How to Answer 'Tell Me About Yourself'

By: Cherise Threewitt  | 

Man being interviewed
"Why yes, I'd be happy to tell you about myself." vgajic/E+/Getty Images

Have you ever been caught like a deer in headlights when a casual acquaintance or potential employer asked you to tell them about yourself? If it hasn't happened recently, it will eventually. As reported by CNBC, psychologists tend to agree that a simple "tell me about yourself" is the best icebreaker there is. It's a great way to get to know someone because it's so simple and open-ended, and allows the person to choose a topic they're comfortable discussing. Yet, the way the person chooses to answer the question can be as interesting as the answer itself, especially if it's asked in specific situations or contexts. Here's a great response that Bill Gates gave Steph Curry when the basketball superstar interviewed Gates.

Why can such a simple question be so hard to answer? If the question catches you off-guard, you might simply be unprepared or uncomfortable talking about yourself. Here are a few scenarios where you're likely to be asked this question and some recommendations for ways to answer it.

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The Job Interview

"Tell me about yourself" is a common way for an interviewer to warm up a candidate at the beginning of a job interview, whether it's in person or via videoconference. It tests the candidate's confidence and can set the tone for the rest of the conversation. If you're asked this question in an interview, the interviewer is likely expecting a response in the context of the job you're interviewing for, such as an overview of your professional background, which you can steer around to why you're a good fit for the role. The key here is to answer the question without getting too personal or rambling on too long. If you're heading into a job interview, definitely expect this question and have an answer prepared that hits on your past experience, present situation and future goals or objectives as they relate to the job. Indeed notes that you'll want to keep your response under two minutes and make it interesting to differentiate you from all the other candidates who have answered the same exact question.

The First Few Days of Work

You nailed the interview and got the job! As you ease in, you're likely to meet a lot of people and be expected to answer some variation on the "tell me about yourself" question numerous times. Again, keep it simple and professional. Share your name and your role at the organization, and past information, if relevant. If pressed for more personal information, hobbies are usually a safe bet. If you aren't sure how much to share or want to take the focus off yourself, ask the person about their role, which is a good opportunity to learn more about your new workplace.

The First Date

Out on a date with someone new, or striking up a conversation at a bar or a party? You can get a little more personal here, but again, keep it simple, and ideally, talk for no more than a minute or two. The trick is to be prepared for the question without sounding like you were waiting to be asked, sound interesting without sounding like you're bragging, and turn it back to the person you're talking to in order to keep the conversation flowing. Talking about your interests gives you the opportunity to ask the other person if they've ever tried your favorite hobby, and if not, what they're into. Whatever you do, don't turn around and ask the person the same exact question, says relationship site YourTango, as they won't be impressed with your originality.

Meeting the Parents

We saved the best (or most stressful?) for last. Meeting your partner's parents is likely to cause some anxiety, understandably, but chances are, they just want to get to know you a little better. To an extent, you can treat this occasion like you would a first date, engaging in a back-and-forth of interesting information. Be prepared to share fun anecdotes about your life and ask questions back in return, but here, it's especially important to be polite.

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