How to answer “Tell me about yourself”

Check out our article to learn how to answer “Tell me about yourself” in your interviews!

At Pathrise, we work with job-seekers every day as they prepare for interviews. We are always surprised by the number of people who do not prepare their response to the extremely common question, “Tell me about yourself.”

This question, or some variation on it, is asked at the beginning of every single interview. It is supposed to be a soft ball. But, because it is so open-ended, people have more trouble responding than you might think. Moreover, if a candidate feels like they flubbed this first question, they are likely to lose confidence and have more trouble as the interview continues.

So, what are our recommendations for successfully responding to the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself” that have helped 1,000+ people land great jobs?

How to answer “Tell me about yourself”

1. Know the structure

People have trouble responding to this question because they often don’t know where to start and how to end. In order to avoid getting frazzled, you should have an understanding of the best way to structure your response. In addition, this helps you avoid rambling on for too long and ending the response with, “…so…yeah, that’s me.”

This is the structure you should follow when crafting your response to this question:

  1. Start with your education
  2. Then, move through your experience and projects
  3. Finally, end with a conclusion of yourself as you fit with the company’s mission and goals. Think of this as a preview of your response to “Why this company?”

Keep in mind that the ideal length is 1-3 minutes. If you are at an earlier stage in your career (senior in college, newly graduated, or 1-2 years out of college), err on the shorter side. If you have been working for more time, then you can spend more time talking about your experience. Remember: they will be asking you questions for the next 45 minutes, so you will have plenty of time to wow them with your background. 

2. Learn about the company

Researching the company before your interviews is imperative to success. Of course, it is important for you to feel comfortable and knowledgeable talking to the interviewers about specifics. But, that is not the only reason! You will also need that information when crafting your responses to questions about yourself and the company. Some examples are: “tell me about yourself”, “why should we hire you?”, and “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”.

To conduct this research, we recommend visiting a few key pages on the company’s website. The first is the About page, which will usually talk about their mission, history, goals, and values. You want to make sure that their mission resonates with you. Then, talk about how you connect with their mission in your elevator pitch and elsewhere in your interviews.

Similarly, interviewers are looking to make sure that you fit in with the organization’s values. Some companies, like Amazon and Netflix, ask you about their values outright, so make sure you study up. In either case, you need to know what they look for in an employee. Then, you can show them that you have those qualities. Sometimes, their values, commitments, and principles will be on their Culture page or Careers page, but you can usually find them fairly easily.

Photo of company values

Finally, make sure you take a look at the Products page, so you can get a full understanding of what the company does and what each team works on. This is especially important if you are interviewing at a big tech company like Facebook, which has a lot of variety in their products. Take into consideration the team for which you are interviewing, but do some cursory reading on the other products and teams as well so that you can answer cross-functional questions.

3. Put it all together

Once you have an understanding of the company and the framework for responding to the question, you are ready to prepare your response. You don’t want to sound rehearsed, but it is important for you to have a loose idea of what you are going to say. Our suggestion is to write out the response and practice it in the mirror or with a friend or family member a few times so that you are comfortable with it.

Remember to speak slowly and clearly when you respond. With practice, you should feel comfortable and confident introducing yourself at the beginning of the interview.

Here is an example of the elevator pitch template filled in for a software engineering candidate at Google:

“Hi, I’m Dan. I graduated from Penn in 2014, with a major in computer science. I have always wanted to be a software engineer because I love the way that the Internet connects people and allows ideas to grow.

While I was at school, I spent my summers as a software engineering intern at Twitter and then Facebook. At both Twitter and Facebook, I worked with teams to ensure community standards were met and users were safe online. I learned a lot about how I could use machine learning to create a safe online community. I also worked on an open source project with some fellow developers to write a program that detects inappropriate content on YouTube and warns parents. Building a safer Internet is something that is really important to me and it’s exciting to see that Google feels the same way. 

With my past experiences, I know I would be a valuable addition to the team that is working to give their users the protection they need.”

Practice even more behavioral interview questions with our list of behavioral interview questions from top tech companies so that you can be confident in all of your sessions.

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. If you want to work with a mentor 1-on-1 to get help with your elevator pitch or any other aspect of the job search, join Pathrise. 

Apply today.

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