Your Make-or-Break Interview Moment: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’

Most job interviews have a pivotal moment, usually at or near the beginning, when an interviewer will say: “So, tell me about yourself.” It trips just about everyone up, but don’t worry: We’ve got you covered.

First, know this: Everyone hates that line. It’s not even a question, it’s an order. “Tell me about yourself” demands you open yourself up to judgement, and perhaps ridicule. It’s an interview tactic that should die a quick and painful death.

However, it breaks the ice for an interviewer, and can set the tone for your whole interview. Here’s exactly how to handle it when you’re forced to talk about yourself instead of your work.

Don’t: Overshare

You like to garden. That’s great. Your interviewer would probably love to hear something like: “I have a backyard garden I devote quite a bit of time to.” It shows them you have a hobby outside of work, which shows them you’re a well-rounded person.

An interviewer doesn’t need to hear about all the things you’re growing in your garden, though. If they’re also really into gardening, they’ll ask about yours, and you two can chat about plants. Let the interviewer guide that conversation, though.

If you go off on a tangent about your hobby (any hobby!), it may end up their lasting impression of you, in the worst possible way.

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Do: Be Sincere

If you don’t like football, don’t say you do just because the interviewer has a Miami Dolphin jersey framed in their office. That’s their thing. What’s yours?

The interviewer may be really into football, whereas you use it as a distraction on Sundays to avoid cleaning the house. And if they challenge your knowledge, and you have none… look out. You just shot yourself in the foot.

You don’t have to tell them you don’t like football, or are passively interested in it. Focus on what makes you tick, not what may (or may not) curry favor in the moment.

Don’t: Get Too Personal

Been married ten years? That’s amazing. Maybe say, “My spouse and I just celebrated our ten-year anniversary” (or something like that) in the interview. You should be proud of your relationship!

Just don’t put your foot in your mouth. “My spouse and I just celebrated our ten year anniversary” is great; you don’t need to follow it up with a soliloquy about the ups and downs you two have had as a couple. This would set a really awkward tone for the rest of the interview.

Do: Your Homework

A company’s website can tell you a lot about its culture. Maybe they support volunteerism, or sponsor various events around town. And hey… maybe you also volunteer in your spare time!

This is something you’d want to state (briefly) in the interview. Without pandering, mentioning your aligned interests outside of day-to-day work will gently assure an interviewer you’re a good cultural fit for the company.

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Don’t: Use The Time as Your Platform

You like to travel. That’s great; the world is beautiful, and you should see as much of it as you can. Just don’t use the interview as your time to make demands.

Now is not the time to let your interviewer know you and your friends like to take a trip the second week of June every year, which you’ll need time off for. It’s also not the moment to let them know your last employer donated large sums to a charity you are passionate about, and you would hope they could contribute as well, should you be offered the job.

Do: Have Prepared Remarks

You’ve done your homework about the company, and considered how much you want to tell them about yourself in an interview. Now it’s time to prepare for the statement, just as you would any other interview question!

Think about a few non-work-related things about yourself to share, and write them down. Treat it like a 20-second speech you have to make, and rehearse it.

Most often, the “tell me about yourself” line is the icebreaker for your interview. Break the ice in a way that moves the interview forward; Be concise and thorough.