Tell Me About Yourself: How to Answer the Number One Job Interview Question

by | Business Professional English | 48 comments

Job interviews make everyone nervous, no matter the language or the job.

But doing a job interview in English, your second language? I know that can be stressful and scary. You feel the pressure of performing well + the pressure of the interviewer evaluating your English skills.

Let’s start with the number 1 question and – often – the most challenging question: “So, tell me about yourself.”

What does this question really mean? What does the interviewer want to hear? What should or shouldn’t you say?

There are several reasons the interviewer uses this question:

  • Start a conversation
  • Get a first impression of you
  • Evaluate who you are/what you have to offer
  • Quickly assess whether you might be a good fit for the job

Without a doubt, this is an important interview question. Because it is often the first question and it’s your first chance to present yourself, you want to do this well.

The good news is: No matter how nervous you feel right now, you can answer this question with 100% confidence in English.

I know you want to express yourself freely in English. You want to sound intelligent, like the professional you are. You want to feel confident. Today’s lesson will help you do that when you have to answer: Tell me about yourself.

You’ll learn 3 essential dos and don’ts for answering this question + I have a free workbook you can download to help you prepare your perfect answer, step-by-step.

Everything you need to know about the number 1 job interview question.

Lesson by Annemarie

Tip 1: Choose the Right Focus

  • Don’t: Give your life story
  • Do: Focus on your experiences, accomplishments, and strengths that relate specifically to the job

The purpose of this question is to quickly get to know you and establish whether you might be a good fit for the job. The interviewer does not want to know where you were born or the story of your childhood.

To best answer this question, you want to focus on your career-related abilities, achievements, and goals that are connected to this particular job.

Bad example:

“Well I was born in New York but my family moved to Iowa when I was young. I always wanted to be an engineer but when I started university I realized I loved biology. Oh, that reminds me, during university I had this amazing travel abroad experience …”

Good example:

“I’ve been working in policy research for nearly 8 years. In my most recent position, I’ve become an expert on health care policy and how it impacts families with lower incomes. Just this past year I contributed significant research and policy advice to a presidential effort and we were successful …”

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Tip 2: Stay Focused and Be Relevant

  • Don’t: Repeat your resume word for word
  • Do: Give a quick overview of your greatest achievements/strengths

Your resume will likely provide a complete history of your work experience. And that is great. But in this question, the interviewer does not want to know about your first job 15 years ago. So in this first question of the interview (remember – there are many more questions coming next!) just focus on the highlights of your career and expertise.

Bad example:

“Well, as you can see from my resume, I started as a cashier for a clothing store 16 years ago. I did that for a couple years while I studied at university. Then I became a …”

Good example:

“I’ve spent the last 6 years sharpening my design skills at the largest and most innovative architecture firm in Chicago. I’ve developed a reputation for understanding what our clients want and staying right on budget.

Overall, I think my greatest strength is connecting to people. When our clients communicate their needs, I truly hear what they want and I work tirelessly to find the design solutions that will match their needs.”

In the good example above, we immediately know the person’s strengths and achievements: design skills, understanding clients, staying on budget, connecting to people, and dedication.

But in the bad example, the focus is on one job after another without any information related to strengths or skills needed for this new position.

“I know you want to express yourself freely in English. You want to sound intelligent, like the professional you are. You want to feel confident. Today’s lesson will help you do that.”

Tip 3: Be Ready to Answer

  • Don’t: Speak for too long
  • Do: Have a precise, well-prepared and well-practiced answer

The interviewer uses the “Tell me about yourself” question to get a brief overview of who you are and what you have to offer to the company or the position. The key to that is sentence is the word brief. Most recruiting professionals recommend a 2-3 minute answer. No more. This isn’t the time to share your life story. Instead, this is your time to highlight your awesome strengths and achievements.

The best way to prepare for this is:

  • Write your answer
  • Practice and time yourself
  • Edit and rewrite
  • Practice and time yourself again
  • Repeat this process until you are satisfied and ready for this question

Use the good and bad examples above + the FREE step-by-step workbook to help you create your best answer to this question.

Now it’s time to practice and share your answer. 

Review this lesson and download the free workbook. Then share your answer in the comments section below. Or read what others have said for an example.

After you share, tell me: what continues to be your greatest challenge or worry about job interviews in English? I want to help you be as successful as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

~ Annemarie

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