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The very first question in many job interviews is, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ OK, it’s not really a question, but you do need a knock-it-out-of-the-park response. This is your biggest opportunity to influence how they think of you. If you give a great answer, it sets a bias in your favor for the rest of your interview.

Why do interviewers ask ‘Tell me about yourself’?

They aren’t asking to get to know you. Don’t talk about your hobbies, your kids, or your collection of 18th century plates. What they’re really asking is, ‘Tell me something that will matter to me as I consider you for this job.’ This is the question behind the question, and the one you need to answer to be the most effective.

The key to answering ‘Tell me about yourself’

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes: if you were that person, what would you want to know about someone you were considering hiring? Think about the job description and come up with an answer that shows you are the solution to their problem. You are the person who fits what they want.

Think about what you need to highlight in your experience, background, and maybe even personality traits that illustrate why you would be a good fit for this job. Summarize that for them in about a minute or two at the most.

A sample answer to ‘Tell me about yourself.’

Start with your education:

“I was born and raised in Texas, and I attended the University
of Oklahoma where I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting.”

If you did coursework that’s different from your degree but pertains to this job, this is a good time to mention it. If you had an especially high GPA, you might mention it—but if you didn’t, then don’t.  Just talk about your degree.

Then add your work background:

‘I started my career at ABC Company, where I did X, Y, and Z.
I was recruited into EFG Company, where I did X and was promoted for Y.
Last year, I was recognized for my contribution to X.’

Or, ‘Last year, I generated $10M in revenue.’

Or, ‘In the last 2 years, I reduced turnover by 50%.’

Don’t get too far into the weeds here. Just hit the highlights of positions, promotions, awards, or key accomplishments. Show the progression of your career and that you’ve been recognized by others in the form of promotions, awards, or other things.

Remember to choose things that this hiring manager for this job will see as indicators that you’re a good fit. You can use examples from jobs, internships, volunteer work, or even coursework if you’re a new graduate. If you have a long career already, strategically edit and only talk about the best things.

At the end, tie it to why you’re there:

‘Given my experience and results, I would be a great fit for this job and this company and I know I could immediately make a significant positive difference here.’

Practice!

Know before you walk into the interview what you plan to say, and practice it several times so that it’s comfortable. You'll seem more confident and make a better impression on them.

**Check out 101 Best Job Interview Answers in our series, How to Answer Interview Questions.