Tough Interview Question - Tell me about yourself

Tell me about yourself…

Similar interview questions:
I've read your resume, tell me more about who you are.
Who is [your name]?
What makes you who you are?
Tell me about your background.
How would other people describe you?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
First of all, this isn't even a question. Yet it is the most commonly asked interview "question," so you need to be ready for it. Most interviewers who ask this question are not practiced interviewers, so this question serves as a softball way to start out the interview. And often, sadly, it serves as a delay question to give an unprepared interviewer time to quickly scan your resume for the first time. It is an open-ended question, so it gives the interviewee the opportunity to go in any of several directions. From there, the interviewer can drill down into specifics. The interviewer does not want to know all the details about you from birth forward. They are specifically focused on who you are in relation to the specific job for which you are applying. The interviewer is effectively asking: "Tell me about your background on your resume in more detail."

The best approach to answering this question:
Focus on the part of you which makes you the best candidate for the position. Talk first about your preparation for the role and then focus in tightly on what makes you the best candidate for the role. Use a quick overall summary, then use laser focus on the role itself. Keep your initial answer short, about 2-3 minutes at most, then pause to give the interviewer the opportunity to either: a) ask a different question; or b) ask a clarifying or detail question drilling into specifics around your answer. When you pause, some interviewers will simply pause and/or nod as an indicator for you to continue. If that happens, start drilling into the details and examples. Also, be prepared for potential interruptions along the way, as many interviewers use this question as a way to bring up areas of interest where they can drill down further.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"I've worked hard in my education and career to prepare myself to become a world class accountant. I received my BBA in Accounting from the University of Illinois and then went to work for KPMG after graduation. I passed the CPA exam on my first try and have progressed well in my career. I was recently promoted from Staff Auditor to Senior Auditor and was selected to train new hires in our region on recent GAAP accounting changes…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"I've worked hard in my education and my internships to prepare myself to become a world class accountant. I will be receiving my BBA in Accounting from the University of Illinois and have already completed two internships with large public accounting firms the past two summers. I worked for KPMG last summer in tax accounting and Ernst and Young the summer before in audit. I have already taken the prep exams for the CPA and am ready to sit for the CPA exam in the spring. I earned the Intern of the Year Award for the Chicago branch of KPMG this past summer…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"Wow, well let's see…I was born in 1992 in Chicago, Illinois. I was the second boy in a family of four boys. We got along OK, except for my older brother, especially when he got older and joined a gang. My parents were Catholic, so it was a pretty strict upbringing. I made my first communion in second grade and was confirmed in seventh grade. I was even an altar boy, can you believe that! I had a pretty rough childhood and I spent some time at reform school…"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these Common Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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