“So, tell me about yourself.”
What seems like such a simple question can really make you sweat, especially in an interview. What, exactly, should you share—not just to build rapport, but to show that you’re the perfect fit for the job?
Fear not, job seekers: There’s a super-simple formula that will help you answer this question with ease. Watch this quick video as our CEO Kathryn Minshew gives a simple tip from our career expert Lily Zhang, then try it out for yourself!
How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
So, the first question you’re probably going to get in an interview is, “Tell me about yourself.” Now, this is not an invitation to recite your entire life story or even to go bullet by bullet through your resume. Instead, it’s probably your first and best chance to pitch the hiring manager on why you’re the right one for the job.
A formula I really like to use is called the Present-Past-Future formula. So, first, you start with the present—where you are right now. Then, segue into the past—a little bit about the experiences you’ve had and the skills you gained at the previous position. Finally, finish with the future—why you are really excited about this particular opportunity.
Let me give you an example:
If someone asked, “tell me about yourself,” you could say:
“Well, I’m currently an account executive at Smith, where I handle our top performing client. Before that, I worked at an agency where I was on three different major national healthcare brands. And while I really enjoyed the work that I did, I’d love the chance to dig in much deeper with one specific healthcare company, which is why I’m so excited about this opportunity with Metro Health Center.”
Remember throughout your answer to focus on the experiences and skills that are going to be most relevant for the hiring manager when they’re thinking about this particular position and this company. And ultimately, don’t be afraid to relax a little bit, tell stories and anecdotes—the hiring manager already has your resume, so they also want to know a little more about you.
“How did you hear about the position?”
I know what you’re thinking. Nobody messes this interview question up, right? I mean, it’s the easiest one you’ll ever have to answer during your job hunt. Ever. When I was recruiting, I approached it with the mindset of, “I’m going to ask the candidate to tell me how he found the gig just to break the ice.” Or, I’m going to bring this up to know which of my many methods actually led to a qualified candidate sitting in front of me. Never was it ever a trick question.
But I quickly learned that in a lot of ways, this one trips people up sometimes. And because I’ve seen some of the worst examples, here’s how you can avoid making the most common mistakes when talking about how you found the job.
You Feel Uneasy About Sharing That a Friend Referred You
What to Do Instead
I hate to sound so crass, but if you’re fortunate enough to know someone at a company you want to work for, just buckle up and tell everyone who asks you exactly how you found out about the job. A simple response like, “I was excited to find out about the job from my friend who works in [department]” is a perfectly OK response. In fact, it’s the only response you should be given if this is the case.
You Turn it Into a Monologue About Why This Is the Only Job You Want
What to Do Instead?
If you want to fold in a little tidbit about why you’re so excited about the job, that’s not a terrible idea. But, keep it short. Add your unique spin to a response along the lines of, “I found it on [wherever you found the job], and since I’ve been hoping to work for the company for a long time, I was excited to see the opening had become available.” That’s all you need. Seriously.
You Forgot Where You Found the Job
What to Do Instead?
When I realized that I had applied for a lot of jobs during my last stretch of unemployment, I made myself a simple Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. It included the following columns: job title, link to the original listing, the date I applied, where (or how) I found the opening, and current stage of the interview process. That list especially came in handy for phone interviews, but regardless of how close I was (or wasn’t) to get any particular job, I don’t know how I could’ve kept track of anything during my job search without that spreadsheet. If you’re having trouble remembering little details, like how you found a particular posting, cobble together a tracker for yourself.
If there’s one lesson to be learned, it’s that no interview question is too small to potentially mess up. And even the icebreakers can change the entire tone of a meeting with a hiring manager. So cross your T’s, build spreadsheets if you need to, and above anything else, answer the question as thoroughly and quickly as possible so you can focus on telling the interviewer more about why you’re the right fit for the job—rather than boring details about where you found it.
Why do you want this job?
Like the dreaded “Tell me about yourself,” the question, “Why are you interested in this position?” is sure to come up in an interview.
And, even if it doesn’t, if you want the job you should get this sentiment across regardless. So, really, there’s no way around figuring out how to string together a coherent thought about why this being in this position makes sense for you (and for the company).
Luckily, there’s actually a pretty simple way to go about answering this question effectively without having to go through every big moment or transition in your life and career that’s brought you to this interview. Here’s a smart framework for how you should structure your answer.
Step 1: Express Enthusiasm for the Company
Say you’re interviewing for a small quantitative asset management company. The start of your answer might sound something like this:
The first thing that caught my eye when I saw the position posted was definitely that it was at EFG Advisers. I know that you build a lot of your tools in-house, the team is small, and you run a variety of long- and short-term strategies in the U.S. equities markets using a quantitative approach.
Especially with smaller companies, it’s always impressive when a candidate knows a thing or two about what goes on at the company. And the best thing about this is you rarely have to go beyond reviewing the company website or having a quick conversation with a current or past employee to learn enough to sound like you’ve been following the company for a while.
Step 2: Align Your Skills and Experiences With the Role
Try to pinpoint what the main part of the role entails, plus a couple of the “desired skills” in the job description, and make sure you speak to that. Follow up your introduction to how excited you are about the company with why you’re a good fit:
But the part that really spoke to me about this position was the chance to combine both the programming skills I gained from being a senior software engineer and my knack for quantitative analysis in a position that actively lets me engage with my growing interest in investing and portfolio management.
Keep it short—you’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk about how you got your skills or relevant stories throughout the interview—and just focus on highlighting a couple key relevant abilities or experiences for the position.
Step 3: Connect to Your Career Trajectory
I’ve been interested in switching to finance for a while now and have been actively managing my own personal portfolio for a few years. Joining a quant shop makes sense to me because I think it’s one of the few places where I’ll still be able to use my technical skills and spend my day thinking about finance. I’m really excited to learn more and see how I’ll be able to contribute the firm.
Of course, you don’t have to state specifically that you see yourself in the position for a long time. Just show that you’ve given some thought to how the job makes sense for you now and that it continues to make sense for the foreseeable future.
String these three components together, and you have a response that will impress on three fronts: your knowledge and enthusiasm for the company, your relevant skills, and your general fit with the position. Plus, this framework has the added benefit of not stopping the flow of the conversation the way going through your entire life story would.
What do you know about the company?
Acing the interview isn’t just about having the perfect canned speeches. Yes, you need to show off your experience, talents, and personality—but before answering each question, you also have to figure out what the interviewer is actually asking you.
Those seemingly innocuous questions, like “tell me about yourself” and “where do you see yourself in a few years?” aren’t just get-to-know-you conversation starters. They’re one of the key ways an interviewer will seek to uncover whether you’re the right fit for the job.
So, before you start to share your life story—or recite the same answer you gave at the last interview—it’s important to figure out what the interviewer really wants to know. Check out our guide to translating interviewer-speak, and learn how to plot your answers accordingly.
Question: Tell me about yourself.
The interviewer already has your resume and cover letter, so she’s not looking for a rundown of your employment history. Nor does she care that you grew up in Boston and love to jog on the weekends. She’s looking for a pitch—one that’s concise, compelling, and keeps her attention, and one that tells her exactly why you’re the right fit for the job.
So, while this is a good time to paint a broad picture of who you are, it’s most important that you include a couple of key facts that will sell you as the right candidate.
Think about the 2-3 specific accomplishments or experiences that you most want the interviewer to know about, and share them here. You can frame your stories or tie them together using a theme or a quote, if appropriate, such as “My first boss told me that fundraising is really building relationships, and that’s the approach I’ve taken throughout my career. For example…”
It’s also a good idea to practice your answer aloud, record it, then listen to your pitch. Are you engaging? Are you rambling? Are you getting your most important points across loud and clear? (This is good advice for any interview question.)
Question: How would you explain our organization’s mission?
Any candidate can read and regurgitate the company’s “About” page. So, when an interviewer asks you this, she isn’t necessarily trying to gauge whether you understand the mission—she wants to know whether you care about it, and she’s looking for who in the applicant pool can most effectively discuss the organization’s work and its impact.
So, in addition to doing your research on the company’s work, think about concrete ways it relates to your passions and experiences, and weave them into your answer.
Start with one line that shows you understand the mission, using a couple keywords and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two. For example, if you’re interviewing at a school that stresses character, share some specific character-building education activities you’ve led for students in your last job. If you’re interviewing for a position at a hospital, talk about the 5K you recently ran to raise money for leukemia or your passion for volunteering your time to help children with cancer.
Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hiring someone is an investment, and interviewers believe (as you would expect) that someone genuinely interested in the organization’s work will be the better hire. So, what she really wants to know is whether this particular job and company is part of your career path, or whether you’ll be jumping ship in a year once you land your “real” dream job.
So how should you answer? If the position you’re interviewing for is on the track to your goals, share that, plus give some specifics. For example, if you’re interviewing for an account executive position an advertising firm, and you know your goal is to become an account supervisor, say that. And then add specifics about the sort of clients you hope to work with, which will help your answer sound genuine, not canned—and again show why this particular company will be a good fit.
If the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations, the best approach is to be genuine but to follow your answer up by connecting the dots between the specific duties in this role and your future goals. It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision, or that you’re excited about the management or communications skills you’ll gain.
Question: Do you have any questions for us?
It’s easy to go into an interview with a list of questions about the position. But the tougher part—and what the interviewer really wants to see—is whether you can roll with the punches, engage in the conversation, and ask questions that weren’t already answered over the course of the interview.
This will require some thinking on your feet. As you’re going along in the interview, be thinking which key areas—job duties, company culture, the team you’ll be working with—haven’t been covered yet, so you can target your questions there. You can also prepare ahead of time by thinking of more non-traditional questions, or ask questions targeted to the interviewer herself, which probably won’t be covered in the interview.
Try things like What you like most about working here? What drew you to work for this organization? What do you think are the current strategic challenges facing the organization? What advice would you give to someone in this role?
Remember, there’s no “right” answer to an interview question—or at least not one that’s right for every job. But by thinking about what an interviewer is really after, you can go a long way in showing her why you’re right for the job.
Why should we hire you?
I don’t even like asking this question in a mock interview, so I don’t know how hiring managers stomach it in a real one. But, apparently, they do—in fact, turns out it’s one of the 31 most common interview questions.
The good news is, despite how demanding and weirdly petulant the question is, it’s actually a really great opportunity, to sum up why you’re a good fit for the position. It allows you to talk about your skills, your fit with the culture, and everything in between. What more could you ask for in an interview?
So, how exactly do you cover your bases for such an open question? Here are three strategies.
The key here is to not forget that second part: talking about yourself. Too many people make the mistake of only listing the benefits for the employer. Going into what’s in it for you will give insight into why you’ll stay driven—a trait all interviewers are looking for.
The Company Expert
To do that, show a deep knowledge of the business and an understanding of how you might fit in. This, of course, requires a good bit of company research (here’s a great guide to get you started), so you can talk about the uniqueness, the history, the future, and your own personal investment.
Diving into your knowledge of the company serves a few purposes. You show your excitement for the position, you come off as an insider who might be easier to train than other candidates, and you demonstrate how you handle something you’re invested in.
The Problem Solver
Like in a “Pain Letter,” don’t spend all your time talking about the past—focus your efforts on the future, and explain how you can make the interviewer’s life easier by addressing his most imminent issue. This shows you’re forward-thinking, already a team player, and ready to hit the ground running.
Next time you’re faced with this interview question, try one of these strategies to stand out from your competition. If nothing else, you’ll be memorable for how polished and unruffled you were. That alone might make you special.