Why Interviewers Ask You to Tell Them About Yourself (And How to Answer It)

Benjamin Taylor
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Have you ever wondered why an employer wanted to ask you this question in an interview?

“So, what can you tell me about yourself?” You find yourself at a loss for words.

This question seems out of place doesn’t it?   Instead of the employer asking about your job experience and skills, they begin with that question.  Do they mean your personal life?  Are they trying to catch you into saying something wrong here?

It really is not a trick question but new hires get tripped up by this all the time.   Most think that this question is just random or a tactic to ease the tension in the interview.  They really believe that this is not important at all.   However, this is arguably the most important question that all employers will ask you.

Turn Your Thinking Around

Think of it like this: Instead of hearing the question as “What can you tell me about yourself?” instead think “What can you tell me about yourself so that I can know that I’ve made the right decision in hiring you.” That is ultimately what the employer is saying.

The employer wants to make sure that they are satisfied with you.  You want to put them at ease.  You want to reassure them that you are the right person for the job.   Employers spend thousands of dollars hiring people so they want to make sure that they didn’t make a mistake with you.

When they ask you this question, it is your time to shine.  The employer is the judge and you are the contestant.   Make sure to “Wow” them with your response.  Show them your talents but make sure your talents line up with their needs.

Your answer will be a mixture about your personal life and your job experience.   When sharing about your personal life, make sure you don’t share too much and make sure it is appropriate.   

How to answer This Question

When they ask you “What can you tell me about yourself?”, your response is related to the job title that you are applying for.   You can tell them about some of your personal life as long as it is relevant.   

For example, when applying for a position in the healthcare field: Well, my passion is to help people and I enjoy assisting others in need of help.  I have experience working in retail and in customer service and after witnessing all the wonderful people that work in the healthcare field when I had a sick relative, I have an understanding of what it takes to care for someone’s loved one.  Based on my hospitality skills and my passion to help, I know that I would be an asset to your organization.  

Here is someone applying to a restaurant that has a job description of “Cook.” The description includes “Cooking quality food in a timely manner for customers, a great team player in the kitchen, and is eager to learn exciting new recipes and meals.” Let’s take a look at a less than stellar response to “Tell me about yourself”:

Well, I’ve enjoyed cooking.   As a matter of fact, I’m currently a home cook.  I just wanted to work in a restaurant because I wanted to give this a try.”

Ouch.  This does not bring any reassurance to the employer and there is little connection with this new hire’s personality and experience to the job description.   Even if you have little to no experience with the job you can still find some way to weave that into your answer.  Let’s fix that statement:

“Well, I have been cooking as a hobby but now I want to make it much more than that.  I’ve been using my cooking skills for local and community events.  I also volunteered at food banks.  I shadowed other restaurant chefs to see what their day-to-day responsibilities were.  I really admire the work you do here at this restaurant and I want to be a part of it.  I’m eager to experience new ways to cook meals.  I love working with other cooks to make a quality product and I believe my skills will help benefit your team.”

That was better.  See how you can connect your personality and job experience to the job description?

Now that you have some kind of idea of what to expect for when that question comes up, practice answering it.   To do that, rehearse the question out loud.   You can practice on yourself in a mirror, checking your facial expression, or speaking to a recorder and have it play it back to you.

If you don’t like the way you sound, revise and improve your statement.  Try it again.  Ask a friend or relative to listen to you as you present your answer and have them give you honest feedback until you are comfortable with your answer.   

You always want to make sure that your future boss is comfortable hiring you.  Whenever you hear this question, it’s to your benefit to answer it enthusiastically and confidentially. 

Comment

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  • Yvonne Cissy E.
    Yvonne Cissy E.

    Helpful, Thank you

  • Gary G.
    Gary G.

    very good hints hope it helps all

  • MBEKO T.
    MBEKO T.

    thankyou

  • Cuong D.
    Cuong D.

    Ok

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Rich M thanks for the comment. Sounds like you are doing everything right. You might want to consider having a "speech" ready - written down in front of you - just in case you start to ramble. Or have an outline - just something to keep you on track. The interviewer knows you are nervous. Also, make sure you take a couple of deep breaths before you start. That will help to relax you and help you to maintain your focus.

  • Rich M.
    Rich M.

    That's true. I try to stay with the question and keep it short. Sometimes I tend to ramble on and have to catch myself. I do try to relate what I did in the past with what I'm applying for.

  • Delroy M.
    Delroy M.

    Very helpful, much appreciated.

  • David J.
    David J.

    Thank you

  • Paula R.
    Paula R.

    Thank for your abased

  • Nancy D.
    Nancy D.

    Good, valuable information for job seekers!

  • TANVEER S.
    TANVEER S.

    Yes I agree

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Terrence Carmichael thanks for your great comments. So very true. They don't want to know where you were born and who your parents are and what you did in your youth, etc. They want to know how you are going to be able to help them out! And so true - they want to know something about you that is applicable to the position for which you are interviewing. Everyone, keep this is mind when you are prepping for an interview. If you have to, write it down and rehearse it. If you think you are going to be nervous, write it down and take it with you so that you can refer to it as you are talking with the interviewer. Always good to have that along with your resume and any other supporting documentation the interviewer may be interested in.

  • Michelle M.
    Michelle M.

    Very helpful

  • Terrence Carmichael

    But make sure its about the job you are applying for . no personal info . just your past job(s) accomplisments .dealing within the same position or field of work , I work on project xyz , with team or group abc & i helped come up with this solution to do (finish) the assignment this way to where the manager liked it .

  • Terrence Carmichael

    No, that's not it . When you are asked , tell me about yourself , they want you to tell them about the things you did , like maybe solving a problem , or how you help make a tight dead line with to where that project was finish on time .

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @James S. thanks for the question. The only way that they will know about it is if you include it on your resume. Best thing is not to include it unless it's the type of job you are searching for now. If it does come up somehow, you can just indicate, politely, that you prefer not to discuss that part of your life. In addition, make sure that it's not included anywhere on your social media sites, either, as some employers will take a peek at your social media before they decide to call you in for an interview. Good luck!

  • James S.
    James S.

    I'm pretty shy about my past, as I used to work as an adult entertainer. How do I avoid that coming up in conversation?

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