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11/9/14 - 4 Things You Need to Remember About the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question

by Lisa Rangel

It doesn’t matter how far you’ve climbed up the ladder. Everyone hates to be asked the interview question, “So, tell me about yourself.” How a candidate reacts and answers this simple interview question can be extremely telling of their viability for a role, so it’s important to bring your A-game to this challenge.

While this popular interviewing question does pose a lot of potential landmines, you can avoid them by following some tips:

Focus On What Makes You Exceptional

The key here is to be specific when describing what achievements and strengths you bring.Often times we want to impress people. This is especially true if a big job is on the line. This can lead to one big landmine: trying to be everything to everyone.

This is when you need to demonstrate what makes you different than other candidates. You can do so by focusing on the things that make you exceptional.

For instance, if you were vying for a VP position, this would be a great time to mention steady promotions, your knack for conserving costs and your ability to satisfy business stakeholders.

Be Confident In Your Ability to Serve the Company, But Don’t Get Cocky

There’s a fine line between confidence and conceit, but you can feel when you’ve crossed it. One way to think of it is like this: confidence acknowledges that while you’re very good at what you do, your focus remains on service. Conceit, on the other hand, thinks it can do no wrong and has a more self-interested tone. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

For example, if a recruiter hears “I can market anything” from a candidate in the running for a Senior VP of Marketing position, they probably won’t believe it. The hiring executive has been in business long enough to know that, while you may be a good marketer, you most probably cannot market everything.

Instead, focus on what that particular company does and how your skills can help. Does the company sell software services? Then change your answer to something like “I am great at creating and executing marketing campaigns for software. Here’s an example from my work history…”

Answer With Professional Examples

This is probably the biggest landmine area of an interview. If you respond to “Tell me about yourself” with ramblings from your personal life, you’ve completely missed the point.

What the interviewer wants to know is who you are professionally. For example, are you a financial expert looking to fill the Chief Financial Officer position? What makes you qualified for this position?

This is the interviewer’s way of opening the line of communication and getting what they need quickly. They want to know off the bat if your leadership skills are the right fit for the open position.

Initially when answering this question, stay away from the personal stuff. This isn’t to say your personal traits aren’t worthy; it’s just not the right time or place to bring it up. Furthermore, if you start talking about your personal life, the employer may wonder whether or not you’ll bring this into your work.

Keep It Sweet, Short and To the Point

Since this common interview question seems so informal, sometimes people let their guard down when answering it. This leads to rambling.

Think of this question as the opportunity for a sales pitch. What makes an effective sales pitch? It’s short, sweet and simple.

You can avoid this landmine by forming a short narrative around the key points that differentiate you from other candidates. Write it out and practice it before the interview so you’re not caught off guard.


This post originally appeared at Chameleon Resumes.
Lisa Rangel, Managing Director of Chameleon Resumes, is a former search firm recruiter, Certified Professional Resume Writer and holder of six additional job search certifications. As a recruitment professional for over 13 years, Lisa knows firsthand what resumes receive a response and land interviews from reviewing thousands of resume. She has been featured on LinkedIn, Monster, US News & World Report, Fox Business News and Good Morning America. Lisa is the Career Services Partner for eCornell, the online division for Cornell University. She has authored three books, 99 Job Search Tips from an Executive Recruiter, The Do-It-Yourself Branded Resume Kit and Interview Confidently, Get Hired and Don’t Sell Out.