“Tell me about yourself…”
Most interviews begin with the age-old question “tell me about yourself.” While some candidates will describe their entire career history, what the interviewer really wants to hear is the details of your background that are relevant to the role.
The tried and true formula to answering this question is the present-past-future formula. Start with your present role: where are you now? What are you working on currently? Telling the interviewer where you are now as it pertains to the role will ensure the interviewer knows everything they need to know about you.
Once you’ve shared your present employment or experience with the interviewer, you can begin to work backward, providing them details about your past. This is where you can mention your education, past roles, and knowledge relevant to the role you are interviewing for.
Last but definitely not least, you will go into your future career goals. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10? Do you want to go back to school? This is the part of your answer that should provide direction of where you want to go and how this role and this company is part of that dream.
Make sure you have a concrete understanding of the role you are being interviewed for so you can provide relevant and contextual information to position you as the best candidate. Read below for some Do’s and Don’ts for how to answer this interview question:
- Tell a story. While your resume has plenty of information, telling a narrative of your career history to the interviewer with memorable points will help you stand out as an applicant. Employers aren’t looking for a play-by-play of your resume, but instead an impactful story about your background.
- Give the correct amount of information. Make sure that the details you do provide are relevant to the position. If you had jobs in the past that don’t relate to the position you’re interviewing for, there’s no need to go into detail about that position.
- Give a response of about two minutes. Your response to this interview question shouldn’t be longer than a couple minutes since this is only the introductory question.
- Mention controversial topics. Talking about salary and other controversial topics right off the bat isn’t the best way to answer the “tell me about yourself” question. Save the salary conversations until you’re asked about it by the interviewer.
- Summarize your resume. The point of an interview is to expand on the information given in the application phase. What can you mention that isn’t on your resume? Use this to highlight your soft skills.
- Show dissatisfaction with your current job. Complaining about your current job doesn’t give a great impression of you as an employee. Instead, focus on what you’re looking for in a new role: is it an opportunity for growth? Better work-life balance? Keep a positive attitude to show the interviewer you have a professional demeanor.
Still wondering how to effectively answer this introductory interview question? Below, we’ve included an example answer of how to answer this common interview question.
“Since I graduated college, I’ve had over seven years of work experience as a data scientist. My previous position at [company name] where I focused on customer research and using the data I collected to inform their business decisions. Not only did I master my skills in data interpretation, I was also able to learn a variety of software applications such as R and Stata. My goal is to one day obtain a PhD in Data Science in order to gain more expertise in the field. I hope that I’m able to achieve knowledge to able to meet this career goal through more experience in data analysis.”
While there is no perfect answer to this interview question, candidates can come very close to perfection with present-past-future formula. Check out this interview question worksheet from AngelList to help you prepare for your next interview.
About the Author
Mitali Shukla is a creative copywriter and marketing specialist based out of Southern California. She has a passion for creating high-quality content across industries from human resources to finance. In December 2020, she graduated from Chapman University with a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic & Corporate Communication and Sociology. To learn more, visit her website at www.mitalishukla.com.