for its tech-savvy. It was a risky and out-of-the-box move but being a millennial myself, I knew that direct mail is making a comeback within this demographic.
From that campaign alone, we increased sales by (x amount of money) and in turn, grew our online community through referrals. While I really enjoyed my time working at a large agency, I am looking to work with a more agile firm now, which is why I am so excited about this opportunity.
All in all, when faced with this question, relax and think of it as an invitation to tell the recruiter a memorable story about yourself.
Some interviews start with the question, “Tell us about yourself”. How you answer this question can set the stage for the rest of the interview. Your answer can convey your self-confidence, your self-awareness, your core values, your skills and characteristics, and your motivation.
In your answer, you want to share 3 of your key skills or characteristics and one key value that you share with the company.
Skills or characteristics
Choose 3 of your most important skill/characteristics that align with the job. In one sentence tell about the skill/characteristic and how you have used it to benefit past employers.
My innate attention to detail and accuracy has saved the company significant amounts of money over the years.
Being an extrovert, I establish relationships easily and was able to extend this to key, high-profile community members, increasing profile and exposure for the company.
My creativity led to new and innovative motivational programs for the sales team, ultimately increasing sales by 10%.
Take one or two key aspects of the company’s mission statement that you share. Describe those in the same way.
Honesty and integrity are the values that drive everything I do and I believe is a large part of why I have experienced such successes in my field.
Close your statement in a way that flows into the next stage of the interview
I am looking forward to sharing more details about how I accomplished these, how it benefitted the company I currently work for and how I will put it to work for your company.
In writing these, it is important to be concise and clearly draw the connection between you and the new position. It is most impactful to be authentic and write in your own voice. Put this together into a statement that you know and can share in a relaxed and easy manner.
Having a well thought out answer such as this, you will draw a broad picture of the fit between you and the company and the interviewers will be anticipating hearing more detail about what you bring to and can do for the company.
President & CEO, Creative Allies
In my 20+ year professional career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview candidates as a hiring manager at various companies and also as head of HR for a technology company. I’d like to share the perspective of what I feel is impactful to hear from job candidates when asked to describe themselves.
There are three main things I would look for when a candidate is describing themselves.
A common phrase that is very true – an interview is the perfect time to brag on yourself just a little. This could be your only shot to make it to the next round in pursuit of joining the company. If you are great, say it. If you are an expert in an area, talk about it. Without coming across arrogant, simply state facts of how amazing you are.
Nobody is perfect, that is a fact. There is no need to hide anything during an interview because a strong HR professional will find out either from your references or during your first few months on the job. Do not overstate what you can do and do not understate any issues you may have.
Even though the question is about “describing yourself”, the answer should be framed to include the value you will bring to my team and my company. No matter how great you might be, you need to show a quick, direct correlation to how that greatness can be applied to a new team/company.
Vice President, Messina Staffing
Bring out a unique strength and follow-up with how you are addressing one of your weaknesses
These are two parts to answering this question in an interview. This way you show both your confidence and humility, as well as your determination to be the best person you can.
I’m a strong teammate because I am highly organized and detailed-oriented so I can keep us on track. One area, on the other hand, that I need work on is public speaking so I joined my local Toastmasters club to be a more confident public speaker.”
Ciara Van De Velde
Career Engagement Manager, Employment BOOST
Start by discussing your experiences
Highlight a few of the accomplishments during your tenure and share details on some of the tough situations you handled to describe your approach.
If you are recently out of college, discuss your education, previous internships, or class projects that you’ve worked on that are relatable to the position you are applying for.
For instance, if you are looking for a position in sales, you could state the following:
I find that I like to understand what people’s needs are. In my previous position, I was approached with a disgruntled client that was very unhappy with the product that they had purchased. I patiently listened to the client’s concerns about the product while taking the initiative to find out more information on what they needed. Due to the time I invested in understanding what they were looking for, I was able to refer a different product that was more suitable and developed a great relationship with the client!
Be sure to tailor your accomplishments to the job you are interviewing for
Look through the job description prior to your interview to make sure you are discussing any overlapping qualities you possess and how your soft skills can bring value to their company.
End by discussing your reasoning for seeking new opportunities and why you are interested in interviewing for the company to show them your tenacity for self-growth and new opportunities.
Be sure to limit your elevator pitch to a maximum of 2 minutes. Keep in mind that companies love to hear about why you are interested in working for them during your pitch.
Candidates shall speak about achievements and how they achieved the results like: ”I generated 150 Mio in sales by securing a strategic partnership with Amazon.” On the other hand, statements like ”I am a highly motivated overachiever” are not likely to deliver results.
Insights about the company
Show interest in the business of the company and it’s top products or markets. Having no clue about the business or being unable to explain why this company is your preferred employer is a ”no go”.
As a hiring manager, I trust more those candidates who have done their research and know what Transformify’s mission is. I had candidates who told me that they want to work for us because they believe that everyone needs to be provided with the same access to jobs and career opportunities and candidates telling me that they were attracted by remote working and flexible hours. Can you guess who got a job offer?
What are your top skills?
Some candidates are not prepared for this question and this may cut their chances. What the recruiters are actually interested in is whether the candidate knows his/her strengths and is able to describe them.
Human Resources Manager, Quantum Networks
Give the recruiter a background about yourself and how you got into your current position/career
If you’re a recent college graduate, then describe your educational experience and highlight any positions you help in clubs or internships you had. If you’ve been working for a few years and looking for a change of career, then describe your current/previous work experience and how that has shaped you to make your new decision.
Highlight the skills that would make you the greatest asset to the team of the company you’re interviewing for
Always be honest and be prepared to describe experiences where you’ve demonstrated those skills. In addition, never be afraid to talk about a challenge or failure you’ve faced and how you overcame it.
This not only shows the recruiter that you are willing to own up to hard times but shows your thought process and determination to not let this challenge stop you from achieving your goals.
Executive Coach & Consultant, Accela Coach
Start with a synthesis of your background
It should capture their attention as interviewers and prevent them from drifting in and out of attention.
I have 12 years of experience in consumer marketing, with a focus on digital direct response advertising.
Chunk up your story in chapters
This is so interviewers can see the major themes and connect them.
The first 4 years of my career I focused on the tactical delivery of digital ads, then transitioned to strategy and brand messaging, which then led to my current role where I lead a team.
Show why this job and company are a strategic fit
At the end of describing yourself use the opportunity to connect the dots between your experience and the new opportunity. Many interviewers do not directly ask this question so being proactive will help make your case.
And that is why I am excited about your company which is at an inflection point in growth, where I can help solve challenges in scaling, which is my sweet spot.
Career Counselor, Resume Genius
Note any qualities that the hiring manager is keen that new hires should have
The interviewer wants to know what they’ll bring to the company, and the best way to find out what they’re seeking is to thoroughly read the job description. For example, if the job description states that the company is seeking a multitasker, describe yourself as the ultimate multitasker in the interview.
You can scope out the office environment as you make your way into the interview room
How are people working? If they’re working silently at their desks with their headphones on, take that as an indication that you’d be working solo most of the time. In the interview, you should describe yourself as independent, self-reliant, and self-motivated.
By contrast, if you see people chatting with their colleagues, you should describe yourself as a team player and as someone who is skilled at collaborating.
Business Finance Expert | Founder, I Am Net Worthy
Interviews can be intimidating but if you are well prepared, you have a better chance of making sure you give a great first impression. For starters, you need to be able to describe yourself the best way you can. You must be able to persuade the interviewer why you are the better fit for the role they are trying to fill.
Perhaps think about looking at the responsibilities that come with that role. For example, if the role you are pursuing requires you to be organized, make them aware that you do possess those attributes.
The idea is to sell yourself for them to know you can do the job. Some things to consider saying would be things like:
- I am very well organized: Shows that you are responsible for your job.
- I am self-driven: Shows that you have initiative and motivation.
- I am passionate about what I do: Adds value to your work and that you care about what you do.
- I am a team player: Let’s them know you can work well with others and not just independently.
- I am a fast learner: Allows them to know you can grasp on to new things fast and adapt to changes well.
CEO & Founder, Kicking It Sports
Be genuine and speak with a true passion
This is one of the most cliche questions that many job interviewers ask at the beginning of the interview. There is no 100% correct way to answer this question. It all depends on what you feel comfortable saying and what the position is that you are interviewing for.
In order to make a good impression, you want to captivate the interviewer and say something that tells them what value you could bring to the business. Be sure to keep it short and precise. I think an answer could be summed up in 3 – 7 sentences.
For example, if you were interviewing for a technology company like Google, you could say something similar to this:
One of the projects that I am currently working on is an application that allows users to send math problems and solutions to young students overseas.
This example tells the interviewer what your interests are, what type of projects you are interested in, which programming languages you have experience in, you have interest in education and helping people and that you like to work in a team environment.
Let’s use another example for a company not as intimidating as Google. Let’s say that you are interviewing for a Manager position at Race Trac. Remember that you want to be sure that you are steering your characteristics towards the specific job.
I have loved working with people since my high school years being on the cheerleading team. Back then, I was co-captain and enjoyed motivating the squad and sharing memories of our competitions.
Some of my peers say that I am great at communicating and organizing people in a way that helps the overall situation.
For example, I am usually the person who can sense the strengths of the group and help them use those strengths to the best of their ability.
I believe that working as a team for the greater good is the true definition of success. When I am not solving problems in the workplace, I enjoy reading management and autobiography books from my favorite authors like John Maxwell, Jim Collins, Dan Pink, and Michelle Obama.
From this example, the interviewer will notice that the interview loves communicating and has been a team player for many years. Both are essential to being a manager. The sharing stories aspect of the example shows the interviewer that the interviewee is a listener and is interested in other people, which is another great quality for managers.
Sometimes this question can be tricky because you don’t want to come off as pretentious or conceited. As an interviewee, you must understand that it is fine to speak about your accomplishments and talk about yourself.
It is important to be genuine and speak with true passion. Tell the interviewer that you are excited to be on the interview and that you love when people ask you this question.
VP of Marketing, Woodtex
Let them know who you are as a person
If you are in the type of interview where the hiring manager is allowed to have a little more leeway with cultural fit questions, it’s important to demonstrate that you have personality.
All too often, we’re taught to keep interviews 100% professional – and not just the interview, but everything leading up to it. I think that is fine advice – however, if someone is asking you to describe a certain aspect of your personality, it’s time to let them know who you really are.
For example, share with them the garage band you’ve been a part of for four years, which dominates your Friday evenings. Let them know you get in a round of golf on summer weekday evenings. Tell them all about the fantastic family trip you managed to pull off with your little kids.
None of this will detract from your ability to perform professionally. Quite the contrary, hiring managers know that a work-life balance leads to increased productivity.
Should you let on that you stay up until 3 am every night and are a frequent binge drinker? Not quite… but, share a little bit of the positives, and stop short of the overshare.
Vice President and General Manager of Military Division, Lucas Group
Some of my key points on this matter are:
- Be confident, but be humble.
- Don’t speak in the third person.
- Don’t be too general, but don’t get too far into the weeds.
- It is often best to talk about how peers & supervisors have described you in the past, as it lends more credibility to the description.
Here are a few examples:
In the past, my peers have described me as a hard worker and team player who is always willing to do more than his share of the work and who proactively seeks out ways to help other team members succeed. I was humbled and flattered by that feedback and it is certainly who I strive to be.
In my past performance evaluations, my boss described me as someone who could be counted on to get the job done better than expected and someone who always met deadlines well in advance. I pride myself on being an organized person who works effectively and efficiently, and it was nice to hear that my boss thought so too.
I strive to be empathetic and self-aware and seek out feedback from others at all levels to improve my performance. I see myself as a fully-engaged and collaborative team player. I believe in pouring all of myself into whatever I do and in helping others around me achieve success.
Publisher | Speaker | Founder & President, Broad & Pattison Automotive Search, Inc.
Let your inner personality show
I run an executive search and management recruiting firm, and whether I’m giving advice to a senior-level executive who is interviewing for the top job, or my own son who is coming out of college looking for his first job, I give the same advice about your personality during an interview: let it show.
Hiring managers and interview panels want to see what you would be like within their culture and they want to connect with you on a personal level in addition to your credentials for the position!
Don’t be afraid to share details about your life and personal successes when it’s appropriate! A personal connection can often be the deciding factor!