How to Answer the Toughest Interview Question

Photo: The Chronicle of Higher Education

If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’ve probably already come across the question, “Tell me about yourself”. While you may think answering this question should be easy, it’s not. It just so happens to be one of the interview questions job seekers bomb the most. Most people will say too much or too little, leaving out crucial information. Instead of improvising on the spot, prepare your answer before the interview. By coming in with your backstory prepared, you’ll be ready to show interviewers your unique personality, your strengths, and your qualifications.

The Purpose of the Question

The point of “tell me about yourself” is to evaluate your potential at the company. Your answer should detail experiences relevant to the position you’re applying for and highlight you as the perfect candidate. The key to answering it well lies not just in describing your personal self, but also your professional self.

One popular trick used to answer this question is to tell the story of how you came to be where you are now. Talk about how your interest in the subject blossomed into where you are today.

How to Answer It

Your response is more than just listing the experiences on your job application. A memorable way to begin your answer is by telling a short anecdote about how you first became interested in your field. An introduction like this helps you stand out from the crowd. Next comes your previous experience. Decide what narrative you want to tell first. Then you’ll want to include the key accomplishments and roles from your career history that reinforce that narrative. Conclude your answer by explaining how the past experiences have led you to this particular position.

While your story is an opportunity to speak more of your background beyond your resume, don’t share intimate information that doesn’t relate to your professional identity. Negative experiences are also inappropriate to include your answer unless you are able to twist it into a learning moment — they are better suited for questions such as, “What is your greatest weakness?” This is especially not the time to complain about a former employer or position; doing so may raise red flags for the interviewer and cause them to wonder if you would speak like this about a future employer.