Interview question of the week: Tell me about yourself

This seemingly easy question can catch us off-guard during an interview. Don’t derail your interview right from the start – have an answer ready for this one!

Your interviewer was not impressed by your answer. You should have prepared for it! Photo by Melanie Dretvic on Unsplash

“Tell me about yourself.” It’s one of the most commonly asked interview questions, yet many (most?) people struggle with it.

When you think about it, it makes sense. You are the world’s leading expert on you since no one knows you better than yourself. So why spend time thinking about how to answer a question on a topic you’re already an expert on? But here’s the thing: This question is usually asked first if it’s going to be asked at all. Thus, this is your first impression! What do you want that to be?

By the time you’re interviewing, your interviewer has probably watched candidate after candidate struggle and muddle their way through this question. That’s because vague questions like this are particularly hard to wing. That’s good news for you: since you’ve followed my often-repeated advice and prepared bullet points (DO IT) for this question, now is your time to shine!

You must be ready to answer questions like this briefly and at a high level. This is your “elevator pitch.” (An elevator pitch refers to a scenario where you have to sell something to someone while sharing an elevator with them. If you fail to gain their interest by the time they step off the elevator, you haven’t made your case and you don’t make the sale.”

So, how should you answer?

KISS

This does not mean you should kiss the interviewer. KISS stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” Don’t ramble, keep your answer short and sweet, and stay high-level. You’ll want to highlight parts of yourself that mesh with the position and company such as any special strengths you have. If there’s anything that can distinguish you from other applicants, throw that in there too!

Beware false modesty

Perhaps your culture frowns on bragging? Or perhaps you’re a bit introverted? This is not the time for that. Show off a little! Pro tip: you’ll be more comfortable highlighting your achievements if you’ve bullet pointed (I’m not sure if that’s actually a word, but just go with it) them in advance.

Stay relevant and positive

Try to mention previous experience or schoolwork that is relevant, but be careful not to bring in any negativity about previous jobs.

Create a connection

Use context clues in your surroundings; can you make a personal connection? If so, this would be the point to talk about personal stuff like hobbies. If not, you can keep personal details out of this answer.

Here’s a sample answer incorporating the above advice.

Interviewer: “So, tell me about yourself.

Joe: “Ever since I was young, I’ve been very interested in all things tech. I’ve always been the one that family and friends go to when something breaks, and I was always tinkering with computers. Going into IT was a natural choice for me. Now that I’m about to graduate from college, I’m ready to start my IT career! Speaking of college, I see you went to Virginia Tech – me too! Which campus were you at?

Many interviewers prefer passion and drive over experience, so Joe leads with that. If you’re applying for your first job, you won’t have much experience, but notice how Joe works in the bit about tinkering and being the go-to person in the family?

While talking, Joe notices a Virginia Tech pennant, so he attempts to make a personal connection. If the reception to the attempt is warm (say, the interviewer looks back at the pennant, smiles, and seems to be interested in chit-chatting about that, great! If he or she gives you a brief or terse answer, drop trying to make a connection. Some folks just aren’t social!)

Tailor the above answer to fit you. If you have some prior experience or internship, add that in. Mention any certifications you’ve obtained. Jot down what you plan to answer in a few bullet points, and the next time you’re asked this question, you’ll knock it out of the park and make a great first impression!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. And make sure to check out these top interview questions before you start interviewing!