How to answer the “tell me about yourself” interview question

“Tell me about yourself”

Why is it that the simplest questions can send us into the panic spiral? “Tell me about yourself” is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest interview question. On the one hand, no one knows you better than you! How could you mess up the one subject you are best versed in? On the other hand, this question has significant pitfalls. First, it’s often the first question, so you aren’t even warmed up yet. It’s also your first impression. Second, it’s difficult to strike a balance between oversharing and undersharing. How much do they want to know?

I get it. This is a tricky one. But with a few simple tips, you can ace this section of the interview and move on to meatier questions.

The present-past-future model

If you don’t know where to start, the present-past-future model is a great foundation for success. Start off with what you are currently doing, with a sentence or two of description. Then, segue into a Reader’s Digest version of your past experience. And finally, conclude with what your ultimate goal is, featuring the company you are applying to as the inspiration.

If I were applying to a job at, say, Company X as a member of their international cooperation team, I would lead with this:

“I am the founder of Miss CV Professional Writing Services, which offers boutique consulting to women in the workplace. I specialize in resumes, cover letters, interview preparation, and empowering women to represent their best selves in their application materials. Before that, I lived in Korea, where I worked as an academic director at a small college consulting firm, and before that, I was the international cooperation officer at a top ten Korean company. Going forward, I am enthusiastic about joining Company X, where I can use my experience to help promote international growth, while also learning about a whole new sector.”

Keep it friendly

Your resume is already in front of the hiring manager, so resist the urge to give a blow by blow of your accomplishments. The purpose of the interview is to get to know you as a person, so feel free to sprinkle your descriptions with the occasional anecdote, especially as it pertains to your past career experience.

Keep it professional

For a woman, this can often be the pitfall of successful career development. Unless you are applying for a job that is specifically connected to families, you should not say anything about who you are as a wife or a mother in the “tell me about yourself” section. Make sure that your answers revolve wholly around your work experience and what you can contribute to the company. Keep is as position-specific as possible.

This said, use your common sense and make sure that you research the company you are applying to. Some companies want to know all about your family, like Pampers diapers. Others simply do not care, and may be looking for a way to hold your family against you. Just remember that one of the number one criticisms of women in the workplace is that they have poor work-home balance. In your interview, you’ll want to avoid the holistic “who am I” approach and reframe it as “who am I as an employee”.

Although this advice seems unfair, remember that you will be able to steer the boat of social and professional equity better from a place of employment. Once you’re on the inside, you can begin challenging gender bias and tell those colleagues who you really are.

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