Open-ended interview questions like "describe yourself," "take me through your employment journey," or "tell me a little more about your background" are used at every stage of the interview process. A variation of "tell me about yourself" is often something the hiring manager will ask to break the ice and get the conversation started.
At first glance, this question seems simple enough. You are the premier expert on the subject of you. However, it can easily trip you up if you aren't prepared.
What Does the Interviewer Want to Know?
In the excitement of an interview, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and spend too much time talking about yourself. The danger of open-ended questions is you may meander into topics that are not relevant.
The interviewer is interested in hearing how you envision using your experience and skills to help the company. Their goal is not only to evaluate your skills and qualifications, but also to get a sense of how well you will fit with the company culture.
Here are four steps to craft your answer and some examples, so you can be ready when the time comes.
1. Highlight Relevant Experiences and Achievements
Your answer is an opportunity to give the interviewer some background information on your skills and experience. The best place to start is the job description. You can use it as a guide for what to include in your answer.
As you look over the job description and think about what the employer wants and needs from the person who will fill this position, make notes as you answer the following questions:
What makes you a good fit for this position?
What about the company or industry is interesting to you?
What traits do you bring to the position that will make a positive impact?
Is there anything in your history or background that may make you stand out?
2. Connect Your Past Experience to the New Position
Why are you making this move? What is interesting, attractive, or important to you about taking this position?
If this is your first job, you may be excited to join the company and gain some experience in your field of interest. If you are making a lateral move, you may be looking for an organization with more opportunities for promotion, better benefits, or a more convenient location. If this job is a step up for you, you may focus on how your experience has prepared you for this opportunity.
3. Use Examples to Illustrate Your Abilities
Use examples to demonstrate how you are a qualified candidate for the job. What have you accomplished in the past that can demonstrate your communication or problem-solving skills or that highlights your work ethic?
Go back to the job description and let what they are looking for spark your memory. You can talk about how you've accomplished similar tasks in the past. You might mention skills you've developed that will be useful on the job, such as teamwork and computer program proficiency.
It's best to focus on skills as they relate to work rather than your hobbies and passions. If you're newer to the workforce and there is a highly relevant example from your hobbies, that's fine. However, too much time spent on topics not related to work can be off-putting.
4. Organize Your Answer
Now that you have the elements to include in your answer, it's time to organize it. A reliable way to present your answer is moving from past to future. For example:
Past (experience, skills, and abilities with examples)
Present (what you do now)
Future (why this position and company is attractive and how you see yourself making an impact)
Alternatively, you can start with the present, bring in examples from the past, and finish with the future. You want to deliver your answer in a logical progression that makes sense and is easy to follow.
"Tell Me About Yourself": Three Sample Answers
Here are three examples to help you formulate yours before your job interview.
Changing Job Types
I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and worked in HR for the first five years after college. I enjoyed seeing the company's inner workings and getting a glimpse behind the scenes. Our department at Jinuyn participated in ongoing training, further developing my network and skills.
Some of the sales representatives played on the company softball team with me, and the more I got to know them, the more I thought sales might be a great fit for me. I enjoy the sense of competition, the daily striving toward goals, and constantly improving my communication skills. I dove right into sales training and recently finished a six-month course.
This entry-level sales position at RunIn caught my attention because the company is dedicated to employee training and development. I met Sally Waite from your HR department at a conference, and she was enthusiastic about how many ways employees here can get involved. I am a team player and like your strong company culture and would value the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed as part of your sales team.
My favorite memories growing up are sewing and crafting with my mom. Whether it was a summer barbeque or a holiday gathering for the whole family, she always had creative and fun things for us to do. Walking into Michaels with her was a treasure hunting adventure. We would find ways to use the adorable things we discovered in the store. When it came time to get my first job, I knew there was no place I'd rather spend my time.
I graduated high school a month ago and will start a graphic design degree part-time in the fall. I can work as many hours as you need this summer, then hope to work here through the several years I'll be at school.
I'm a fast learner and reliable. I know the store well and have sewn and crafted my whole life. I'm excited to be part of the magic that made my childhood and relationship with my mother special.
Taking on More Responsibility
I work in the customer service department of Jovila, a B2B SAAS business. In the three years I've been there, I've slowly taken on more responsibility. While I am not officially a supervisor in the department, other service agents often send difficult or complicated calls to me because they know I can handle them. I've also enjoyed helping train new customer service agents so they can step into a high level of service quickly.
I've worked in customer service for SAAS companies since I graduated from college. Initially, I was good on the phone and able to make customers feel heard and leave happy, but over the seven years working in customer service for SAAS companies, I've learned a lot about software.
I enjoy the process of helping people solve real-life problems using the company's product. This job interests me because I know and appreciate the software solution you sell. As a supervisor, I would get to take on the more challenging calls and officially oversee training new hires. It's an obvious next step in my career, and I'm both ready and excited to take it.
Explain How You Fit With Them
If you are a good fit for the company and position, having a well-crafted answer to "tell me about yourself" will make it clear to the interviewer. While it's good to practice your answer, remember that it is not set in stone. You can always adjust it based on what you've learned from the interviewer and how well they respond to your story.
Remember, an interview goes both ways. They are looking to see if you are a good fit, and you are also deciding if the company and position are the right next move for you. Put your best foot forward, and good luck!
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