Tell Me About Yourself: A Guide on How to Answer a Key Interview Question

If you have been to an interview, you have most definitely had to answer one question: “Tell me about yourself”. Sometimes, interviewers might use a variation of it, like “Walk me through your resume” or “Tell me about your background”. But the underlying rationale behind this question always remains the same. It is a chance for the interviewer to get to know you as a person beyond what they can see on the resume. To this end, being authentic, engaging and truthful is of paramount importance.

While this is arguably the most common interview question (and some would even argue it’s a make-or-break question!), it can often get overlooked in the preparation phases of an interview simply because it ‘seems’ easy enough to answer. After all, who knows yourself better than you? However, there are some common mistakes that candidates make:

  • They do not take into account the importance of this question and gloss over several key details that may be pertinent for the interviewer
  • They are unsure of what to prioritize in their answers, and end up inserting irrelevant details or anecdotes that dilute the core message they want to get across
  • They are unprepared. While the question is asking you about yourself, you still need to tailor it to the audience and the company you are interviewing with

To avoid these mistakes, we have compiled an easy-to-follow template for candidates to make use of.

Step 1: Background (15 – 20 seconds)

This is your chance to talk a little bit about yourself. Instead of diving straight into your career history, take a few seconds to give the interviewer some insight into your life. This can include details about where you grew up, where you want to university, and what sparked your motivation for your current career. Remember that interviewers are human, and it always helps to build a human connection. However, this is not the time to go into your whole life story! Keep it concise and meaningful.

Step 2: Current (40 – 45 seconds)

Your current job is likely going to be the most important aspect that the interviewer focuses on. Tell the interviewer about your existing responsibilities and scope of duties, and try to punctuate it with a major project or accomplishment that you delivered. Ultimately, this is the meat of your answer, so this is where your value proposition should shine through.

Step 3: Past (30 – 40 seconds)

The other major aspect of your answer revolves around what you have done in your preceding job(s) that is relevant to the job you are interviewing for. This is your chance to show the interviewer that you are the ideal candidate for the job because of the experience and/or expertise you bring. Use this section to elaborate on your scope of duties while keeping it result-oriented to demonstrate the impact you have had on various organizations.

Step 4: Future (20 – 30 seconds)

End off your answer with a brief description of why the job you are interviewing for interests you, and how you can see a future with the company. Ultimately, the company is assessing whether you are a good fit. To this end, giving them a peek into your personal motivations helps them arrive at their decision much quicker!
Your entire answer should be no longer than 2 minutes (give or take 15 seconds).

The key here is to practice your answer without sounding rehearsed or scripted. First impressions last, so if you can start off strong, you are putting yourself in pole position for the rest of the interview.