How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”: 5 Expert Formulas
Almost every single interview starts the same way. You walk into the recruiter or hiring manager’s office. After greeting you with a handshake, offering you a place to sit and maybe a cup of coffee, they turn to you and say…..
“ Soooo, tell me about yourself”
The Key to Confidence in an Interview is Preparation
As a job search strategist and interview coach, I’ve found that this typical first interview question gives people the most anxiety because it feels too open ended. Clients often stress over if they are sharing too much, not the right information or if they sound uninteresting. I’d like to stress that the key to answering this critical interview question is to anticipate the question before your interview and craft a thoughtful answer in advance.
I asked some of the top interview coaching experts to share their best formula or response to this common interview question.
YOUR story is unique to you. Pick the formula or structured response that aligns with your brand and the organization you are interviewing with.
Formula #1 for answering “Tell Me About Yourself
- Answer briefly by providing some concrete facts such as position you held, size of the department you were in, and scope of work you performed.
- Right after that, give an example of a professional success story by setting forth the story’s background, describing the actions you took, explaining the outcome, and citing who benefited from the outcome.
- To follow up immediately on that—and in the same breath—ask the interviewer a question in turn, such as, What would the hired candidate be involved with in the first two weeks on the job? And based on the interviewer’s answer, give another story example that answers the need described, using the same format as in your first example.
If you are interested in seeing Alex perform this formula live on Broadway, check out this very helpful YouTube clip. (it’s generated over 200,000 views!). Alex also does one-on-one interview coaching. You can learn more about his work here.
Formula #2 for answering “Tell Me About Yourself
A great strategy is this three-part formula:
Review the job description (JD) and choose THREE things they want that you excel at.
Let’s say you choose these three key words from the JD: *Disciplined/organized *Relationship-builder *Accountable
ANSWER: “The best way to describe myself is by the three things I do best. I am a relationship-builder, a disciplined organizer and an accountable person which creates unwavering trust in customers (value). FOR EXAMPLE… [share story where you demonstrate these three things to prove it].”
BOOM! This will get the attention of the interviewer because it’s what they are asking for and you prove it with a story, while everyone else rambles on about their work history (yawn).
Formula #3 for answering “Tell Me About Yourself
You need to ask yourself
1) What are the major requirements of the position and how am I qualified to meet them;
2) what struggles, or pain points, is the company experiencing;
3) how can I solve their problems?
Demonstrate your value. How can I solve your company’s problems should be at the forefront of an elevator pitch? Understanding this and addressing it within 30 seconds is key to a successful value statement—after all this is what the elevator pitch is. But value comes in different forms. Passion for the job and a desire to work at the company is first. Every employer wants to know that you are excited about the position and that you want to work for their company. You can make this abundantly clear by saying something like, “Thank you for having me in for this interview. I’m excited to tell you about my project management experience and how it relates to the position here. I’ve also heard great things about your company. Based on my research, your company is a key player in the uniform market.”
Next talk about your relevant accomplishments. Understanding that the position calls for someone who can increase productivity, you will give a brief accomplishment that speak to their ability to increase productivity. “I know that you’re looking for someone who can increase productivity. Where I last worked, I increased productivity 50% by creating a workflow process that utilized agile practices. ‘“
Why you’re a fit Based on your résumé, it’s assumed you can handle the challenges of the job. But, do you have the motivation and personality they’re looking for? This piece can’t be overstated. You must come across as a fit. “I assure you that if you ask my supervisors, they’ll say I worked as many hours as it took to get the projects completed. They’ll also tell you that I wouldn’t let a problem rest until I did my best to fix it. This is the type of attitude I will bring to your company.”
Formula #4 for answering “Tell Me About Yourself
I’ve seen individuals experience success with a formula like the one below.
Story ➙ climax/intrinsic motivation ➙ capabilities ➙ current goal (there is a catch to this)
A leading neuroscientist recently spoke to me about a peak-end rule. According to that concept, what will make your answer stand out is a combination of the climax and the end – your current goal.
Here’s why this formula works and how to make each aspect work for you:
Our brains are wired to remember stories. This doesn’t need to be long, and remember, a story is essentially a recollection of the past. Keep it relevantly interesting, show your personality, and don’t include information that would question your professionalism.
Story climax/intrinsic motivation
This is a great opportunity to add what drives you and perhaps a key moment in your career.
Evidence of your capabilities and not just your skills
Focus on sharing evidence to support what you want to do in your next role and not just what you do now. Capabilities are especially important if you’re making an upward career move or a career change.
Current goal – Tie it to the corporate values
You can start this portion of your answer with something like, “At the moment,” and end with why you’re excited to be interviewing. To tie in the corporate values, mention one in your answer. Preferably, one that your research shows they’re trying to improve on an internal and stakeholder level. Top companies hire based on capabilities, cultural fit, and likeability, so now, you can capture all three with your response.
And me, Sarah Johnston
Formula #5 for answering “Tell Me About Yourself”
The key to answering this question is having a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. This question is not an invitation to recite your entire life story starting with how you grew up on a farm in Georgia or even to go line by line through your resume. I also personally don’t think you should use this time to share your hobbies or family information.
A formula that I suggest to my clients is:
- 2 Strengths that relate to the job
- And WIFM
- Which stands for “what’s in it for me”-
I want you to start with a hook–or a story– to draw your audience in. Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone. A great story could include how you fell into your field or why do you do what you do?
Then transition into two strengths related to the position that you are interviewing for. For example, if the role wants you to build a team–and recruitment is a strength of yours– you could highlight it in your introduction.
Finally, as you close out your response, consider that the hiring manager is asking themselves, “What’s in it for me– will this person meet my needs” as they are listening to your response. When you finish with a WIFM, you are briefly sharing why you are excited about THIS SPECIFIC opportunity and this specific company. Your closing comment is also a great time to tie in the company’s mission statement and how it aligns or ties in with your personal mission.
Example of my “Tell Me About Yourself” formula in action:
“When I enlisted in the Navy, I didn’t know how to swim. Seven years later, I left the Navy not only as a proficient swimmer, but as a decorated military officer. When I transitioned out of the military into a sales role, I’d never sold anything before. But I needed income to support my family and committed to the sales process. 37,500 cold calls later, I got the company-wide “rising star” award for leading sales out of 200 new agents. I’ve learned that I thrive in sink or swim situations. I’ve proven myself as an individual contributor and as I look to the future, I want to develop and mentor the next generation of sales leaders. (STORY)
When I think about my strengths in line with this role, even though I am a people person and natural salesman, I love data analytics. One of the things that sets me apart is my ability to dive deep into the data to uncover opportunities. I found $37M in new sales revenue last year by identifying untapped market potential. Also, as I mentioned, I have a passion for developing talent and building a sales team. I know you are looking for someone to build a team from the ground up which would be ideal for me. (STRENGTHS)
Lastly, I am truly passionate about healthcare technology. A family member had cancer last year, and if it weren’t for access to Telehealth, she would not have had the same treatment experience. Your mission as a healthcare tech company aligns with my own desire to help all people get access to great healthcare.” (WIFM)
When Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”, There Are Many Great Answers
My grandmother used to say, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”, which is an idiom that essentially means that there is more than one right answer. The thing to remember is that you should not “wing” this interview question. Alex Freund says, “this question is a gift”— prepare.
In addition to preparation, all of the experts above agree that your response should be concise, natural (not robotic) and around 2-minutes long. How you say it is just as important as what you say so practicing this response is essential.
Need More Interview Support?
Job Search Secret Weapon
I (Sarah Johnston) helped start a global career open marketplace where job seekers can purchase low cost tools and resources for job search success. We have a product priced at $9.99 which includes a guide to answer this question and two additional examples + videos. You can learn more about this kit and purchase it here.
One-On-One Interview Coaching
I offer one-on-one interview coaching where we can work together to craft and practice thoughtful interview responses. Coaching sessions are $199/hour which includes a thorough note summary after the call and a free workbook. For more information or to book a session click here.
I am one of the few job search coaches who has actually been a recruiter. I’ve interviewed hundreds of job seekers and know what companies are looking for in a candidate. I’ve also used applicant tracking systems (ATS) like Taleo and iCims and understand how recruiters scan resumes.