There’s a reason this question is asked at the very beginning of an interview. “Tell me about yourself” really means “give me an overview of who you are, professionally speaking.”
“Professionally speaking” is the key phrase here. You want to be ready with about a one-minute answer that summarizes where you are in your career — usually with an emphasis on your most recent job — what you do and what the strengths of your approach are.
There are many ways to respond to this question correctly and only one wrong way: by asking, “What do you want to know?” That tells the interviewer that you haven’t prepared for the interview and are likely to be just as unprepared on the job. You need to develop a good answer to this question, practice it and be able to deliver it with poise and confidence.
What’s the best way to respond when asked this question?
1) Focus on what Interests the Interviewer. The interviewer doesn’t really want to know about you as a person. They want to know that you can do the job, that you fit into the team, what you have accomplished in your prior positions and how can you help the organization.
Don’t ramble, don’t share your life story, don’t discuss ancient work history or personal matters. Start with your most recent or most relevant employment and explain why you are well qualified for the position. Your answer needs to directly address the concerns and needs of your prospective employer.
2) Tell Stories That Highlight Your Accomplishments. Offer up two or three anecdotes that are interesting and useful in making your pitch. Use strong words to describe yourself. For example, if you tell an interviewer that people describe you as tenacious, provide a brief story that shows how you have been tenacious in achieving your goals. Telling stories is a powerful way to make yourself memorable. Your goal when you answer the ‘tell me about yourself’ question is to find a way stand out from everyone else.
3) Be Brief. Did we mention that you shouldn’t ramble? To make sure your answer is succinct and covers everything you want it to cover, write it out before the interview, time it and rehearse it until it sounds natural. Then practice it some more. Your answer to this question should be informative but take no more than about a minute.
This question is somewhat of a test. Interviewers want to see how you handle yourself in an unstructured situation, how articulate you are, how confident you are and what you think is important.
Rather than dread this question, a well-prepared candidate should welcome this chance to shine. Properly answered, this question allows you the opportunity to sell yourself. It allows you to set the tone and direction for the rest of the interview.