How to Nail “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview

“Tell me about yourself,” or some variation of this question is almost guaranteed to come up in your next interview.

So how should you answer?

First, let’s figure out why this question is being asked.

“Tell me about yourself” is open-ended and intentionally asked at the beginning of an interview because your answer sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. It shows how much you’ve prepared, how invested you are in the position, and why you are the perfect fit. It’s your first impression, and it matters. A lot.

“Tell me about yourself” invites you to tell a story. But what kind of story? How long should it be? And what do you need to make sure to include?

First, let’s outline a few dos and don’ts for answering this interview question:

DON’T just read off your resume verbatim.

The interviewer has your resume in front of them. You can highlight things from your experience, but it shouldn’t simply be a retelling of your professional experience verbatim from your resume.

For example, if you’ve spent your entire career working in HR, don’t say “I’ve spent my entire career working in HR.” Think about what your career says about you, why you’ve chosen to work in the roles you have. Consider saying something like “I’m passionate about human resources because I love working with people. I can be incredibly organized when managing things like benefits and leave, but I also love taking time to connect with my coworkers and learn more about who they are beyond a spreadsheet.”

DO come prepared with a scripted response.

You do not need to make this answer up on the fly. Do not wing it. Do not just throw something out there. This should be a rehearsed and scripted answer about precisely what you want to cover, no more and no less. Bonus points if you can add context about the company, interviewer, or position to your response. Not sure how? Keep reading…

DON’T forget to tell a story.

“Tell me about yourself” is an open-ended question because the interviewer wants to know the story behind your resume. They are looking for context and what makes you unique. They also want to see if you put any effort into preparing for the interview and if your answer will quickly tell that story.

The trap is that when you hear “tell me about yourself,” it can feel like an invitation to spend two minutes talking…about yourself. But you need to leave space at the end of your answer to connect back to company. Why do you want to work there? What about your past experience makes you a great fit for the position? Show the interviewer how your story fits into their company’s story.

DO keep your answer to under two minutes.

A big mistake I see many candidates make is going on a rambling, fumbling, bumbling mess of an answer here that feels like a never-ending story. This is not the time to tell us about your birth story, hobbies, or sweet dog, Muffins. Those can come once you get the job. This story should be concise and only touch on what’s relevant to the job you are trying to get. Keep it short and sweet.

So, how should you structure your answer? Use this framework to make it simple:

Part 1: The Headline

Answer who you are and why you are here.

Example: “I’m Ted, a lifelong photographer and animal lover. I’m thrilled to chat with you today because I know Chewy needs a new pet photographer for upcoming advertising campaigns, and I think I am a great fit to tell the story of pets through images. I noticed one of your company values is ‘Think Big,’ and that really speaks to me as I started my career as a seasonal Santa photographer at the mall with dreams of working with animals instead of children. Thinking big is what brought me here today.”

  • No need for your full name or birthstone.
  • Keep job titles and functions simple.
  • Indicate an interest in the role in question.

Part 2: Three Reasons Why

Give the interviewer the top three reasons you fit this role.

To continue our previous example: “I believe I’m a great fit for this position for three reasons.

First, must love dogs. Animals aren’t just a part of my life, they are my life. I’ve rescued three pitbulls, two hairless cats, and an iguana named Greg. Animals have been a part of my life since I locked eyes with an orangutan at the Cincinnati Zoo when I was six and asked my mom if we could adopt him. Bottom line, I’m passionate about photography, but I’m more passionate about pets. Pets are not a hobby for me; they are my business.

Second, the job description mentioned being able to stay calm while working with excitable animals. My experience doing infant photography has more than prepared me for this. Just like animals, infants are unpredictable and don’t take direction well. I learned to think on my feet and turn water into wine (er, grape juice) with less willing subjects.

And finally, Chewy boxes have been showing up on my doorstep for the better part of eight years now, ever since I adopted my first rescue, Muffins. The boxes just have a different feel than any other Amazon or Hello Fresh box because Muffins knows a Chewy box means it’s going to be a good day. I want to capture the feeling of Muffins’ tail wags when I photograph pets to represent the Chewy brand.

  • Use specific examples from your background.
  • Use specific examples from the job description.
  • Showcase research you’ve already done on the organization.
  • Keep the list short, but use evidence to support your answers.

Part 3: Get Them Involved

Allow them to respond or dive deeper into any specific areas you mentioned. Great interviewing is like a game of ping-pong — you’re both hitting the ball back and forth, but the game will last longer and be more enjoyable if you hit the ball right back to your partner. Try to take the interviewer’s temperature throughout.

Example: “Hopefully, that helps to give you a good overview of who I am and why I’m so passionate about Chewy’s mission to be the most trusted and convenient destination for pet parents and partners. Anything you’d like for me to elaborate on?”

  • Ask them an excellent question to let them take back the lead.

And there you have it.

Now you’ll know how to prepare your response to “tell me about yourself” in your next interview.

Happy job hunting!