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How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question – Part 1

The first handshakes are over and everyone is seated. “So,” begins the interviewer, “tell me about yourself.”

Are your palms sweating yet? Most people dread this question, but it’s actually a great opportunity if you’re prepared.

Let’s plan how you can respond with a strategically focused introduction that gets your interview off to a very persuasive start – leaving you feeling more confident for the rest of the meeting.

The #1 Interview Question

I call this the #1 interview question, for two reasons: because it typically comes first, and also because it may be the most important. Your answer is a crucial first impression. Like the first eye contact, it’s a defining moment.

There are various versions of the opening question. They might say “Can you introduce us to your qualifications?” or “How about walking me through your background?” or even a blunt “What’s your story?”

No matter how they ask it, what they’re really saying is: “Why should we hire you (instead of one of our other qualified candidates)?” What do you have that the other candidates don’t?

Focus on Key Selling Points

This question is an open invitation to focus the interviewer’s attention exactly where you want it, on what makes you stand out – in other words, your key selling points. 

Example: Denise Williams

Denise is a sales manager. Her key selling points are as follows:

  1. Track record of consistently over-achieving goals and earning awards in Fortune 500 companies
  2. Exceptional talent for effectively anticipating and navigating change through cross-functional collaboration
  3. Learns quickly and delivers results fast

These selling points have three crucial qualities that I abbreviate as “REV”:

  • They’re Relevant, very much in demand with her target employers.
  • They’re Exceptional; not everybody has these accomplishments and skills.
  • They’re Verifiable, meaning she can prove them with examples, stories or other evidence.

Denise’s answer to “Tell me about yourself” – let’s call it her REV Intro – sounds like this:

“(Interviewer’s name), based on your job announcement and my phone screening with (recruiter’s name), it’s clear the new person in this role needs to hit the ground running and deliver results fast. That’s what I’ve been able to do at Top Tier Technology; I transformed team morale and doubled revenues within three months. At Strong Solutions I achieved similar early wins, which my manager later mentioned in a recommendation on LinkedIn.

“As a manager, and earlier as a rep, I’ve consistently been well over goal, as you may have noticed from the awards in my resume. There are some interesting stories behind those, which I would be happy to tell if you like.

“Another need that was mentioned in the announcement – and something that’s a specialty and a passion of mine – is to anticipate and capitalize on change. At Strong I saw how the new wearable technologies were creating opportunities for us, and I worked with Marketing and Product to maximize those.

“Would you like to hear more about anything I’ve said so far?”

Essentials of an Effective “Tell Me About Yourself” Answer

The example above works because it has the following elements:

  • A focus on REV Points.
  • Just a little career summary.
  • Humanity – a bit of insight into personality or motivations.
  • Brevity – the answer takes less than a minute.
  • A natural, conversational tone.

Developing Your Own Answer

To prepare a great REV intro for your own interviews, first identify your key selling points. Then work those into a one-minute statement. Try to include the essentials listed above.

Don’t script your answer word-for-word and memorize it; that approach sounds “canned” and makes you and the interviewer uncomfortable. Instead, make a simple outline of the points you’ll make and the order in which you’ll say them, then practice talking through it in a natural way.

I’ll offer more specific help with this process in an upcoming blog post. For more in-depth help you can get my book Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, or contact me to see if one-on-one interview coaching would be helpful to you.

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