Every Interview Starts with This Question

Every interview begins with the interviewer asking the open-ended question, “Tell me about yourself.”

The question “Tell me about yourself” is not a throwaway opener. Consider your answer carefully. By asking this question, hiring managers are looking to answer the following:

  1. Who are you? (professionally)
  2. Why are we talking?

Additionally, interviewers ask this question to assess how confident the candidate is, enabling them to see how they will present themselves to clients, customers, and colleagues. In theory, this should be the easiest question to answer. Who does not enjoy talking about themselves? 

How you answer, “Tell me about yourself,” will determine the direction of the interview. Based on what you say, your interviewer will formulate their next question, causing a chain reaction of follow-up questions, leading (fingers-crossed) to a pleasant conversation. When this happens, your interviewer is achieving the goal of every interview: Learning more about you while assessing your communication skills and how well you will “fit in.” 

As a hiring manager who has asked this question thousands of times, I have heard it all. Frequently, probably due to nervousness, candidates divulge TMI (Too Much Information), which often adversely affected my hiring decision.

A simple, easy-to-follow format will help you make a good first impression and start the interview in the right direction. I recommend the tried-and-tested “Past-Present-Future” formula, which structures your answer as follows:

  • The past: What is your background and relevant work experience? How did you get to where you are now?
  • The present: What is your current role? What do you do, and what are your top accomplishments?
  • The future: What are you looking to do next? Why are you interested in the position?

Using this structure, a good answer to “Tell me about yourself” would look like this: 

As part of obtaining my bachelor’s degree in computer science at Pennbrook University, I took several data analysis classes, which I found enjoyable because of my love for numbers. However, it was my internship at Happy-Go-Lucky Toys, Inc. that really got me interested in data analysis. Following graduation, I worked as a database administrator at Omni Consumer Products for over three years. For the past 5 years, I have been working as a business analyst at Kumatsu Motors.

The ability to work with data and numbers has always been one of my strongest skills.

For example, soon after joining Kumatsu Motors, I led a project for migrating all operations data to a new data warehousing system to reduce costs. The new solution was a much better fit for Kumatsu Motors, ultimately leading to savings of up to $700,000 annually. 

My interest in wanting to join Big Apple Bank stems from my desire to expand my experience across different industries, particularly fintech.

Note that the answer does not stray off-topic, nor does it provide unnecessary information. (e.g., “I golf on Sunday mornings,” “I am married with two kids and a dog.”) This answer summarizes the candidate’s experience as a business analyst, a notable achievement relevant to the position you are interviewing for, and why they are interested in the company/position.

Here is another example:

Over the past eight years, I have worked as a tech-focused project manager.

I graduated from Hudson University, where I made the Dean’s List, majoring in Business Administration and a minor in Computer Science. Upon graduation, I entered the tech industry as an administrative assistant at Metacortex. There, I provided clerical support with interdepartmental communication, helped manage schedules, and maintained their digital filing system. At the same time, my direct boss mentored me to take on more responsibilities and develop my leadership skills.

After that, I worked for eight years as a project manager for Rekall, which provides cloud computing solutions. I managed four software project teams, ensuring deadlines, budgets, and business goals were met. 

I enjoy reading about technology, robotics, and AI during my free time. Since ComTron does all three, I applied.

This answer also follows the “Past-Present-Future” formula, telling the interviewer how they are qualified for the position they are interviewing for and what led them to apply for the position.  

You will inevitably be asked, “Tell me about yourself.” Therefore, do the necessary work to deliver the best possible answer. Invest time writing and rehearsing your answer, like how actors rehearse their lines before filming. (It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.)

Practicing your answer will help you say it effortlessly and concisely. It is unnecessary to tell your interviewer everything that makes you a great candidate; the rest of the interview is your opportunity to do that. Just provide a few details that will interest your interviewer in learning more about you, which will get the interview off to a good start.

Key Takeaways:

  • Structure your answer in a way that makes sense. If you follow the “Past-Present-Future” formula, you will differentiate yourself from your competitors.
  • Make sure your answer is relevant to the position and brief. (2 minutes max) Your interviewer does not want to hear your entire life story.
  • Mention relevant employment experience and at least one achievement.
  • PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

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Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers “unsweetened” job search advice. You can send Nick your questions to artoffindingwork@gmail.com.

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