How to answer ‘Tell me about yourself’ in an interview for answering this open-ended question

Why does the question “Tell me about yourself” stop a lot of candidates in their tracks at a job interview? It should be the easiest question to answer because you know yourself more than anyone else, right? It stumps candidates because it is such a broad, open-ended question. This question should be one of the simplest to prepare for and you are almost guaranteed to be on the receiving end of it because it is one of the most commonly asked interview questions. 

Why interviewers ask the “tell me about…” question

It is an icebreaker that gets the conversation going. It helps give the interviewer both time and a prompt to formulate their next question because it provides some direction to the conversation. What a candidate chooses to say first or highlight about themselves is very revealing. Quite quickly an interviewer can gauge a candidate’s confidence and how well prepared for the interview they are. If the answer is tied into the job they are applying for, it will show a level of engagement beyond just a generic response for any kind of interview. Answering this question is also a great opportunity to convey some passion/enthusiasm if you feel comfortable doing that (e.g. why you have chosen to work in this field or what you love about it).

You need to use a framework for your answer

To address the breadth of the question, rein it in with a framework that will prevent you from waffling. If the conversation goes off on a tangent, a framework will also allow you to bring it back on course more easily. A great framework is ‘present, past, future’. You can use this framework in a different order by starting with the past (e.g. the previous experience that led to you applying for the role), however be careful to not spend so much time on the past that you don’t get a chance to talk about the present and future. 

For each point below, ensure that you are tailoring what you say to be relevant to the particular job you are interviewing for (e.g. tying it back to the advertised job or company). For example, if their advertisement and website has highlighted one particular company value that sets them apart, look for opportunities to show how that value is also important to you.

  • Present – talk about what you are currently doing, the scope of your role and your accomplishments
  • Past – explain how you got to where you are today – highlighting relevant previous experience (including accomplishments)
  • Future – tell the interviewer what you are looking for next; showing ambition and interest in the role and company

Other tips for open-ended questions like this

  • Be succinct – if you are talking uninterrupted for more than two minutes there is a chance that you have gone into too much detail. Let the interviewer’s facial expressions/body language be your guide for how much you say. If the topic is of particular interest to them, they are likely to ask questions that lead to you giving further detail. If in doubt, check if the interviewer wants to find out more about what you have just summarized.
  • Practice – you can practice answering the “tell me about yourself” question before the interview. By all means record yourself practicing to help sharpen your answer, however, don’t memorise it so that it comes across ‘recited’ in the actual interview!
  • Keep it positive – that means not bad-mouthing your previous employer, re-framing any setbacks such as getting made redundant in a positive way (e.g. the opportunities it opened up for you, the up-skilling or new qualifications you undertook or what the experience taught you) 

The most important thing to remember is to relax and be yourself; treating this part of the interview as a way of someone getting to know you, just as you are familiar with in any social situation...but, keep it professional and relevant to the context of this conversation…an interview is time to be taken seriously and get recognised for what you can bring to the new job. Time to shine!




Mark Douglas

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