Having run a large interview coaching company and interviewed hundreds of people as a CEO and founder I've seen people struggle with this question but I've also seen some excellent responses. If you haven't thought about it in advance your answer will likely be unfocused and you won't make a good first impression or score highly. In this article I'm going to use data from the best and worst scoring responses across thousands of candidates to teach you the exact formula to help you construct and deliver your own personalised answer to the question "Tell me about yourself". I'm also going to give you an example script and template to help you do this.
What interviewers are looking for when they ask you "Tell Me About Yourself"
Open questions are often seen as difficult to answer by candidates. This is because unless you have done your research it is hard to understand exactly what interviewers are looking for and I've seen people give long-winded answers covering their life-story which don't score any points.
Let's take a step back for a second and understand what type of interview question this is and why interviewers and hiring managers ask it.
"Tell me about yourself" is a motivational type of interview question and similar questions include "Why should we give you the job?" and "Talk me through your resume". This question is usually used at the start of the interview so that interviewers can break the ice, get to know you and your answers might stimulate natural follow-on points for deeper questions.
Interviewers are looking for what value you will bring to the company based on your relevant experience, attitude and past successes. Interviewers want to see relevant examples of your skills, how you apply them and the outcomes you have achieved. Interviewers usually score based on you demonstrating skills appropriate to the role and on the characteristics you display.
So now we know what interviewers are looking for let's look at common mistakes that people make when answering this question.
Common Mistakes To Avoid
One of the commonest mistakes I've seen candidates make is to take the question literally and simply provide your personal or work history without explaining how this is relevant to the role and how it will add value to the company. This also includes people who just list their work history without story or context. Your answer should be relevant to the role and be told in a way that is engaging, compelling, clear and complete.
Another mistake is to focus too much on yourself rather than on demonstrating your understanding of the role and how you will offer value. While talking about what you have done in your last job is okay it doesn't convey what you will bring to their company. Rather than thinking of the question as "Tell me about yourself" think of it as "Tell me what you will bring to the company".
A third mistake is to over-share and go for quantity over quality and relevance. Sharing how you outsmarted your boss or worse talking about a negative such as a mistake in work is unlikely to be received well. Your answer should be a focused, positive account of your best self rather than a warts and all explanation of your work history.
The final mistake is to simply not prepare this question in advance. Any open questions asking why you are suitable for a role should be seen as an easy win and an opportunity to tell the interviewers a pre-prepared story that ticks all the boxes. So let's look at that in the next section.
How to Prepare and Structure Your Answer
Preparing your answer to common questions like this in advance is what makes the best candidates stand-out and will also reduce your nerves on the day. A top tip here is to tailor your answers to the company, sector and role to which you are applying. Examine the job description for required responsibilities and any characteristics which are desirable. You can then tailor your answers to ensure you mention these.
The acronym SUV is great for structuring your prepared answer and stands for: Success (and Strengths), Understanding and Value.
Success (and Strengths)
Let's look at Success first. Success is about starting with what you've done and showing what you're good at. Start by talking a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and what you've achieved while there. You can then choose some stand-out successes from your past employment that are relevant to the role to which you're applying and which map to what is outlined on the job description. When talking about successes try and be specific and use data when telling your story, for example saying you have grown revenues sounds okay but saying you have grown revenues by 200% over a 6-month period sounds much more impressive.
To help you get started here's a script that you could use:
"I'm currently an X which involves X, Y, Z. I've been at my current role for X years during which time I grew/developed/helped X from Y to Z. I did this by doing X demonstrating Y. I was previously at X as a Y where I grew/developed/helped X from Y to Z. I did this by doing X demonstrating Y"
For example if you were applying for a job as a product manager where the job description specifically wants someone who has managed a product roadmap you might say:
"I'm currently a junior product manager at Google which involves collecting user stories, managing the product roadmap for gmail and working with a team of engineers and sales people. I've been at my current role for 2 years during which time I have reduced customer requests by 20% and increased platform usage by 33%. I did this by implementing a new feature prioritisation process demonstrating my creativity and ability to lead a team."
You're talking about your success and strengths but without bragging. It's more to demonstrate and showcase your skillset.
Once you've told the interviewer about your major roles and achievements it's time to go to U which is for showing Understanding of the company and role to which you are applying. Now during your preparation you should have researched the role in detail which is a characteristic of high-performers. After outlining your Successes and Strengths let the interviewers know that you have done your research and understand what they need for this particular position and why the role appeals to you.
The reason why showing understanding is so important is because it tells the interviewers that not only are you aware of your abilities and your achievements but that you're also aware of their needs and understand what they're looking for.
In fact not only do you understand the role it's also a great fit for your own career advancement. This helps to build rapport and shows interviewers you have done your homework and are passionate about the job.
Here is the template again to help get you started:
"I understand that you are looking for someone who can do X, Y and Z and I also took a look at your company website and saw that X. The role and company excited me as this aligns to my strengths as an X and my passion for Y and so I'm confident I'll succeed at the role."
Using our product manager role this might look like:
"I understand that you are looking for someone who can be a product manager and who can lead a team and I also took a look at your company website and saw that there is a strong focus on expanding the product line and product-led growth. The role and company excited me as this aligns to my strength as a product team leader and my passion for working in a fast-paced environment with a focus on product development and so I'm confident I'll succeed at the role"
The last letter of SUV is Value and helps to align your Success and Understanding to how you will add value to the company you will be joining and tells interviewers how you are the single perfect fit for this position out of everyone they are interviewing.
Here is the template again to help get you started:
"What I am looking for is X....That's why I'm so excited about this role, if that's what [company name] is looking for"
And using our product manager role as an example again:
"What I'm looking for is a company with a strong emphasis on product-led growth, where my strengths in optimising processes in a growing team could offer value to the company and it's customers. That's why I'm so excited about this role if that's what Google is looking for?"
This aligns your values and strengths with the needs of the company and even without them asking tells them why you are the right fit for the role. This ends the answer on a positive note and uses a leading question where the interviewer will likely confirm that you're correct.
So now you have your tailored response to the interview question "Tell me about yourself" it's time to practise selling yourself. To do this you should practise your response as much as possible and focus on your delivery being enthusiastic and passionate about your achievements.
If you struggle with selling yourself remember that it is your achievements which you are selling rather than simply yourself and don't be afraid to really sell yourself. Get feedback on your tailored responses and remember to tie everything that you say it back to how you will offer value to the company.
If you can nail this question which is often asked at the start of the interview you'll be off to a great start and give interviewers a strong first impression.