How to Ace that Standard “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question

Your interviewer will probably begin your next job interview with the standard opener: “Tell me about yourself.” How can you ace this question and make a great first impression?

Do it by responding with an answer that quickly proves that you are well-qualified for your target job and passionate about it. Do so by crafting your answer before your interview instead of on-the-fly during your interview. The paradox of preparation for job interviews: The more you prepare and rehearse, the more spontaneously articulate you will sound.

Here is a rough outline for a potentially winning answer to the “tell me about yourself” question.

  • Open with an attention-grabbing, zestful career overview.  For example, “I am an expert in XXX, and I offer a life-long passion in this field.”
  • Summarize your current job and explain why it has prepared you for your target job.
  • Quickly review previous jobs that are relevant to your target job.
  • Summarize your academic credentials.
  • Give objective validation of your skills, such as: “I offer an excellent reputation. I have consistently earned excellent annual evaluations.” Also mention any mention honors, awards or publications.
  • Close by saying something like, “What brings me here today is…” Then describe in a few sentences your enthusiasm for your target job’s mission/ culture and why your target job aligns with your skills and interests.

Notice that this outline frames an answer to the “tell me about yourself” question that would focus on your important relevant and recent credentials and interests — without digressing into immaterial biographical information, such as where you were born or irrelevant hobbies that probably won’t help you nail the job.  In addition, it orders information in reverse chronological order because interviewers are generally more interested in your recent experience than your ancient history.

More tips on impressing interviewers:

  • Your interviewer may interrupt you at any time while you are answering a question. So begin each answer with your best material or you might not get it in before you’re cut off.
  • Don’t waste precious interview time on extraneous or trivial information that realistically won’t help you land your target job.
  • Limit each answer to a maximum of two minutes. If you’re not sure whether to keep talking while answering a question, ask your interviewer, “Would you like more information on this?”
  • Until you are offered the job, your primary goal is to land a job offer. So everything you say and ask should be geared towards impressing hiring managers. Only after you receive a job offer should you shift the conversation to your needs, such as options for working at home and salary.
  • Your answers to interview questions as well as the questions you ask interviewers should reflect knowledge of your target job derived from reviewing your target organization’s website, recent news articles and Congressional hearings about your target organization and discussions with any contacts you may have at the organization.
  • Recruit as many trusted advisors as possible to anticipate likely interview questions with you and roleplay interviews with you. Each of your advisors will probably arm you with different but complementary advice.
  • During your roleplaying sessions, practice incorporating information from your canned answers into answers for questions that differ slightly from your practice questions.  For example, suppose the first question an interviewer asks you is, “Why do you want to work here?” instead of “Tell me about yourself.” You could answer this question by describing your enthusiasm for your target job’s mission and by explaining how your credentials jive with the demands of your target job — all information you could derive from your “tell me about yourself” answer together with your knowledge of your target job.
  • Encourage your advisors to provide you with honest feedback. After all, the only way to find out how you will come across to others is by asking others to candidly tell you how you are coming across to them.

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job

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