Careers advice

Answering the 'tell me about yourself' interview question

Think of this as your personal elevator pitch.

“Tell me about yourself”.

This is among the most common job interview questions you should expect in NZ, but one that candidates often fear.

In fact, it’s a pretty simple one to tackle – as long as you stick to the following rules.

Spoiler alert: you can put away that autobiography you’ve started writing, the trick is to keep things concise.

Interviewers like to use this question to kick things off.

How to answer the ‘tell me about yourself’ question: the approach

Before we look at some example answers, it’s important to understand how to approach this question, so you can adapt our sample to your situation.

1. Focus on your professional experience and qualifications

The job interviewer isn’t interested in what time of day you were born, your first words or your high school nickname. This question is really inviting you to briefly summarise how your skills and experience have led to you applying for this job.

Depending on the company, you might be able to add some colour by talking about your hobbies and interests. However, this should be at the end, and shorter than the more work focussed stuff.

2. Tailor your response

While this seems like a question purely about you, it’s important to bring things back to the role you’re applying for.

How do you do this?

Show how what you’ve already achieved sets you up for the role, what you hope to get out of it, and where it will ideally take you.

Importantly, you should back up past accomplishments with solid evidence. Listing vague skills like “attention to detail” isn’t going to convince the interviewer.

3. Keep things positive

As this will probably be the first question in the interview, it’s important you kick things off on a positive note. Even if you’re desperate for a job, this isn’t the time for a sob story. Talk about why you’re excited to be there and what you bring to the table.

4. Don’t ramble on

If this is a first job interview, you’ll probably focus on your high school or uni qualifications, and what you’ve learnt from these. For those who’ve been in work for a while, you’ll be mainly summarising your employment experience.

There’s no single correct answer length, but definitely don't cover everything on your CV. After all, they’ve already seen this document. The last thing you want to do is bore the interviewer with your answer, so practice in a mock interview and find a level of detail that feels appropriate.

If in doubt, go for shorter rather than longer – the hiring manager or recruiter will ask follow up questions if they want more detail.

This isn't the time to launch into a dramatic monologue about your life.

Why do interviewers ask the ‘tell me about yourself’ question?

1. To break the ice: before getting into specifics around the job, and your skills, this question is supposed to kick things off and help you relax.

2. To remind them of your CV: the interviewer will have seen a lot of CVs, and they hope this question will prompt you to cover off the highlights of yours.

3. To get to know you: the point of a job interview is to understand what you’re like to be around, how you can help their organisation and what interests you. “Tell me about yourself” helps do this, and provides room for the conversation to move forward.

Importantly, the wording of this question isn’t always the same, and other common alternatives include:

  • “Tell me about your skills and experience.”
  • “Walk me through your background.”
  • “What’s your background?”

Tell me about yourself answer examples

1. For a first time job applicant

Uni graduate:

“I finished up my BSc in psychology two months ago, and I’m now looking for my first full time role. While my degree gave me great insights into many areas of psychology, I really gravitated towards behaviour and addiction as an area I found particularly interesting.

I based my thesis on slot machine gambling, and spent last summer volunteering with a counselling service that helps people with gambling problems. This was a really valuable experience, and I learnt heaps about creating and following therapy plans, which would be useful in your role.

Outside of studying and work, I’m an active member of my local netball team, and enjoy hiking and camping”.

If this is your first job application you could talk about school, uni or volunteering.

High school leaver:

“Since finishing high school I've been working as a site labourer for COMPANY NAME. This has been great, and I’ve learnt a lot about how construction projects run, working as part of a team and the importance of health and safety on site.

At school, my main interests were maths, wood work and graphics. To me, the skills and knowledge I’ve gained from studying these subjects, combined with my recent work experience provide a great grounding for your role.

In terms of my personal goals, the reason I was attracted to this role was because of the opportunities to learn and gain qualifications on the job. I’m aiming to become a site manager, and the training programs you offer staff would be ideal for getting closer to this goal.”

2. For a job changer

“I’ve been in sales for six years now. I started out at COMPANY A, where I was out and about on a daily basis, meeting prospective clients and demonstrating how our product could benefit their business. This also meant working closely with our product development team to ensure our offering was always in line with market expectations.

After that, I moved to COMPANY B, where I took on a more senior account management role. I had a portfolio of 10-20 clients, and my core responsibilities centred around ensuring domestic rebuys, and developing relationships with new, overseas organisations.

I’m now looking to step into a sales team leadership role. The range of experiences I’ve had as a front line rep, and in account management, mean I’m well equipped to handle a diverse team like yours, and this feels like the next natural step for me.”

By using one of these templates, you’ll have a great starting point for answering the “tell me about yourself” question in your next job interview. While preparation is key, you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed, so get your mock interviewer to give feedback on how you’re going, and if you’re starting to sound too robotic.