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How to Respond to “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview

Plus, the three things you should never say

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In just about any job interview, you’ll hear this: Tell me about yourself. The request is simple enough. It’s your time to demonstrate that you can communicate effectively and present yourself professionally, lack of preparation can having you fumbling through your response. 

Instead of sweating through this conversation, here is a quick and dirty guide on how to respond to tell me about yourself.

3 things you should never do when they say, tell me about yourself

1. Recite your resume

Your interviewer has already read your resume and will probably have it in front of them during the interview. Don’t waste this time regurgitating every detail of your career. Your interviewer wants to 1) know more about you than they can read about on your application materials, and 2) see how well you speak about yourself. Pass this test by giving them new information in a clear, concise fashion. 

Read more: How to Write the Second Follow-Up Email After Your Interview

2. Get too personal 

This isn’t the time to get too personal. I grew up in Minnesota, I have three kids, or I enjoy long morning walks with my miniature poodle, aren’t the responses they’re looking for. And giving too much personal information, like whether you have children, the neighborhood you live in, or whether you’re married, is not safe interview talk. In fact, it’s not even legal for them to ask (so don’t offer).

If you have special outside interests or a particular hobby you want to talk about, you can bring it up, but it definitely shouldn't be the focus of your response. Instead, talk about why you love what you do, how long you’ve been in the industry, why you’re looking for a new job (or a career change), or why you’ve chosen this line of work. 

3. Undersell yourself 

This isn’t the time to explain you were fired from your last job, suggest that there are better candidates, or express that you feel unqualified for the position. Stay positive, upbeat, and enthusiastic about yourself, your career, and the particular job you are interviewing for. And remember that if they're calling you for an interview, you're probably qualified for the job. 

Read more: Why Are You Applying for This Position? The 2 Points You Need to Hit

The three-step formula to answer: “Tell Me About Yourself”

A good response will summarize where you are in your career, note anything distinctive about how you approach your work, and end with a bit about what you’re looking for next. To keep your thoughts organized and your answer sharp, here is a three-step formula you can use to build your response. 

While you don’t have to create your response using this exact order, make sure you ultimately tie your answers to the job. A great place to end is to transition your response to answer why you are there, interviewing for that particular position. You want to be certain your interviewer is left with the impression that it makes sense your career path as lead you right to this moment.  

1. Present 

Talk about your current role and your responsibilities. While you want to keep your response professional, adding a bit of passion to your answer can engage your interviewer and set you apart. Speak briefly about a big accomplishment or an element of your position that you are proud of. 

I’m currently working at Vanderbilt Hospital as a senior administrator, where I oversee a team of five. I built the team from scratch and I am very proud of the work we produce. We’ve set a new standard for client intake efficiency and post-release care. In fact, Duke University Hospital is considering implementing the process I developed. 

2. Past

Your interviewer will want to know more about where you came from. Without reciting your resume, talk about how you got to where you are now in your career. Mention previous experience that’s relevant to the company and position you’re applying for.

I came to Vanderbilt from small, rural hospitals, and while I didn’t expect to like working in such a large system, I learned so much about what it takes to scale excellent patient care. 

3. Future

Briefly touch on what you’re looking to do next and how this position aligns with your goals. This will show your interviewer that you have thought about your career path and have plans for your future. Use this as a time to mention why you would be a great fit for the job and how your skills will better the company.  

Now I want to help smaller hospitals expand their organizations, and I know you guys are expanding your services and bringing on new providers. You’ll need someone who knows how to provide efficient, world-class care at scale.

Read more: The Kinds of Questions You Should Ask in a Second Interview

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