Tell Me About Yourself: A Job Interview Expert Tells Us How to Prepare for this Tough Question

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One of the toughest questions you’ll get in a job interview is “tell me about yourself.” It can be hard to summarize your work history and greatest achievements in such a short amount of time. Chances are, you’ve been in a situation where your mind went blank and you had no idea what to say.

That’s why it’s important to have an answer ready to go. But you shouldn’t just be prepared to answer this question during a job interview. No matter where you are, it’s important to be able to communicate a short answer about yourself and what you’ve accomplished throughout your career.

The Cheat Sheet reached out to Jennifer Lasater, vice president of career services at Purdue University Global, to learn how those seeking a new job can clearly share the best information about themselves and master the elevator pitch process.

The Cheat Sheet: Why do so many interviewers ask the “tell me about yourself” question?

​​Jennifer Lasater: For many interviewers, this gets the interview started. It’s a way for the candidate to tell them a little about themselves, their history, and why they are a fit for the role. Many questions usually spring up from this original question.


CS: Why is it important to have a prepared answer?

JL: If you don’t have a prepared answer, you may drone on and one without a clear focus or intention. It’s critical to be prepared for this question, otherwise you can seem scattered and lost, making you seem disorganized.


CS: What is one of the biggest mistakes job seekers make when forming an answer to the “tell me about yourself” question?

JL: They don’t prepare. They give too many personal details. Recruiters don’t want to know about your personal interests, hobbies, or family status. They want to know if you are a good candidate for the job. Your role is to illustrate to them why you are the best candidate.


CS: What are some do’s and don’ts of the elevator pitch?

JL: Be concise. This typically lasts about 30 to 45 seconds and you want to give details on your relevant work history, your education, and why you are a fit for the role.


CS: Anything to add?

JL:

  1. Know your audience. Think about who you would be pitching yourself to. The old days of pitching to someone in an actual elevator ride are probably gone, and chances are it’s now a recruiter who’s screening you for a role. When you’re asked to tell the recruiter about yourself, you need to be able to explain your professional summary, your skills, why you’re a fit for the role, and why you applied—all within 30 to 45 seconds. Don’t plan on answering the question on the fly or winging it, though. Typically, when that happens, candidates speak too long and share far too many personal details. You need to think about your audience and what they’re looking for in a candidate.
  2. Practice often. To start, write out your plan to help you get organized. Then, take the time to practice with friends, family, or your career specialist–even in front of a mirror. To go the extra mile, record yourself on your phone to pick up on any non-verbal cues that might be distracting when you’re giving your elevator pitch. By practicing your speech, you’ll be confident and prepared when the time comes to illustrate why you’re the best candidate for the job and not just any candidate out there.

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