This post was written by Amy Stutius, Career Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development.
In everyday life, if someone asks you to tell them about yourself, it’s usually because they want to get to know you as a person and learn about your interests, hobbies, and passions. So if I asked you to “tell me about yourself,” what would you want to say? Would you tell me that you grew up in California, love to surf, like cookie dough ice cream, and just came back from a family trip to Paris? That would all be pretty interesting, and a good conversation starter if I asked you that question while we were waiting for a treadmill to open up at the Marino Center, or if we were taking a break from studying for finals. But what if you were coming in to interview with me for a co-op, internship, or a job that you really wanted?
You response might help me realize what a fun and unique person you are, and that maybe we’d have something in common as friends, but it wouldn’t tell me anything about why I should hire you, and why you’d be a better fit for the job over any of the other candidates I’m interviewing. Remember, you’re out there trying to compete for, and secure, a great job and the way to do that is to market yourself, not as a terrific and friendly person with an interesting childhood and hobbies, but as a terrific and friendly person who can do this job better than any of the other candidates waiting in the wings!
So how do you master your answer to this question or some variance of it? Think it through and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. You’ll need to answer this question in some form during your interview, whether the interviewer comes out and asks you to “tell me about yourself,” or if they say “what brings you in here today.” Even if they don’t ask you the question that directly, it’s great for you to try to weave your proposed answer somewhere into the interview because the whole point of the answer is to clearly and articulately relay a bit about your background and experience, and why that makes you a good fit for this position and this company.
When you’re thinking through your response, I like to take the “Back to the Future” approach (part 1, that is). You want to start in the present, then travel to the past, and then head back to the present and into the future.
So by starting in the present, you’re going to be talking about your current status, namely, your class year, and major, and anything else relevant that’s going on right now. Next you’ll travel with your interviewer to the past, where you’ll share a few RELEVANT snapshots of some experiences you’ve had that tie in well to the job you’re interviewing for. These could be co-ops you’ve done, academic projects you’ve worked on, and/or any research you’ve completed. After you discuss those all-important RELEVANT experiences, you want to travel with your interviewer back to the present and start heading into the future, meaning that you’re going to very briefly find a way to explain how, through those experiences and your coursework, you’ve developed the necessary skills to make a strong contribution in this position, which especially interests you because….[and here’s where you fill in exactly why you’re so very interested in this position at this company!]
Sound good? So next time someone asks you to “tell me about yourself” in an interview, remember that they’re looking for you to tell them about yourself in a way that’s relevant to, and focused on, why you’re a great fit for the position and the company. Save any cute childhood stories and discussion of your favorite ice cream flavors for some friendly banter once you get the job!
Amy Stutius is a Career Advisor at Northeastern University. She practiced as an attorney before transitioning to higher education. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.