“Tell me about yourself”–How to answer

by David Marwick, KempMillJobAssist

February 29, 2024

In an interview, the first question is likely to be “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” or something similar.

Do not take this question at face value.

The question is really “Why should we hire you?”

A company wants to know whether you can meet its needs and whether you are a good fit for the company’s culture. 

On a deeper level, the company may want to discern whether you are a serious candidate; whether you have figured out how to “play the game.”

To convince a company that you are the right candidate, you need to be very selective about what you say. 

For example, they are not interested in where you were born, which clubs you joined in high school, and what your favorite Italian restaurant is. 

Instead, they care very much about your education (especially if you are relatively new to the workforce), accomplishments, career path, and aspirations.

The process offered by Scott Barlow, founder of www.Happen to Your Career.com, can help you develop an effective response.

Barlow advises his clients to use what he calls “the ‘Present/Past/Future’ framework.”

Interviewer: “So, tell me about yourself.”

You (smiling internally):
“Well, currently I ____________. (present)

Before that I ___________________. (past)

In the future I _______________. (future)”

In constructing your present/past/future answer in advance of an interview, carefully analyze the vacancy announcement to determine the target job’s requirements. 

Next, determine how your education, experience, and accomplishments match up against their needs. 

Then, choose concrete and easy-to-understand examples, preferably with quantified results, that demonstrate what you’ve done and accomplished.

Finally, try to define what makes you better than the others interviewing for that job.

Imagine that a hiring manager is interviewing you and four other people whose resumes look like yours.

If you were asked why you and not the others should be hired, what would you answer?

Answering this question for yourself should take time and introspection. 

Perhaps your contribution was internal to an employer (for example, you recognized a problem and came up with a solution that saved money or processing time). 

Perhaps your contribution was external to an employer (for example, you smoothed over a problem with an important client, which helped the company retain that client).

Bottom line: You know it’s coming, so prepare for it carefully. 

Combine Scott Barlow’s three-step approach with your experience and accomplishments that most directly relate to the target position, and make sure you stand out from the crowd.

True story #1

A client who was completing a master’s level program was advised toanswer the “Tell me….” question by saying that she was from New York and liked to bake.

That suggested answer was dreadful.

Using that answer would have deprived her of the opportunity to “sell” herself to an employer.

(This incident prompted me to write this article.)

True story #2

I was working with a recent and highly-qualified college graduate (good degree = engineering; good school; good grades). 

She was selective about where she wanted to work, and was finally invited to a full day of interviews with a great employer. 

Before her interview, we discussed how she might answer the “Tell me . . .” question and developed an answer that highlighted her very impressive credentials.

Her full day of interviewing consisted of seven people interviewing her, one after the other, and each one of them began with: “Tell me about yourself.” 

Later, she was told that she had made an excellent impression on the interviewers. 

I’d like to think that her well-prepared answer helped.

For further reading

Scott Barlow, “Tell Me About Yourself” in Three Simple Steps

“Tell Me About Yourself” in Three Simple Steps

If you have questions or comments about this article, please email KMJobAssist@gmail.com