Tell Me About Yourself: How to Tell Your Story in an Interview

“Tell me about yourself!”

This seemingly easy open-ended interview question is among the most dreaded by jobseekers. Its ambiguous nature has the power to fluster the most confident interviewees and might leave you forgetting everything other than your name.

If this question makes you sweat, sit tight. We have some tips that can help you in your next interview.

In this article…

Why do employers ask this question?

“Tell me about yourself” can be such a broad question and often leaves interviewees wondering what, exactly, employers want to know. Do they want a recap of your education? Do they want you to dive into your work history? Are they curious about your passions or what you love to do for fun? 

Chances are, they want to know whatever it is that you think is important to talk about. 

Interviewers typically ask this question to discover what parts of your personality and life you value and prioritize. Just as no two company cultures are the same, there is no one right answer to this question. Interviewers want to see whether your unique response will gel with their unique workplace culture. 

Are you a hard-charging, ambitious professional eager to advance in your career? Or are you a parent of four who enjoys weekend road trips? Most job seekers assume every company would prefer candidates with the first response, but that’s truly not the case. Not every company or role offers professional growth opportunities, so not every company is looking for candidates with the first answer. On the other hand, if a company is looking for someone willing to work nights and weekends and that’s not your current career stage, it’s better you both find that out before you accept an offer. 

This question is also a great icebreaker. It’s typically one of the first questions asked and lets candidates talk about the things they are most familiar with and passionate about. Furthermore, a candidate’s answer can be a great segue into a follow-up question.

how to answer "tell me about yourself" infographic

1.  Keep it short and don't rehash your resume.
2. Talk about your past, present, and future.
3. Think about the company and role that you're applying for.
4. Practice, but don't memorize.

How to answer “tell me about yourself”

While you want your response to be honest and true to you, you should still think about your answer ahead of time. Here are a few things to keep in mind when coming up with your answer.

1. Keep it short and don’t rehash your resume.

Keep your answer fairly general. The interviewer will likely ask you more in-depth questions throughout the interview, so there’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty of your experience. If there’s some aspect of your answer that they want you to expand upon, they will ask. 

It’s okay if you want to touch on your experience; however, don’t simply go over word-for-word what the recruiter already knows from reading your resume. Instead, you can do some of the following:

  • Connect how your past experience translates to the role that you’re applying for
  • Discuss your passion for what you do and what inspires you about your line of work
  • Talk about your hobbies and interests outside of work
  • Touch on volunteer experience
  • Let the interviewer know why you’re excited about the role or company
  • Mention a few traits or skills that make you especially suited for the job

All of this will give the interviewer a holistic view of who you are as a person and job candidate.

2. Talk about your past, present, and future.

Divide your time talking about what you’re doing now, how you got to where you are, and your hopes for the future. You can start by mentioning your education and early roles and working your way up to the present, or you can start from the present and work backward. Either way, it’s good to end with your goals for the future and how you see the role fitting into that.

3. Think about the company and role that you are applying for.

While you don’t want to have completely different answers for each company or role that you’re applying for, it is something to be cognizant of when coming up with your answer. 

For instance, if you were applying to a manager position, you may emphasize aspects of your story that reflect your leadership and management experience. Similarly, if you were applying for a position at an education-focused startup, you might touch on how you deeply value the education that you received. 

Researching the company and reading the job description of the role you’re applying for will help you be able to connect your experiences and interests to what they are looking for in a candidate.

4. Practice, but don’t memorize.

It can help to write down some bullet points and go over your answer a few times. Don’t memorize it, however. A rehearsed speech can cause your response to come off as inauthentic. This question should be answered in a conversational tone that sparks interest and invites questions.

RELATED: Ask a Recruiter: How can I prepare for a video interview?

What you shouldn’t talk about

We talked about a few things that you can talk about when answering this question, but what topics are off-limits? Here are a few things that you should avoid talking about when answering this question.

1. Your childhood

Don’t treat your answer like an online recipe that requires you to scroll through a recap of an author’s childhood just to get to the good part. Unless you have a quick anecdote that is pertinent to your passion or career, there’s no need to give a play-by-play of your life story. Start with your education or relevant job experience.

2. Why you don’t like your current job

Don’t take this as an opportunity to rag on your current employer and list all the reasons why you’re looking to get out of there. You can say something along the lines of “I’m looking for more opportunities to grow my career” or “I hope to gain more experience in a different field with a new company” but don’t go beyond that.

3. Details about what you’re looking for in the job

This will likely be the first question an interviewer asks. Don’t go into detail about what you are looking for in the job, expected benefits, or desired salary. That can wait until later in the interview process.

Take a deep breath and be yourself

This is the time to let your personality shine. While you want to be professional, be yourself and talk about the aspects of your life and career that are most important to you. 

Take a deep breath. You got this!

Find the right employer for you with JobSage

At JobSage, we’re setting out to build an employer review site around things that matter most to jobseekers— inclusion, growth, purpose, feedback, flexibility, and compensation. We want to help you find the right employer by getting answers to the questions you care about. Join JobSage for guidance in your job search or to leave a review for your current employer to create a more open, transparent conversation in and around the workplace.