How to answer the ‘Tell me about yourself’ interview question

Dr. Darla Shaw, Ed.D Professor of Education and Women's Studies Western Connecticut State University
How to answer the ‘Tell me about yourself’ interview question

Generally talking about yourself in an interview is so much more difficult than being asked a specific question. This ‘Tell me about yourself’ question is given to see how you handle general and open-ended questions that focus on the “big picture” of the interview, meaning who you are as a person, what you have to gain, and what you have to offer.

While it may seem to be a simple interview question for a job or educational endeavor, it is not always so easily answered. The question can also be the deciding point in whether or not your interview goes any further. It is the one key question you should always be prepared to answer adequately. Follow this expert advice below to perform well in your interview. 


Do

Do prepare for this question ahead of time

The average person who goes to an interview wants to be asked specific questions, which they can answer directly. They want to be prompted and feel secure that they are answering the question properly. When asked the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question, there is no prompting or correct answer. It is all about how you process the question, formulate your own guidelines for answering the question, and deliver the answer in the most personable way possible.

Go into the interview expecting this question and having already prepared your answer. This way, you can look the interviewer directly in the eye, be at ease, and communicate with positive energy. 

Do know your key accomplishments

You are not just going to interview for a job or to get into an educational establishment. You are marketing yourself just the way you would a product. Due to this newly-commercialized marketing world, think of this question as an advertisement that people will look at to decide if you have what they want.

As you provide key accomplishments, be ready with short anecdotal stories to support this information. No one wants to hear of someone’s success or accomplishment without understanding the struggle and journey it took for you to accomplish the task, and what you learned and gained from it all. 

Do include your passions and interests

Especially share your passions and interests that demonstrate your ability to be creative, be resourceful, and show leadership potential. Talk about your background in art, music, sports, acting, nature, engineering, writing, etc., and the extent of your accomplishments in these areas. Focus on leadership roles in your area of expertise and how you developed and promoted your own projects.

Do include a problem that you have solved

Share a situation where you were faced with a problem in the real world and solved it. Succinctly explain what the problem was, how you felt about it, how you solved it, and what you learned from it. If you don’t have a solved problem you could share, you could include a philosophical statement if it fits into your well organized statement. 

Do know a great deal about the company’s background

You’re interviewing for a company, academic institution, or educational endeavor, so shouldn’t you know as much as you can about it? On top of learning about everything you can, prepare one or two good questions to ask the interviewer. It will show that you’re not only their to market yourself and look good, but have a genuine interest in the company, institution, or program that you’re interviewing for, and that you want to genuinely contribute toward its goals. 


Don't

Do not use the memoir format

For example: I was born in Chicago, Illinois and have three brothers and sisters. Saying something to this effect does not answer the question directly with prioritized information.

Do not hesitate

Be prepared to answer this question. Write out the answer, but don’t memorize nor read your interviewer the content. Practice, going over your answer many times, before your interview.  

Do not ramble on

When nervous—or unprepared—it’s easy to ramble on about unrelated activities that do not have a direct relationship to the type of position you are seeking, to the schooling you want, or to the “big picture” of this interview. It is better for the answer to be shorter, than too long. 

Do not end on a downbeat or non-dynamic conclusion

As in all writing or speaking, you need an attention-grabbing beginning, a competent middle, and a strong finish. After interviewing numerous students with potential employers, I have found that what the employers are looking for is what they call the “Wow Factor.” When a person gets through talking, they want the interviewer to be left speechless, with nothing more to say than, “Wow!” 

This “Wow” statement example says it all:

Music has always been a strong part of my life. I feel that music can make a difference in the lives of people of all ages and that is why I am interested in a career in musical therapy.

In high school I played piano and drums in three musical ensembles and took courses in music composition, conducting, and musical interpretation. I was also named to the All State Band on two different occasions and won the top musical award upon graduation from my high school in Thompson, Florida.

My most memorable musical experiences have been in working with autistic children at the Millwood School in Tampa, Florida. Two students, who had few communication skills, have begun to speak to a much greater degree after taking part in drum circles and learning to sing simple songs. I have also seen senior citizen with Alzheimer’s get up and dance and sing when they hear a familiar tune that people would have thought they would have forgotten. I would eventually like to research the effect of music on people with special needs, especially in regard to the impact of drumming..

As a volunteer I have taught choral music to primary grade children, performed for senior citizens and performed in European countries with various bands where I played piano and drum and sang to the guitar. I have written several pieces of music which have been recorded and have several more in the works.

I know that your school has a highly regarded certification program in musical therapy and I feel that I could greatly benefit from acceptance to your program. While I was enrolled in your program I would hope to play with your jazz ensemble and university band. In the summer I would like to teach in your summer music camp program. 

Do not focus on negative elements in your life

Instead, focus on your strengths of flexibility, a positive nature, and strong communicative and problem solving skills. You may be asked in a separate question what some of your weakness are. This is where you can mention a negative element in your life, but only as long as you have prepared in advance how you have learned from that negative element—the weakness—and explain how it isn't detrimental to who you are or what you have to offer.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

This one-minute to a minute-and-a-half synopsis of your life should focus on the key elements that are in your resume, but need to be restated and reinforced orally. Yes, the interviewer may ask about your other interests, your employment record, and your GPA if they feel that is necessary. However, for the “Tell me about yourself” question, focus on your goals, market yourself, and do whatever you need to do to get to the next stage of your interview process.

Many people have trouble with tough scenario questions, talking about their weaknesses, and why they should be hired over everyone else. With this advice, you now have the tools to prepare properly for the interview, so be certain you take the time to do so.

Good luck on your interview, and be confident when you tell the interviewer about yourself! 


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Dr. Darla Shaw, Ed.DProfessor of Education and Women's Studies

For the past 20 years, Dr. Shaw has been the educational literacy specialist for Western Connecticut State University’s Education and Educational Psychology Department. She is a regular instructor to both undergraduate and graduate students in t...

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