Tell Me About Yourself

Posted by Cara Scharf on May 6, 2011
Tell Me About Yourself
You’ve just arrived at your interview. You shake the interviewer’s hand. He motions for you to sit down and you make yourself comfortable. Then he pops the question: “Can you tell me a little about yourself?”
It seems like a simple request, but “tell me about yourself” often trips people up because of its open-ended nature. “Most people prepare to answer pointed questions, but with this one you’re not exactly sure what the interviewer wants,” says Brad Warga, vice president of talent at Harrah’s Casino.

On one hand, you could spout out your entire life story, from conception to your breakfast that morning. On the other, you could give a straight list of your qualifications. But employers are really looking for an answer that falls in the middle of this spectrum—an introduction to how your background, passions, and personality led you to the interview and shaped you into an ideal candidate for the job.

Coming up with that answer isn’t always easy, so we’ve compiled a list of the essential elements your response should include.

“When I ask the question, I’m looking for the candidate’s motivation,” says Warga. “I’m really saying ‘Tell me how you ended up sitting across from me today.’” To answer, you need a handle on the reasons you’re passionate about the job. Maybe you’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of computers, and that’s why you’re trying to advance your career in computer programming. Maybe you fondly remember going to baseball games with your father, which is why you want to work at a stadium. Through one brief example, employers will see your commitment and background.

You won’t get a job on passion alone. To convince an interviewer that you are the best candidate, you’ll need to prove your worth to the employer. But keep in mind that your true value isn’t just a summary of your work history; it’s a statement of how your skills and achievements correspond with the requirements of the job. “It’s one thing to say you have ten years of experience in project management,” says Brent Peterson, founder of “But it’s another to say you have a proven track record of successfully managing complicated projects in the financial services industry.”

You may feel compelled to talk only about things that relate to the position at hand, but both Warga and Peterson say that employers appreciate it when you inject your personality into an answer. “The employer already has your resume,” says Peterson,
“but the personal piece is a little unexpected and employers really jump on that.” Listing one or two activities that you enjoy makes you seem more human, and it might connect you with the interviewer. “Capitalize on common ground,” says Warga. “If my eyes light up when you talk about golf, say more about it. Most people enjoy talking about common interests, so use that to build the relationship.” If you feel the conversation getting off-topic, bring it back to the job.

Once you’ve gathered those three elements, come up with a quick way to relay them all. You should be able to complete your answer in under a minute, says Peterson. “If you hit a minute, you’re too long, and an answer that rambles is essentially the beginning of the end of the interview.” The best way to get your answer to a reasonable length is with practice and revision. For every interview you have, outline what you want to cover and time your answer. Ask a friend or family member to help by keeping you on topic and suggesting places to shorten.

Wrapping up your answer can also be a challenge. When people get on a roll talking about themselves they tend to keep on going. But it’s important to quit while you’re ahead, and give the interviewer a chance to respond. That means leaving an opening for the interviewer to follow up on your spiel. Allow him to interrupt you if he wants to comment on one of your personal interests or anecdotes.

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