TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF – BEST SAMPLE ANSWER TO A COMMON (& ANNOYING) INTERVIEW QUESTION

“Tell me about yourself”

In this video, I’m going to give you the best sample answer and framework to nail this common and very annoying interview question.

“Tell me about yourself” – what is this? A cheesy speed dating event? If so, get me a martini, stat! Extra dirty.

What’s the Purpose Of The Interview Question: Tell Me About Yourself

Tell me about yourself is an icebreaker. An uninspired one at that, but an icebreaker nonetheless.

It can help the interviewer take the interview in different directions in order to take great notes on you, how well you’re qualified, and why you’re a great fit for the role.

What To Avoid When Answering: Tell Me About Yourself

Now there are a few things we want to avoid when we’re answering this question.

First and foremost, we don’t want to barf our resume.

The interviewer probably has your resume in front of them, so doesn’t need you to replay it.

Also, if you recite your entire resume, you’ll be talking for way too long and lose the listener.

Next, we want to avoid being self-deprecating.

Being self-deprecating can get you a laugh amongst friends, but in an interview, you’re basically selling your services. Telling the buyer how much these services might suck, isn’t a good start.

Finally, you want to avoid sharing your life story.

First, time is of the essence here. We want to make a great first impression by not droning on and on and be focused in our answer by showing we’re both qualified and a cultural fit for the role.

What To Include When Answering: Tell Me About Yourself

So let’s talk about what makes for a great answer to tell me about yourself.

It gives a great highlights reel about you as a professional and helps the interviewer picture you in the role for which you’re applying at their company.

How do we make sure we’re doing this?

First, we need to be very clear on why we applied to and want the job for which we’re interviewing.

We need to be very clear on how we’re qualified for the role.

We need to tell a story about how we arrived to this point in our careers.

I find that this is most easily done by pinpointing your career mission.

The best way I can think of for approaching this answer is to think of a cake and its layers. Because, food.

The base layer of the cake will be covering your career mission. Basically who you are as a professional.

The middle layers will be made up of how you got your start and work wins from a few select previous roles.

The top layer will be forward-looking information about what you’re looking forward to doing at the company and in the role for which you’re interviewing. 

And the icing? Well that’s your enthusiasm.  

Layer #1: Your Career Mission

So what is your mission? It’s basically the one big thing that drives you to kick ass in your career.

Here are some examples:

If you’re in sales, your career mission might be to drive revenue in new markets.

If you’re in marketing, your career mission might be giving voice and visibility to brands.

If you’re in software development, your career mission might be building solutions that make our users’ lives easier.

If you’re in data analytics, your career mission might be translating data into new business opportunities.

So in order to pinpoint your career mission, ask yourself, why do I do what I do? Why do I keep doing what I do?

If you’re making a career transition, the career mission might be a bit different. 

So instead of asking yourself why you do what you do or why you keep doing what you do, ask yourself what unique perspective can you bring to your new career?

Maybe you’re transitioning from sales into product management, and your career mission might be to bring your understanding of client needs to building outstanding products.

Maybe you’re transitioning from being a elementary school teacher to working as a corporate trainer, and your career mission might be to bring your expertise in diverse learning modalities to develop customized and targeted development programs.

So take a moment and think about your career theme. Write it down. I’ll wait.

Got it? Good. That’s your cake’s base layer.

Now let’s look at layer #2, your job work wins.

Layer #2: How You Got Your Start

Next, I want you to think back to your very first role that set you on the path to be doing what you do now.

This could be your first job ever, or it might be only a few jobs ago.

Basically you want to be able to tell the interviewer how you ended up where you are today.

After graduating from university did you realize that your strengths weren’t in your major but in something totally different?

Did you have a very focused idea of what you were meant to do and pursued it since you were young?

Did a company see specific potential in you and hire you to something that you wouldn’t have thought of, and you loved it?

Did you realize after 10 years in your profession that your strengths were really more applicable to something totally different?

Did something in your childhood even set you on the path to do what you do now?

Write down a sentence or two that sums up how you arrived where you are. I’ll pause myself while you do. 

Layer #3: Selection Of Work Wins

Now, let’s add in a little more flavour with some select work wins.

As mentioned earlier, answering “tell me about yourself” isn’t for us to regurgitate our resume, it’s to give a highlights reel.

So thinking back across your whole career, I want you to cherry pick either:

The top 3 most relevant roles to the role to which you’re interviewing

Or if you’re career transitioning select your 3 most recent roles

Write these down.

Then under each of them, I want you to note down either:

The BEST most memorable accomplishment from the role that demonstrates you’re qualified

Or if you’re career transitioning, select the BEST accomplishment that emphasizes the unique strengths you’ll bring to the role, as in

We are basically going for emphasizing our career mission.

So write all this stuff down. I’ll be here. 

Layer #4: Predicting The Future

Finally, let’s top the world’s most delicious cake off with some forward-looking information about what you’re looking forward to doing at the company and in the role for which you’re interviewing. 

This is one more opportunity in this question for you to talk about your qualifications.

And it’s also probably the easiest part of the answer. 

You probably already know why you applied to this role because something about the job attracted you to it. I mean, you applied to it.

But when you really think about it, what are you excited to DO in the role?

Are you pumped to build an outstanding product?

Are you excited to execute on a big development project?

Are you amped to amplify the brand with digital campaigns?

So specifically what solution are you excited to be a part of that would help this employer? 

Write this down too. I’ve got nowhere to be so…

Now let’s boil this all down into the best answer for “tell me about yourself.” 

I cannot stress enough that interviews are conversations. So we don’t want to use non-conversational language, otherwise we’ll come off as robotic and rehearsed, rather than confident and prepared.

So let’s make our cake! Here’s a framework for how you’re going to insert what you’ve written down, into an answer.

Best Sample Answer and Script To The Common Interview Question For Non Career-Changers: Tell Me About Yourself

Layer #1: Your Career Mission

“I’m a [type of professional] known for my commitment to [career mission].”

Example: “I’m a digital marketer known for helping CPG brands develop their voice and gain visibility with their target audiences”

Layer #2: How You Got Your Start

Simple + Straightforward: “I got my start in [your specialty] when I joined [company name] as [job title].” 

Example: “I got my start in software development when I joined Wealthsimple as a junior developer”

Emphasizing A Core Strength: “After [big career event] I realized I had a knack for [one of your core strengths] which set me on a career path in [your specialty], and led to my first role at [company name] as [job title].”

Example: After graduating university, I realized I had a knack for extracting business insights from data through my side hustle in web design, which set me on a career path in data analytics and led to my role at LinkedIn as a Data Specialist.

Layer #3: Selection Of Work Wins

#1: “At [company you mentioned in previous answer] I built a strong foundation in [your specialty], and became known as/for [your BEST accomplishment from that role].”

Example: “At Wealthsimple, I built a strong foundation in the software development lifecycle. I also became known as the bug detector because I had an unusual ability to uncover bugs that no one else could find.”

#2: “In one of my following roles where I served as [job title] at [company name] I developed a reputation for my strength in [core desired strength], and/which led to [your BEST accomplishment from that role].”

Example: “In one of my following roles where I served as Mobile App Developer at CIBC on the online banking team, I developed a reputation for my strength in UX, and was one of the key contributors to building the award-winning mobile banking app.”

#3: “Most recently, as [most recent relevant job] at [company name], I’m/I was frequently turned/entrusted with/assigned to [something that exhibits your strengths], and led/achieved/accomplished [your BEST accomplishment from that role].”

Example: “Most recently, as Team Lead for digital payments at Scotiabank, I’m frequently turned to by the business for my expertise in the online banking experience, and have led my team to execute on a number of concurrent, multi-million-dollar projects”

Layer #4: Predicting The Future

“I’m excited to leverage my skills in [core areas of strength] to help [interviewing employer] do [the main solution that they’re hiring for].”

Example: “I’m excited to leverage my skills in team leadership, digital and online banking, and development to help HSBC differentiate as a leader in the digital and online banking space.”

Best Sample Answer and Script To The Common Interview Question For Career Changers: Tell Me About Yourself

Layer #1: Your Career Mission

“I’m a [type of profession you’re coming from] turned [type of profession you’re going to] excited to bring my [unique perspective from profession you had] to [how you’ll make a difference].”

Example: “I’m a sales professional turned product manager excited to bring my insights into customer needs through my years in sales to help build products that make a difference in the lives of customers.

Layer #2: How You Got Your Start

“After building a career in [previous specialty] and [event that led to realizing you wanted to career transition] I realized that I was most engaged when working on [the main thing you’d work on in new career], rather than [the main thing you’d work on in previous career]. It was then that I decided to make a career transition, [any training you did in new specialty], and pursue this new career path.”

Example: “After my 10 year career in sales and business development, and collaborating with product in order to optimize the solutions we built for clients, I realized that I was most engaged when working on the creation of products, rather than selling them. It was then that I decided to make a career transition, obtained my certificate in Product Management from General Assembly, and pursue this new career path.”

Layer #3: Selection Of Work Wins

#1: “My knack for [new specialty] was something that I noticed even in one of my earliest/earlier roles as [job title] with [company name]. In this role, I [something you did that exhibited interest in new specialty], and [result of the thing you did that exhibited interest in new specialty].”

Example: My knack for product management was something that I noticed even in one of my earliest roles as Account Executive with IBM. In this role, I proactively tracked customer feedback on products for my own reference, but I was invited to present the findings to the product team for future initiatives.

#2: “I continued to demonstrate my strength in [strength you mentioned earlier] as [job title] at [company name] where I [something you did that exhibited strength in new specialty]. As a result, I [what the BEST result was that you achieved from this].”

Example: I continued to demonstrate my strength in understanding customer needs in my next role as Account Manager at Softchoice where I developed customized mixes of professional services solutions that were tailored to meet unique customer needs. As a result, I ranked as one of the top sales staff in Ontario. 

#3: “Most recently, as [most recent relevant job] at [company name], I’m/I was frequently turned/entrusted with/assigned to [something that exhibits your strengths], and led/achieved/accomplished [your BEST accomplishment from that role].”

Example: “Most recently, as Senior Account Manager at Top Hat I became even more involved with product development as I initiated a user survey to extract insights that could improve the product, which has kicked off a variety of enhancement projects.”

Layer #4: Predicting The Future

“I’m excited to leverage my skills in [core areas of strength] to help [interviewing employer] do [the main solution that they’re hiring for].”

Career Transition: “I’m excited to leverage my skills in customer insights and customer success to help Top Hat further their mission of building user-driven products.”

“Tell me about yourself” isn’t a trap. Yes, it’s as lame as “so what do you do?” It’s a canned ice breaker, it’s used a lot, it can open up the conversation, it’s going to continue to be asked. So I hope this leaves you feeling better equipped to tackle it.

What interview question drives you the craziest? Or what interview question do you always struggle with? Tell me in the comments below.

Kamara Toffolo

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