How to Answer the Interview Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”

5 minutes

It sounds like the easiest question you can get in an interview, but it’s often the hardest to answer: “Tell me about yourself.” It can be overwhelming to summarize your entire life in a few sentences, but luckily that’s not what you actually need to do. We’ve gathered perspectives from a recruiter and hiring managers so you can confidently introduce yourself in a job interview.  

What are they really asking? 

This interview question is usually one of the first, and while it’s just an icebreaker on the surface, “the fact that it’s such a broad question is actually a test in itself,” says Jean du Plessis, Senior Engineering Manager at cloud platform Upbound. “They will be looking to see how you respond to an open-ended question and if you can be articulate.”  

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Interviewers are also likely to be assessing how well you understand the industry, role, and company you’re applying to, based on what skills, experience, or anecdotes you choose to highlight in your answer. This is your chance to surface anything that you feel aligns your profile to the opportunity, says Lucy Jones, Headhunter and Director of the Executive Search firm Lawson Brooke. “Number one, before you join the interview: Do your research.” 

By the time you meet with a hiring manager, you will have seen a job description and may even have had an initial screening call with someone from the company. “So, you’ve already got a load of intel to help decide which key things from your experience to surface when asked that question,” says Lucy. 

Be succinct and curate your story 

Remember: You don’t need to regurgitate what’s on your resume — the interviewer might even have your resume on-hand to reference during your conversation. “You can set the expectation with the interviewer around what you’re going to constrain your answer to,” Jean says.  

For example, you might choose to focus on roles or aspects of your experience that are transferrable to the position or the type of customer the company serves. “The interviewer can always ask follow-up questions, but having a clear point of view of what you want to share about helps you keep your answer brief and easy to follow,” Jean says. 

Curating the story you want to tell about your career ahead of time helps you start the interview on the right foot. You don’t want to go into the rest of the interview feeling flustered because you rambled. Giving a concise, confident answer is like giving a firm handshake, says Jean. “This is the virtual equivalent.”

How to answer “Tell me about yourself” if you’re changing careers 

If your background isn’t an obvious fit for the role, this question gives you an opportunity to explain what led you to this point. “I like to see that there’s a narrative thread throughout your work,” says Lisa Tagliaferri, Senior Director of Developer Enablement at the cybersecurity company Chainguard. In addition to her full-time role, Lisa is an interdisciplinary researcher across the humanities and technology and has interviewed many candidates making career changes. 

“Think about your personal mission or the themes of your work that have stayed consistent from previous roles,” Lisa says. “You can go through multiple career shifts throughout your life, but there’s usually a common thread you can bring to light.” 

For instance, transitioning from teaching to software development might stem from a shared desire to help people, Lisa says. (Codecademy learner Pj Metz was a high school English teacher when he landed a developer relations job focusing on students and teachers at GitLab.)  

Highlighting your passion for teamwork and mentoring or showcasing technology-focused creative projects can add depth to your story, Lisa suggests. “Giving that color and showing your broader interests is a positive thing,” she says. 

Sample answer for a career changer

“My name is Adriana, and I currently work as an English teacher. My professional background has primarily been in education, but I’ve always had an interest in technology and its potential to transform learning experiences. I’ve actively incorporated technology educational software and online platforms into my teaching methods to boost student engagement. 

Through my experience in education, I’ve developed strong communication skills, a knack for problem-solving, and a passion for continuous learning — qualities I believe are highly transferable to the technology field. Recently, I’ve been exploring coding through online courses and have completed several projects that my students and I use in the classroom. 

I’m drawn to the technology field because of its dynamic nature and its potential to drive innovation and change. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to leverage my skills and experiences in a new context and to contribute to technological advancements that positively impact society.”

How to answer “Tell me about yourself” if you’re early in your career 

You might be light on work experience, but have a wealth of relevant life experience to draw from, Lisa says. “Before you go on the job market, there are ways to do meaningful development projects that showcase your work — from a technical perspective but also from a mission-driven perspective,” she says. 

Lisa worked with Computer Science undergraduate students at MIT who were doing Python projects for the digital humanities, ranging from literature and history to music. Some students conducted data analysis on online public archives. “Those students could talk about how history [for example] was important to them in the context of a group development project,” says Lisa. “Those examples are great signal to interviewers that you see how the software you make can be useful in different contexts, and you’re excited about the application of what you build.” 

Contributing to open-source code or documentation, or even participating in communities related to your areas of interest are also good examples to highlight. That time spent interacting with your course mates in the Codecademy Forums and contributing to Docs will be worth it! 

Sample answer for an entry-level job seeker

“I’m Amrit, a visual art student passionate about leveraging creativity in functional design. While my background is in visual arts, I’ve honed skills in UI/UX design through personal projects. I’ve explored design principles, prototyping, and user research, aiming to create intuitive and visually appealing digital experiences. Last semester I volunteered to re-design a mobile app for our local food co-op. I’m eager to apply my artistic sensibility and design expertise to make digital interfaces more accessible.”

Be authentic and show your personality 

You already made it to the interview, which is a strong signal that you meet the minimum hard skills requirements. Now you get to show them what you’re like to work with as a human and set the tone for the rest of your interview.  

“The best interviewees, the ones that leave a lasting impression, are the ones that I enjoyed a conversation with,” Jean says. It’s normal to feel nervous, but use that energy to showcase yourself authentically.  

Be yourself and inject personal anecdotes to paint a fuller picture of who you are. “This is your one opportunity to make an impression outside of the role-specific requirements, so make an effort to share something interesting about you,” Jean says. And while you do want to be prepared, avoid sounding rehearsed by preparing some bullet points of what you want to share.  

Want to practice introducing yourself in an interview? Try out our new beta Interview Simulator: Build a mock interview based on the job title, level, type of interview and company and your own experience, then practice giving written or spoken responses. The AI interviewer is trained to ask intelligent follow-up questions like a recruiter and will provide you with feedback after the session. 

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