First, the most important tip: “tell me about yourself” doesn’t mean “tell me anything and everything.”
“Tell me about yourself” isn’t a polite request for your life story. What the interviewer wants to know is, “Why should I hire you?” Knowing this, your pre-interview goal is to develop a response tailored to the specific employer and addressing its interests, goals, and needs. You should revise, refine and rehearse your script until you can deliver it flawlessly — with energy, enthusiasm and confidence.
1. Sketch the big picture.
Experienced candidates should focus on the big picture first so that interviewers will place later information in the proper context. Start by providing an overview of your career. Example: “Why don’t I start with the big picture? As you can see from my resume, I have more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing and general management, primarily in consumer products. Thanks to my experiences at XYZ Company and ABC Company, I have an in-depth knowledge of the domestic and international marketplace for the food and beverage industries.”
After you sketch the big picture, talk about specific experiences that are most relevant and interesting to an interviewer. Your research can pay off here. Learning as much as you can about the industry, employer and job (via the job description) allows you to zero in on your most relevant qualifications and experiences.
3. Showcase your communication skills.
Most interviewers observe how you organize and present information about yourself. If your recent experience is most relevant, detail your accomplishments in reverse chronological order, giving less emphasis to your first few jobs. If your most relevant experiences happened in the middle of your career, start your description at that point.
4. Highlight the benefits you’ll bring to the employer.
A job search is a self-marketing campaign. Orient any discussion of your skills and experiences toward showing how they can benefit this employer.
5. Provide details.
Have specific examples ready to illustrate your skills. For example, to emphasize your problem-solving ability, describe a problem you faced in a past job, what actions you took to resolve it and the result of those actions. Whenever possible, choose a problem that’s similar to those the prospective employer might face.
6. Disclose personal information cautiously.
When it comes to disclosing personal information, consider two factors: whether you feel comfortable using personal details and what you plan to accomplish by doing so. Keep the purpose of the conversation in mind. Whenever possible, mention personal information strategically. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job with a toy manufacturer, you could share anecdotal information about your children’s experience with the manufacturer’s toys. If you know the job requires extensive international travel, you could mention your personal travel experiences.
7. Finish strong.
When should you return the floor to the interviewer? Use nonverbal signs as your cue. If an interviewer seems restless and bored, ask for feedback about your presentation: “Is this what you want to hear? Or is there something else that you’d like me to focus on?” This allows the interviewer to change the flow of communication and establishes a two-way dialogue.