How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”?

hesitant guy after being asked "tell me about yourself"
Picture by: Bruce Mars

Whoever doesn’t hate the question “Tell Me About Yourself?” doesn’t belong to this universe!!

You never really know what the recruiter is expecting after asking this vague question, which generates stress and often odd answers like these: 

  • The candidate starts reciting all the elements of his/her resume, starting with the first year of kindergarten.
  • The candidate gets way too personal, which does not really fit the purpose of the interview. You should not confuse personal with way too personal 😉 Knowing that you love cooking can be useful. But knowing that your parents are divorced can make the recruiter uncomfortable.

Weird and dreaded as it is, the question “Tell Me About Yourself” is still quite common during interviews. It helps put your professional life in context and sets the pace for the rest.

Good news is… I will give you the key elements you need to consider in order to answer the question “Tell Me About Yourself” in a structured and effective way, which will set you apart from the other candidates.

First, I’ll help you understand what recruiters expect when they ask you this tricky question and then I will give you concrete examples to answer it adequately.

Before we get started, have you read my Ultimate Interview Guide? It’s got everything you need to know, from what to expect and say to how to dress. If you haven’t, go have a look!

Similarly, if you’re preparing for a consulting case interview, check out my Case Interview Preparation Guide. It’s got pretty much all you need to know about this demanding phase of the recruitment process 🙂

“Tell Me About Yourself”: What’s the recruiter expecting?

Some recruiters start the interview with an open question, which:

  • Gives you the opportunity to freely speak about yourself
  • Allows them to know more about you and determine if you are suited for the job.

Certainly, because you were called for the interview, your profile on paper interests the recruiter. 

Therefore, he/she will seek to confirm your skills and see the things that cannot be communicated through your resume, like your personality. Hence, your energy and enthusiasm are as valuable as your experience.

Your answer will set the pace for the interview and derive in some of the recruiter’s questions later on.

Therefore, choose a throughline for your answer and highlight the aspects you want him/her to be aware of, as well as the ones you don’t really want to discuss.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” 

Albert Einstein

Even if this may seem like a complicated question, don’t consider it a source of destabilization. Instead, regard it as an opportunity to lead the recruiter where it makes you shine, both personally and professionally. 

Preparation guidelines

Prepare in advance

You must prepare the answer to “Tell Me About Yourself” beforehand. The objective is for it to be consistent with:

  • The information in your resume
  • The required skills for the job
  • The direction you want the conversation to go to

For example, if the description specifies that you’ll be required to interact with several stakeholders on a constant basis, provide examples that show your excellent communication skills.

Adapt your response according to the requirements, but NEVER EVER lie.

Make it short

2 minutes. 

That’s the maximum duration for your answer to “Tell Me About Yourself”. Don’t give an awkwardly 10-word answer, but also don’t give a boring 10-minute monologue!

So, while practicing your answer, time yourself.

Remember that the interview is an exchange. The idea is for the recruiter to start digging after the overview you provide.

“Tell Me About Yourself”: Methods to answer this question

To answer the question “Tell Me About Yourself”, there are 2 different methods you can use. There’s no one better than the other. Choose the one that better suits your preferences 🙂

PPF: Present, Past, Future

Here’s how this one works:

Present: Start by giving context on what’s your current situation. What defines you as a person, what you’re doing at the moment and what led you to apply to the position you’re being interviewed for.

Past: Talk about the most relevant experiences you’ve had for the position you are applying for. Do not list all your experiences. Be strategically selective.

Future: End by stating your desire to join the company, showing how your career expectations are aligned with the opportunities that the position can offer.

It’s not a BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato) sandwich, but a PPF sandwich! Easy to remember and really tasty 🙂

Regarding the information you give on your answer to “Tell Me About Yourself”, there’s quite a debate about what type of information to share in relation with what’s on your resume.

Some recruiters say that you have to say something that’s not on your resume.

Others say that you have to relate to your resume as long as you don’t talk about every single detail in it.

My advice is somewhere in between: You should relate to your resume, but also share items that aren’t in it.

This will help you catch the recruiter’s attention and show that you aren’t reciting what’s on your resume.

I’m highlighting what I mean in the examples below in bold.

PPF sample – No professional experience

Present

I can’t talk about myself without talking about the piano, an instrument I practice every day and which has been with me over the past 15 years.

It’s a beautiful but demanding art. I guess I’ve always had a certain attraction for challenges. That’s why I’m currently preparing for running a marathon next month. 

Challenges have a relevant weight in my decisions. That’s also what led me to apply for this position.

Past

In the past, I was awarded a scholarship from the university I graduated from. Also, I was part of the school’s orchestra, playing the piano. 

I like getting involved in group projects because it’s great doing your part in a team that together is able to achieve amazing results. 

When the team as a whole and my teammates individually are satisfied, I celebrate by eating a huge cheesecake!! I bake for a hobby and make some incredible pastries. 

Future 

That’s pretty much the context around myself and how that aligns with this job position. As you can see, I like challenges and I’m a team player.

The opportunities that this job offers for both my personal and professional development make me a great candidate in terms of aptitude and motivation.

I don’t want to join just to make you try my cheesecake, but because I think I have the right qualities for the position, the tasks are interesting and the spirit of the company seems exciting!

PPF sample – First job with previous internship experience

Present

I am a recently-graduated law professional, coming from Happiness University. I define myself as a determined and positive person. I’m always fighting for my goals while keeping a smile on my face, regardless of the circumstances I’m in.

My determination and positiveness are what led me to apply for this job. It’s a challenging and interesting job that I’m sure I can perform to the best of my abilities.

Past

As initially mentioned, I went to Happiness University to study law, and I really loved each one of my  3 years there!

This may sound surprising for some, but I loved the intellectual demands and content of my studies, which require rigor and organization: 2 qualities that are essential for the legal profession.

In addition, you must develop a great capacity for memorization, which is useful professionally but also in our daily lives. I rarely forget a birthday!

During my studies, I completed 2 internships as a corporate lawyer in two of the most prestigious law firms out there.  

These internships allowed me to refine my legal analyses and develop my interpersonal skills through daily discussions with several stakeholders.

Future 

I would like to continue to flourish in this profession, and I would like to do so in a company like yours, which is constantly pioneering best practices in the law world.

PPF Sample – With previous experience (1)

Present

I’ll start by telling you about my work, which I love. I try to always be aware of the good things that working in marketing have brought to my life, and to practice gratefulness as a result.

Currently, I’m working as an Analysis Master and I’ve been in the marketing world for a little more than 2 years. 

Right now, I’m looking to expand my expertise in this area, as well as getting to live different experiences for my personal and professional development. This is why I’m applying for this job.

Past

Initially, I started as a Digital Marketing Assistant at Market Your Butt Off.

I created and refined all the visual content of our e-commerce activity there. It was a real challenge, but it’s the reason that got me into this job. I like getting out of my comfort zone and I loved putting my skills at the service of this project.

After that, I joined Cool Company Inc. because I wanted to acquire some experience in customer data analysis. My tasks were, among others, to analyze the purchase behavior of our consumers. The objective was to target them more accurately and cause a sales increase.

Thanks to the analysis and the subsequent targetting strategy, we increased our sales by 15% and our customer retention by 30%.

This collective success was celebrated with a joyful dance with my colleagues!

Future 

I would like to continue to develop my expertise in marketing. I want to do so in a position that combined both the creative and analytical fronts. That’s why I’m applying for this job!

PPF Sample – With previous experience (2)

Present

I’m currently a Key Account Manager at Next Door Company, where I handle the partnership with our biggest client. I work in this position for 3 years. 

I’m now looking for new opportunities in order to expand my professional experience and skillset. This is why I’m currently applying for this job.

Past

Before that, I worked in a startup called Cozy Company for 2 years. There, I had to integrate new clients and build customer loyalty through regular meetings, breakfast events, thematic events, newsletters. 

I increased our sales by 15% per year through 35 new key accounts. 

And while I really enjoyed the work that I did so far, both now and in my previous job, I am looking to embrace a new, more international challenge. 

I love interacting with people from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I moved a lot and lived in different countries when I was a child.

Future

Therefore, I’m so excited about your opportunity as it is in line with my career path and my previous experiences. 

I believe I can have a positive impact on your customer relationships and sales. To top it off, the job is international-oriented. This perfectly aligns with my expectations, making me extremely motivated and excited to have a shot at this company.

The P2P Method

Depending on your preferences, you might wanna share a more personal or out-of-the-blue answer. This will allow you to leverage the surprise factor and give the recruiter a more authentic perspective on who you are as a person.

If this sounds like a good fit for you, then the P2P method is the right one for you. But what is it?

The Personal-to-Professional method’s main objective is to give an overview of your professional capabilities from the standpoint of personal experiences. 

In appearance, you’re simply sharing personal anecdotes. But in reality, you’re telling the recruiter how capable you are for the job you’re currently applying.

Here’s a sample:

P2P sample

Recruiter: So, tell me about yourself…

Way Searcher: Last summer, I participated in a full marathon and was overwhelmed by the beauty of this physical challenge. Even though this was my sixth one, it doesn’t get any easier!

Running brings me peace, combativeness, and humility, which are qualities that I constantly strive for. 

Additionally, there’s a form of humbleness in the physical effort that involves a never-ending process of self-improvement.

I love the idea of getting out of my comfort zone and this is what I apply in all aspects of my life. I’m driven by challenges and see myself as an eternal work-in-progress, always trying to become a better version of myself.

Conclusion

I hope this gives you better clarity on what structure you should follow when answering the famous question “Tell Me About Yourself”.

Hopefully, this knowledge will replace your anxiety for willingness to being asked this question. 

When talking about yourself, remember to consider:

  • Your strengths, experiences, and values 
  • The requirements for the position you’re applying for
  • How your experience and skills overlap with what’s required
  • Past experiences (personal or professional) that reflect this overlap

Finally, be yourself! Your authenticity is one of your biggest weapons to make the most out of this part of the recruitment process.

Happy interviewing 🙂

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Holli
Holli
6 months ago

Good advice. Very practical. I already have a response to that very puzzling question. Thanks.