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How to Answer the Most Frequently Asked Interview Question:

Sep 29, 2015 | Harrison College

How to Answer the Most Frequently Asked Interview Question: "Tell Me About Yourself"

You did it!

You created a resume that got you some attention and landed you an interview. You walk in, head held high, and shake the interviewer’s hand. Then, you wonder what the first question will be as you wait to begin.

More often than not, interviewers will say, “Tell me about yourself.”

Truthfully, this is not really a question, but it is one of the most common statements you will hear during interviews. It is also one of the statements that can be tricky to answer, mainly because it is so broad. You could tell the story of your childhood, mention your most recent job, talk about your hobbies and interests or discuss your personality. You almost never know what interviewers want to hear, so how do you appropriately and effectively provide an answer?

Here are a few tips when considering how to provide an effective answer to this common statement:

1. Remember: This statement is an icebreaker for the interviewer.

When an interviewer meets you for the first time, he or she will probably use this common statement as an icebreaker. It gives you – and them – time to settle into the interview. It also helps the interviewer understand how well you can put thoughts together while answering a straightforward question.

2. This statement offers you the chance to have the power in the interview.

That is right! The interviewer is giving you power. When he or she requests an answer to such a broad statement, such as, “Tell me about yourself,” you have the power to talk about whatever you want. Use this as an opportunity to position yourself as a knowledgeable, determined candidate. Thinking of the statement in this way will help calm your nerves.

3. Respond to this statement professionally.

“Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer says.

You respond, “Well, I grew up in Texas with two brothers and my dog Pete. We moved around a lot, so I ended up—”

Let us stop right there. You are here to interview for a job. While some details of your life may be important to your reasoning for choosing a particular career, other aspects of your life are irrelevant. You should respond professionally. For example, if you are interviewing for a job as a nurse, you might say, “When I was a kid, I always remember wanting to help people. I was always the person to make sure my friends got the help they needed if they were injured. That has stuck with me.” That is a good start. It gives insight into your past, but it also highlights how your personality fits the job you want.

4. Use this statement to ask a question of your own.

Interviewers look for curious applicants, people who want to know more about the problems the company needs to solve. Even though telling the interviewer about yourself could be your first task during an interview, you can use your answer to lead into a question as well.

Imagine this: You talk about how you have always wanted to be a nurse and how you love helping people, but then you say, “I did some research and found that the amount of emergency room visits has increased significantly in the past year. How have you been able to combat this problem, and what do you think is the best way for me to use my talents to help your team do this?” By turning around your answer into a question, you could give the interview a two-way, conversational component, instead of allowing it to be a one-way interrogation.

5. Keep your response concise.

This is usually the first question, so you do not want to ramble for many minutes while the interviewer gets bored or has to cut you off. Instead, keep your response to one minute or less. Keep your response brief and do not mention irrelevant details.

6. Use the “Present, Past, Future” formula.

This formula focuses on presenting your professional past (and future). Start with where you are now (e.g., “I currently work at Blank Company where I do X, Y and Z.”). Next, briefly discuss your past accomplishments (e.g., “Before my current job, I always tried to focus on improving my customer service skills.”). Finally, connect your present or past to the reason you are excited for the future of your career (e.g., “I have read a lot about your company’s involvement in enhancing customer service and even working with local organizations, which is why I am so excited for the opportunity to learn from your team.”).

You can, of course, expand your answers to include more specific details, but the general formula will help you craft a response that is concise, simple to practice and easy to understand.

These are only six tips for considering your response to the statement, “Tell me about yourself,” but remember that this is just the beginning of a conversation between you and the interviewer. You should always prepare for other questions as well. At the same time, remember to relax. Interviewers want to see your personality. They want to see the real you.

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