Mastering the art of ‘‘Tell me about yourself”: Strategies for a meaningful interview response

As technology advances and our career landscape shifts, hiring has become more high-tech. These days, it’s common for your resume and other application materials to go through an automated system before you even get a chance to chat with another human being.

Fortunately, amidst these advances, employers are still looking for real people to fill roles, so the interview process remains centered around human interaction and experiences.

Interviewing offers a unique platform to connect face-to-face with another person, enabling you to showcase intangible qualities that set you apart as a candidate. This stage of the job search process provides the perfect opportunity to prove you are the candidate employers seek and will bring value and a unique perspective to the role.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that “Tell me about yourself” ranks among the most commonly asked questions during job interviews. By asking this question, employers and hiring teams can better understand who you are as a person and as a professional, making it the optimal question to ask when looking for that perfect fit — both for a role’s responsibilities and a team’s culture. 

Answering an open-ended question like “Tell me about yourself” meaningfully can be challenging, especially when you have limited face-to-face exposure. We know the struggle firsthand because, after all, we’re human too! There’s no universally correct answer to this question, which presents unique benefits and challenges to your interview strategy. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this dilemma, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. We asked our team of career experts to share their tips, advice, and experiences with this question, both as interviewers and interviewees.

It’s all in the strategy: Experts talk “Tell me about yourself

As a career team, we have all had our fair share of experiences asking, answering, and thinking about the “Tell me about yourself” question. Our experts share their favorite ways to answer this question, memorable answers they’ve heard from others, and tips for preparing to answer the question in future interviews. Here’s what each of them had to say:

Meet Kyle M., career expert at edX

What’s your favorite approach?

“I try to direct my response to the role/company I am interviewing for. When I am answering the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question, I mention key professional skills I have that match the role and personal skills/strengths that match the culture of the company. I want to show them my professional background but also show them my personality when answering this question. I try to have fun and set a great stage for how I will answer other interview questions.”

What tips and advice do you have for answering?

“I suggest not feeling the urge to mention your entire background. Allow time during the interview to talk about yourself more and how you can bring value to the role/company. I look at the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question as a small pitch.”

Meet Mariam N., career expert at edX

What’s your favorite approach?

“This depends on where I find myself in my career journey. When I was a fresh graduate, I would start off by talking about my degrees/qualifications, followed by my skills and relevant experience. Now that I’ve been in the workforce for a while, I would start off by talking about my past work experiences with a focus on linking the work/industries and my skills to the job I’m applying for, and then I’ll briefly talk about my qualifications.” 

What tips and advice do you have for answering?

“Write a brief brand statement for yourself that you can tweak for various interviews. Be sure to include your skills, qualifications, work/volunteer experiences, and what you aspire to. Keep this brand statement ready to go for when you next prepare for the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question.” 

Meet Irene T., career expert at edX

What’s your favorite approach?

“Generally, I say, ‘I’m a philanthropist’ because it grabs people’s attention, but hopefully, that’s not what I’d say in an interview. Being in this profession, you’d think I’d have a solid answer. I don’t, but it’s high time I did. So, it got me thinking, and here’s what I came up with: ‘I’d love to take you on a journey through my career story, but let’s add a splash of creativity! Imagine a fusion of a career explorer, a problem-solving enthusiast, and a motivational speaker all wrapped into one. That’s me! I’m a Master of Education with a passion for empowering individuals to uncover their true potential. For over seven years, I’ve been on a mission to rescue folks from the clutches of boring jobs and guide them to their true calling. From college classrooms to military bases, I’ve been a career superhero, helping people conquer the evil forces of job dissatisfaction and embark on epic journeys of professional growth.’”

What tips and advice do you have for answering?

“Keep it short. Make it unique. Own it. Practice — a lot. Deliver it with passion and enthusiasm. Have two pitches. One for the layperson and one for the professional.”

Meet Andrea B., career expert at edX

What makes a response impactful to you?

“In all of the interview panels I have been a part of, what stood out to me was when the candidate would say, ‘Thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate it.’ It sounds so simple, but it makes such a great connection. Additionally, when someone can talk about something they do outside of work, which connects to their skills, really stands out to me. For example, I interviewed someone who built a lamp that connected to their PC; really fascinating!” 

What tips and advice do you have for answering?

“Be memorable! Research the company, research your interviewers, connect with the interview panel on a level that is true to you. Where you can; say someone’s name when answering a question, it’s a lovely touch to the beginning of an interview.”

To sum things up, when it comes to the ever-present “Tell me about yourself” interview question, the trick is to customize your answers to fit the job, company, and — most importantly — your personal and professional storyline. Here are some key takeaways from our experts:

  • Be intentional — Tailor your responses to match the role and skill requirements and the company’s culture. Use professional skills and personal attributes to illustrate why you’re the perfect fit.
  • Prioritize talking points — Avoid discussing your entire background. Choose the information that makes sense to share to save time for discussion on how you add value to the role or company.
  • Have fun with it — Let your personality shine through by crafting an engaging and creative narrative that showcases your skills, experiences, and passions.
  • Be agile When practicing your response, have multiple versions ready for different circumstances. You never know when you will need to pivot!
  • Own your story — Develop a clear and concise brand statement that narrates everything from your skills, qualifications, and experiences to your aspirations. Share unique hobbies or projects that are relevant to the position and ones that are meaningful to you, demonstrating your passion.
  • Come prepared Prove your initiative to interviewers by weaving relevant and appropriate details about the company or panel members into your responses. By doing a little extra research, you can make a positive impression and potentially connect with the humans that are interviewing you.

For more information on interviewing, be sure to check out our Behavioural interview prep guide and the Ultimate Interview Prep Session workshop.

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