When Muse career coach Theresa Merrill does mock interviews with her clients, she always leads with, “Tell me about yourself.” It’s good practice because that’s often the very first thing an interviewer will ask you to do—whether you’re having a preliminary phone screen, speaking to your prospective boss, or sitting down with the CEO during a final round.
Even though it’s one of the most common interview questions, “it almost always stumps them,” Merrill says. It might seem like an easy win—after all, you know all about yourself!—but responding to this invitation to talk about you in the context of a job interview can feel stressful and complicated. “It’s challenging because it is broad, open-ended,” Merrill points out. You might be thinking: Um, what do you want to know? How am I supposed to pick what to share out of my entire life story right now?
Why Interviewers Ask It
As with any interview question, the key to crafting an impressive answer is understanding why people are asking in the first place.
“It lets them ease into the actual interviewing,” says Alina Campos, Muse career coach and founder of The Coaching Creative.
“Often when the conversation starts it’s a lot of small talks and it’s a way to transition into it,” especially for less seasoned recruiters or hiring managers. “The interviewee’s nervous but the interviewer’s trying to get their bearings [too].”
It’s also a great starting point that can help inform the direction of the interview, says Muse career coach and CareerSchooled founder Al Dea: “Depending on what you say it’s going to help them figure out the next question,” which might help start a chain effect of follow-up questions and lend an easy flow to the conversation.
Beyond serving as an icebreaker and transition, Dea says, this introductory question also helps recruiters and hiring managers to accomplish what’s often one of their major goals in the hiring process: getting to know you.
If you answer it well, the interviewers will begin to find out why you’re the best candidate for this job, in terms of hard skills and experience as well as soft skills. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly and effectively, connect with and react to other humans, and present yourself professionally.
There are plenty of times when you’ll hear these exact words: “Tell me about yourself.” But interviewers might have their own versions of the prompt that are asking pretty much the same thing, including:
I have your resume in front of me but tell me more about yourself.
Walk me through your experiences.
I’d love to hear more about your journey.
Tell me a little bit more about your background.