Preparing an effective answer to a common and challenging question.

In almost every interview, there will be an open-ended self-description opportunity, along the lines of: “So, tell me about yourself.” Often the interviewer will begin the interview with this type of question, and your answer will be one of the first things the interviewer hears from you. How you respond can set the tone of the interview, provide some direction for further questions from the interviewer, and establish your personality and attitude. It’s important to be prepared to answer this question confidently, clearly, and precisely, and to use your response to cover ground that you have thoughtfully considered. You should aim for an answer that runs between 1.5 and 2 minutes long. Because this is such a standard interview question, it’s crucial to appear well-prepared to answer it— a rambling, disorganized response, or an answer that is either too long or too short, can indicate that you did not prepare well for the interview.

There is a method to designing a proper and appropriate answer to this question. Below is a bulleted list of areas to cover, with some tips to keep you on the right track.

  • Remember that your answer should be under 2 minutes in length.
  • Mention one or two positive personal traits: enthusiastic, hard working, diligent, organized, patient, etc.
  • Talk briefly about where you grew up and your family. Example: “I grew up in North Central New Jersey with my parents and two brothers.”
  • Mention any accomplishments (e.g., Eagle Scout, student body president, athlete, etc.), but keep it short and to the point.
  • Transition to work-related information or information that will demonstrate why you would be an asset to the business.
  • Speak about any training or related experience that would be relevant to the position: degrees, courses, certifications, work experience, etc.
  • If you volunteer for any organizations or charities, include this information after you’ve talked about job-relevant training and paid experience.
  • Have a clear closing for your answer.
  • Only elaborate if the interviewer asks you to clarify something you mentioned.
  • Interviewers value concise answers that have specific points. Many interviewers must make sure that interviewees meet the requirements listed for the position. Keep this in mind as you craft your answer.
  • Use appropriate language and grammar.
  • Do not share irrelevant or negative information.
  • Be calm and composed.
  • Pace your answer: though you want to be brief and to the point, it’s important to avoid speaking too quickly or sounding like you are rushing.

The preparation you devote to this answer will serve you well in any interview situation.

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