“Can you tell me about yourself?”
This is an open-ended experience question that comes up very frequently. Since it’s often phrased in a non-specific way, some people find it challenging to narrow down a suitable response.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through how to give the type of answer your interviewer is looking for.
Variations of This Question
This question can be phrased in a wide variety of ways. Here are some of them:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Tell me about your background.
- How would you describe yourself?
- What would you like to share about yourself?
- Walk me through your resume.
- Tell me about your journey so far.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
This is important because employers put a lot of time, effort, and money into onboarding new employees so they want to ensure the person they hire is the best person for the role.
If you can add something valuable to the department, the team, or the company as a whole, that’s an attractive proposition to an employer, and it will help differentiate you from other candidates.
How to Answer: “Can You Tell Me About Yourself?”
1. Give a Basic Overview of Yourself
The first step is to talk about where you are currently in your life and in your career.
This is important because it serves as an introduction and also gives the interviewer a direction to go in with follow-up questions.
Keep this part of your answer brief and focus on the basics. Remember to stick to sharing professional, not overly personal, facts about yourself.
These would typically include:
- Your name
- How old you are (if you’re comfortable sharing)
- Where you went to college (if applicable)
- What you specialize in (if you have a trade)
- What you enjoy doing (professionally)
- Where you currently work (if employed)
Here’s an example:
“My name is Susan Jones, and I’m a graduate of the University of Alaska. I specialize in public relations, and my favorite part of my current job is working with clients and going through PR strategies with them. I’ve been with Smith Consulting for the past five years.”
2. Talk About Your Relevant Experience and Skills
During this phase, share the skills and experience you bring to the table.
This is important because it tells the interviewer exactly why you’re the best candidate for the job in terms they can quantify.
Before your interview, read the job description carefully to figure out what the company is looking for, then focus on credentials that match the qualifications required for the role.
It’s also a good idea to use an anecdote or example highlighting the skill or experience you want to convey.
If they’re looking for someone who:
- Works well in a team-based environment, talk about that time you led a large team through a difficult project, or that your strengths lie in good communication and organization.
- Can manage a department, describe your delegation skills or the way you created internal processes that streamlined the way your current employer manages tasks.
- Provides excellent customer service, share the story of how you turned a complaining client into a returning customer, or focus on your strong problem-solving skills.
Here’s an example:
“I also have excellent communication skills. I recently met with a client to discuss why he had so many negative reviews. It was a touchy topic, but I handled it with grace and focused on the positive. He took my suggestions well and they worked to boost his reputation.”
3. Describe What You’re Looking to do Next
Discuss where you’d like to go from here, and relate it to how this opportunity ties into your goals.
This is important because it shows the interviewer you’ll be happy and productive in this new role, as it will help you achieve your goals.
Refer to the job description so you know the opportunities available in the position, and explain why the role would be a good fit for you.
These goals might include:
- Gaining new experience
- Learning a new skill
- Making industry connections
- Reaching a senior position
- Working to tackle ethical issues
Here’s an example:
“I’ve worked a lot with social media and have written press releases, but my goal is to further hone my speech-writing skills. This role in client relations with an emphasis on writing speeches is an excellent opportunity for me to become an expert in this niche of the industry.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Sample Answer #1: Retail Store Worker
“I’m James Smith, nice to meet you. I’ve been working as a cashier at Bay Hardware for a year. I work in the garden department, and I really like interacting with customers and helping them find what they want before checking out their orders.
In terms of my abilities, I believe I have great money-handling skills. We don’t have a computer system in the garden area, so I’ve had lots of experience counting back change. I’m always able to cash out my drawer quickly and accurately.
One of my goals is to work in a larger, more modern store where I’ll have the opportunity to move up to a supervisor position. This is a solid company with a great reputation, and I know you promote deserving employees. I’m really looking forward to working here!”
Sample Answer #2: Head Nurse
“I’m Melina Lopez, and I’m currently a nurse at Creekside Nursing Home, where I’ve been for almost three years. I love working with senior citizens and their families, and I also enjoy supervising the nurses’ aides.
I have excellent time-management and delegation skills. When one of our residents had a medical emergency, I was the only nurse scheduled. I still dispensed all medication on time and asked two trusted aides to relay information to the paramedics.
I’m ready to expand my career as a head nurse, which is why I was drawn to apply for this position. I know it’s a fast-paced office, so my skills will be of use. I also read that your practice has a high percentage of geriatric patients, so I know this would be an excellent fit for me.”
Sample Answer #3: Museum Docent
“I’m Bill Taylor, a current student at the University of Colorado. I’ll be graduating in a few weeks with my bachelor’s degree in history with a focus on Native American history. My passion is making history come alive to children and adults alike.
I understand this position requires excellent teamwork skills. For the past five years, I’ve been a member of a theater group. I’ve worked as a cast member and on the crew for various shows, and I have learned team building, how to work together cohesively, and how to communicate effectively.
I’m excited about being part of the team here at the museum. My goal is to use my degree to excite others about history, and this seems like the perfect opportunity for me. I could see myself spending many years using and developing my skills while working for this amazing community resource.”
How NOT to Answer
Don’t Get Too Personal
Avoid sharing too much personal information about yourself.
Some things you just don’t say in a job interview, like the last vacation you went on, which religion you follow, or where you fall on the political spectrum unless these are somehow relevant to the job.
Instead, focus your answer on your professional background, current professional situation, and career goals.
Don’t Give Your Entire Backstory
One way to kill the vibe in an interview is to talk too long, so just stick to the basics.
This question usually comes at the beginning of the interview, and you don’t want to take up too much time going into details that don’t matter. This could take time away from more important questions.
Give a brief overview following the three-step process described above, and keep it to a minute or two.
Don’t Just Summarize Your Resume
Resist the temptation to rattle off a list of your accomplishments or your entire work history.
The interviewer will have already looked through your resume, so by summarizing the whole thing, you’ll be wasting time better spent introducing new information.
Instead, use an example from your professional life to add life to a skill or experience you’ve mentioned in your resume.
- Recognize the variations of the question
- Briefly explain your current professional situation
- Share an example of your experience or skill
- Explain your career goals as they relate to this opportunity
- Avoid sharing too much personal information
- Don’t take too long answering the question
- Share more than what’s on your resume