While this is often among the first questions asked at the start of the interview, the reason they ask is not to become best friends.
Avoid answers that give away personal information about yourself! Some of that information might take you off the top-candidates list.
An employer isn’t going to hire you because you have such cute children (causing you to miss work), a wonderful husband or wife (causing you to miss work), or interesting hobbies (causing you to miss work).
Nor are they going to hire you because your current job is terrible and the organization is an awful place to work.
Be cautious if you are interviewing with a competitor of your current employer -- the interview may be a session to collect confidential information about the competition.
The best way to answer this question?
Focus on this employer and opportunity! Tell them about your accomplishments and experience that make YOU an ideal candidate for the job you are seeking.
The Two-Part Answer to Tell Me/Us About Yourself
Put yourself in the employer’s shoes -- what would you want to know if you were them? Emphasize what will make you stand out as qualified for the company and for the job.
Break your answer to this question into two parts:
1. How/why you are qualified.
Summarize what you have done that qualifies you for this opportunity. Don't recite what is on your resume or job application, but don't assume that the interviewers, who may have been interviewing several candidates, remember your qualifications.
Present the most significant highlights, the ones that would be most relevant to this job. These are the qualifications that make it clear that you are a very good candidate for the job.
2. Why you have applied.
Focus on advancing your career. Stay away from reasons that are not clearly career-related. Emphasize the opportunity to move forward in your career without saying that you are dead-ended in your current job or hate your incompetent boss.
Focus on this opportunity and your career.
Avoid the purely personal reasons. Do NOT say:
- You want to work closer to home because your kids sometimes get out of school early and you want to be able to be there with them, or
- The location is convenient to your church, synagog, or place of worship, or
- You are too tired from the long commute to enjoy life, or
- Your boss is a jerk and you want a better job.
This is where you must tread very carefully and not say anything that might be interpreted as trashing your current/former employer. DO tell them how well you fit, using the 2-part answer, below. But, don't spend more than 30 to 60 seconds answering this question.
Someone seeking a management position with a local branch of a transportation company might say:
(Why You Are Qualified) “I was born and raised in XYZ County and have an excellent knowledge of the area as well as Central and XYY counties. During the last 9 years with the ABC Freight Company, I have progressed through positions of Package Loader, Courier, Dispatcher, and Team Lead."
"In my most recent position, I have had the opportunity to complete numerous management training programs, provide supervision and leadership to all positions within the station, and participate in special projects in conjunction with Senior and District Managers. I enjoy being a Lead and the opportunity to empower and motivate my team. Last year I was awarded 'Lead I' for greatest team gains in productivity."
(Why You Applied) "I believe this experience and training has prepared me to take the next step and pursue a management position with XYZ Trucking. This company has a reputation for excellent management, this opportunity looks perfect to me, and I look forward to working with the best.”
Yes, this person prepared and practiced his response in advance. Smart move!
As you can see from this sample answer, this individual:
Emphasizes the tangibles that qualify him for the job, from his knowledge of the local area, long-term tenure with the employer, and recognition for management results within the industry.
- He does not focus on fluffy stuff or personal information, but paints a picture as to why he is a perfect candidate for the job.
- He also looks forward to advancement in his career, seeking a management position with this new employer.
Perhaps, Ask for Clarification
To ensure that you provide the information they want, you might wish to start your response with a question of your own, like this --
"I would be glad to. Could you give me an idea of the type of information you would like to know?"
By starting this way, you can direct your answer better and be more conversational.
What You Don't Tell Them
I call this question a "spider web" because if you simply tell someone about yourself without planning or context to the target job for which you are there to interview, you could give away all kinds of information that you should not be sharing.
- This is not an invitation to tell your life story.
- Don't confess any personal problems with your kids, spouse, or parents.
- Don't complain about your aching feet or any other health issue.
- Don't trash a current or former employer, boss, co-worker, client, customer, or supplier.
- Don't share any secrets about your current or former employers.
Nor is this the time for you to explain how the job will benefit you (they don't care, and you will look clueless)
Talking too much leaves them with the impression that you are:
- Ditsy or naive
- Unprepared for the interview (so not really very interested)
- Simply a risk for the company
Remember, THIS IS A JOB INTERVIEW.
How to Prepare for This Job Interview question
Before you ever go to an interview, you need to KNOW YOURSELF in terms of qualifications for the job and match for the company. To know this you should:
- Carefully review the job description to note where you meet or exceed the requirements, and
- Research the company, and
- Identify, catalog, list, and review your expertise, strengths, and unique value, and
- Practice, practice, practice so you sound natural and confident.
Then, you will be ready to put yourself in the employer’s shoes, and...
Emphasize what will make you stand out for the company and for the job.
The Bottom Line:
With advanced planning and practice, you can know your target employer and how to sell yourself for the job. "Tell me about yourself" then becomes a positive and fun exercise in demonstrating your value and getting one step closer to winning that great new job! .