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Best and Worst Ways to Answer "Tell me About Yourself" in an Interview

If you’ve ever been a job hunter faced with an interview, one of the most common yet most dreaded questions that come up is “Tell me about yourself.” It is such a simple inquiry, and yet so difficult to answer because you can take it in so many ways.

So how do you go about finding the right answer to this elusive question? The very first thing is to define what the question means when asked in an interview. “Tell me about yourself” is an interviewer’s way of asking you to summarize who you are, professionally speaking. 

How to answer “Tell me about yourself”

Since the question aims to find out more about your professional background, the best way to answer it is to stick to your professional features and highlight them well—sort of like an elevator pitch to sell yourself.

Here are a few notes to keep in mind when answering this question:

Past, Present, Future

A trusty but straightforward format to answer this type of question is to highlight your professional past, present, and future into a statement. It does not have to be lengthy; only enough to contain the most essential surface details of your knowledge, skills, or experience.

Tell your interviewer about your previous jobs that are pertinent to the role you are applying for. If you’re fresh out of college, tell them about your educational background. For the present, tell them about the recent roles and accomplishments you’ve made. 

Finally, to include the future, tell the interviewer about your career goals, why you are interested in the position, and why you would make the right candidate for the job. 

Spotlight your skills

One of the things you can include in your answer is your skills. If you are exceptionally skilled at something that you believe can contribute to their company, it is a great idea to highlight it. Make sure to stick to the skills that are relevant to the job description.

smiling interviewer

Modify your answer accordingly

While it is a good idea to have a format for this answer, you should still make an effort to modify it depending on the company or position you are applying for. One organization may have different values than others, and one job position may favor one specific skill set over others.

Highlight your goals

Highlighting your goals should not only be about what you plan to become. It should also be about what you want to accomplish for the company with the position you are applying for in case you got hired. 

Highlighting your goals gives the interviewer the impression that you are looking forward to a future with their company. It also shows that you are forward-thinking. Moreover, it gives them an idea of which positions you can advance into in the future.

Passion and professionalism

Showing a bit of passion for the job can also be an excellent addition to your answer. If it is a creative job such as design, craft, or creation, interviewers will likely appreciate candidates who show passion for their work. It means that you will do your utmost best to produce the best outcome possible.

Stay Positive

Keep your answer optimistic and lighthearted. If you experienced a layoff from your previous job, this is not the time to express grievances towards your previous company. You can mention the layoff but focus instead on your determination to look forward to a future with your new prospective employer.

How NOT to answer “Tell me about yourself”

As you take note of how you should answer this tricky question, you could also take some pointers about how not to answer them. You should absolutely avoid making the following pitfalls:

Making it personal

When the interviewer says, “tell me about yourself,” he or she is not asking you to tell your life story. Do not include personal details about yourself. Some people make the mistake of mentioning their marital status, their hometown, and family life.

Personal details such as those distract the interviewee from the facts that really matteryour professional qualifications and your aptitude for the job. In fact, it may even cause the interviewer to question whether you’re the right fit for the job. They may think you might get too preoccupied with your personal agenda to get the job done.

Trash-talking your previous employer

As mentioned previously, expressing disdain over being laid off from a previous job is not the right way to answer this question. It is also not wise to describe the problems you encountered with the previous employer that led you to apply for the position you are interviewing for.

Back-talking about your old boss reflects poorly on you and makes your prospective employer think that you might do the same with them in the future. Only say good things about your previous experiences, and if there’s nothing good to tell, talk about other things instead.

Resume summary

The answer to “tell me about yourself” should be formal and professional. However, it should not be merely a recitation of the contents of your resume. Assume that the interviewer has already read your resume prior to the meeting. Reiterating the items words-for-word will bore them and make them think you lack creative thinking.

Your answer should be a great summary of your entire resume. Think of it as one full page condensed into two or three sentences. The interviewer should get a sense of your professional essence when you answer the question.

To further boost your confidence for any job interview, you can take online courses such as Job Interview Success, Recruiter Reveals: Job Interview Formula, or Cracking that Difficult Interview from Skill Success. These courses help you prepare mentally and emotionally to tackle even the most daunting interview questions. They also give out simple techniques such as voice modulation to take your interview answers from average to outstanding.

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