Career advice

The right way to answer the "Tell me about yourself" question in a job interview

There is a nearly ubiquitous job interview question that many candidates get wrong. That is unfortunate, because it is a question that comes up in just about every job interview and it is an opportunity for job seekers to make a professional pitch for their candidacy.

The exact wording may vary, but usually at the very beginning of the job interview the employer will ask an ice-breaking, casual-sounding question to get the dialogue started. They will look the candidate in the eye, introduce themselves, and say something to the effect of, “So, tell me about yourself?”

Because it sounds like it is just an informal conversation starter, many candidates don’t take the question seriously. They might talk about their hometown or their family, or what their pastimes or passions are. Those might be interesting topics to discuss at a social gathering, but a job interview is a business meeting.

If you tell the employer about yourself, you have missed the point of the question. When an employer asks you to introduce yourself, what they really want to hear is your elevator pitch. Tell them what in your work experience, education, and accomplishments have led you to this opportunity and how you are passionate about the potential job.

The question is an open invitation to make your pitch, so make the most of it.

Hiring managers will be looking for candidates who will be motivated to stay in the role for a fair amount of time, so they won’t soon find themselves going through this process again to replace a job-hopper. That is why it is beneficial to talk about how the job you are interviewing for is an important career move for you. Explaining your professional trajectory and goals – tailored to be relevant to the position at hand – will assure the employer that you are a good fit for the position and that you will be motivated to work hard to be successful at it.

You can also express your enthusiasm for the company’s brand, products, and services, alongside the job itself. Employers value candidates who are motivated to work for them specifically, and a little flattery can help sway them in your favour.

Here’s a sample answer

Mario Bossly: So, tell me a little about yourself…

Joe Candidate: It's nice to meet you, Mario. My name is Joe, and I have a background in advertising, marketing, and communications. I've headed up the online content for many well-known brands over the past 15 years. I launched ACME Co.'s Canadian website and served as Director of Communications for DEF Inc. Most recently, my team won the CMA Silver Award for online advertising for 2021.

I've been an avid reader of your website since you first launched in 2018, and I'm a huge fan of your writing team and business strategy. That is why I was so excited about the opportunity to meet you today. I would love the chance to contribute to your publication, and I've got some great ideas that I'd be excited to share with you.

With that short pitch, Joe summarized a few of his top career accomplishments, expressed enthusiasm for the job, and steered the conversation towards a discussion of how his insights and expertise could be used on the job.

Because the ‘tell me about yourself’ question usually comes at the beginning of the job interview, the right answer can play an important role in making an excellent first impression on the employer.

Research has shown that interviewers frequently make up their minds about a potential candidate within the first few minutes of the job interview. A scientific study examined the details of over 600 half-hour job interviews. Many participating employers said that they made snap decisions about a candidate’s suitability for the job. Nearly five percent (4.9%) decided within the very first minute, and a quarter (25.5%) made up their mind within the first five minutes. Overall, 59.9 percent of hiring decisions were made within the first 15 minutes of the interview, which was less than halfway through the time allotted for the meeting.

That same study also found that if a job interview lasts less than half an hour, it can be a sign that the employer has decided not to hire you. As a result, they do not feel the need to draw the conversation out. If the employer cuts the interview short, stands up, and thanks you for coming in, that’s a red flag that you won’t be getting the job.

Generally, the longer the job interview, the better it is likely to turn out for you. It gives you more opportunities to build rapport with the hiring manager and demonstrate why you would be a great addition to their team.

This is why it is critical to your chances of landing the job to steer the conversation toward your professional fit for the role right from the start. The employer’s first impression of you will be of a viable potential candidate. You can keep the conversation going about the details of the job and the relevant abilities you can bring to the table. This starts with that first "tell me about yourself" question.

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