Words of Wisdom for your Job Search: (2) “Tell me about yourself”

After you’ve completed your resume, you may want to prepare yourself for interviews. Each interview is different. There’s no way that you can predict every question that the interviewer will ask. But you can be sure that you will be faced with the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question.

While this question may seem easy to answer, it’s often the one that trips people up. The key to nailing this question is understanding what the interviewer is really asking. They don’t want to know everything you did in your last job. They don’t care that you love to travel. They certainly don’t care that your biggest dream is to make it onto “American Idol” someday. What they do want to know is how your background (experience, skills and education—remember the resume!) makes you a good fit for the job.

Therefore, you need to come up with a response that is specific to the job title. Your answer should take highlights from your resume that are relevant to the job you’re applying for and explain them in more detail. Think about the 2-4 skills you used in your past jobs that would be helpful in the job you’re applying to.

For example, “In my last job, I managed a database of 2,000 accounts and cleaned the system to reduce e-mail bounces by 80%. I was successful in this role because I am detail-oriented. I can see myself applying this skill to this position, which requires experience with Excel and attention to detail.”

After you’ve made this statement, you should follow up with a sentence that connects your career goals to the company. The conclusion might sound something like this: “while I was content with my personal growth in my previous position, I’m now looking to enter the food and consumer good industry because I am passionate about nutrition. I am applying to this position to leverage my computer skills in an industry I care about.” Make sure the end of your response clearly connects your aspiration to this company’s mission and/or to this job specifically. It helps the employer when you draw a clear line between yourself and them.

Here is a good formula to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question:

Past (experience) + Present (skills) + Future (goals).



  1. Leverage past experiences
  2. Use quantifiable measures (2,000 accounts, 80%) 
  3. Mention successes/skills
  4. Conclude with your hope for this role 

Now that you’ve learned the basic structure of an outstanding response, start reflecting to develop your own answer. I would recommend writing out the answer in script form so you understand how your thoughts fit together. Then, I would separate this response into bullet points so that when you answer the question during an interview, you don’t sound like a robot.

Once you have put your response on paper, practice it enough times to be comfortable with it. And then you’re good to go! As you apply to different jobs, you can adjust the response slightly, changing the skills you highlight or the experience you use to demonstrate those skills. But once you’ve got your first “elevator pitch” down, the hard part is over and adjustments are minor. Congratulations! And good luck!


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