Regardless of whether you’re a software engineer, a data scientist, a web developer, or a program manager, you’ll be asked “tell me about yourself” in nearly every interview. It’s a popular way to get the ball rolling and if you answer it well, you set the tone for a successful interview. In this article, we’ll cover:
Let’s start this conversation from when you meet the interviewer. Everybody talks about the ever-so-important handshake, right? If you’re in the position for an in-person interview, be sure to look them in the eyes and give them a nice firm handshake demonstrating confidence.
Zoom interviews may have you out of practice, so if you’re visiting as part of an on-site, or simply networking, give a confident but brief grip. The worst thing you can do is give the “dead-fish handshake.” Blech! That can be the kiss of death before the interview even starts.
First, I suggest striking up some small talk to build rapport before the interview even begins. This will allow you and the interviewer to informally get to know each other. Plus, this can help calm your nerves a bit.
Whether you’re meeting a recruiter or a panel of interviewers, be sure to ask the scheduler for their names ahead of time, if they’re not provided. Look them up on LinkedIn, and any other social media. You might discover you have mutual connections or other things in common, giving you an opportunity to talk about something other than the weather.
Please don’t let this question stress you out. Interviewers tell me all the time they want you to nail the interview. They are actually rooting for you! Keep in mind, they want to interview you because your resume showed you have the skills to do the job!
They wouldn’t waste their time bringing you in for an interview if they didn’t think you were a good candidate. This applies to ALL jobs! The good news is, “tell me about yourself” is a question you should nail every time because you:
Now let’s break this down.
We’ve all been guilty of one or more of these in the past. Let’s recognize them, note them, and move on.
Now that we know what not to do; let’s talk about how to Knock It Out Of The Park! Keep in mind, when you skillfully answer this question, it’s a great indicator you know how to interview! Undoubtedly, this will bring a smile to the interviewer's face. They might even sigh in relief!
Answering this is not easy to do gracefully on the fly. It pays to prepare in advance. Trust me on this one. Rehearse your answer in the car or in the shower! Record yourself and play it back. If you cringe, try it again!
Preparation is key to crushing this question and success! Practice with a friend or family member. The more you practice, the better. For those of you who love to wing it…please don’t. You can thank me later.
You’re going to want to craft your answer by highlighting technical and soft skills aligned with the job description. Concisely convey them through specific projects, work experience, and/or education.
One way to structure how you answer this question is by thinking of your previous roles as building blocks to your current role. In each “block,” highlight expertise in a language, framework, or skill you learned or used.
Be sure to spotlight skills or languages they’ve asked for in the job description. Make it easy for them to see what a great match you are!
This could be years of experience or a specific area of specialization. Highlight special training or a Bootcamp experience. By focusing on the qualifications in the job description you’ll be able to tell them how you will meet and exceed requirements.
Describe why you’re interested in the position. Maybe indicate why you are looking for a new challenge and why you feel this role is the best next step.
Are you ready to move from being an individual contributor to a team lead? Maybe you’re looking for more autonomy or opportunities to influence the roadmap.
Be sure to focus on how you will provide value by reinforcing how your experience, skills, and drive can help them reach their goals. Finally, feel free to incorporate any relevant hobby or volunteer experience. If they match traits in the job description, such as attention to detail, or collaboration with others, they’re relevant.
Maybe you build websites or troubleshoot IT issues for nonprofits in your community. Perhaps you coordinate volunteers or coach a team. Maybe you’re not using a specific language in your current job, but use it as part of an ongoing passion project. Share these things.
Let’s craft an example using the job description below.
“So, tell me about yourself…”
“Thank you for asking. I would describe myself as a collaborative and solution-driven software engineer with over two years of experience working with designers, developers, and programmers holding a degree in Computer Science from Purdue University.
I've already contributed to over a half dozen projects and assisted with managing a project for one of our firm's long-time clients.
Something I’ve enjoyed and has been able to use in my current role is leveraging my experience in tech support to help identify and resolve complex issues.
I believe my experience has allowed me to hone my attention to detail and critical thinking skills as well as enhance my communication skills working on team-based projects and with clients.
In my last role in tech support, I received several commendations from customers where I was able to identify and resolve their technical issues with clarity and ease.
I’m excited to collaborate on a team and apply my technical skills to develop applications and systems along with contributing to your team in a way that positively impacts the organization and your clients”
See how we matched up the job description specifics with the response?
Note how in the example above, you didn’t see “I was born in” or “I grew up in,” types of autobiographies. It boils down to:
“I’m a [characteristic description] [title] with [number] years of experience working with [teams, functions, or industries] holding a [education].”
“I’ve contributed to [types or number of projects], managed [types or number of projects], and used my experience to [something from the JD they need you to do]. I’ve used [languages, skills] and achieved [example of success, contribution, or something you learned].”
“I’m eager to [what excites you about the role], apply my skills to [tasks, projects, or function], and contribute to [positive outcome or goal of the team, company, etc.].”
In a nutshell, remember these five steps:
It may help to write out your response and read it aloud several times before your interview. The goal is not to memorize it, per se. You want to be authentic. But writing it down helps organize your thoughts. If your interview is over Zoom, it’s easy to have notes and bullet points on a second screen or nearby. Just don’t “read” it. It’s your story, after all. You know it!
The best advice I can provide as a Career Coach is to prepare and practice! I’ve seen hundreds of people move from literally having no idea how to navigate the “tell me about yourself” question to absolutely killing it! You’ve got this!
This blog was contributed by Christy Rosen, a Certified Career Coach, Resume Writer, and Interview Professional. She has worked with hundreds of professionals helping them to launch, transition, and climb the corporate ladder to meaningful careers in the technology industry.