The common interview question, "Can you tell me about yourself?" feels like it should be easy to answer. You're the expert on yourself, after all. But all too often, this question, though intended to be a conversation starter, feels ultra stressful and can even paralyze job seekers.

Don't worry. If you know that "Can you tell me about yourself?" is coming, you can prepare an answer that helps the interviewer feel intrigued about who you are and what you bring to their company. Take a look at some basic guidelines for answering this all-too-common question. 

An Easy Formula to Answer the Question

Try grounding your answer to the question in time to help yourself sound polished and professional. Start with what you're doing in the present, including your current job and what you've learned there.

From the present, move back into your past and mention some of your highlights. These might be educational achievements, previous jobs, the story of how you got involved in your current field or specific accomplishments from your past that are relevant to the job you're applying for now.

Finish up your answer to "Tell me about yourself" by moving into your hopes for the future — specifically, your interest in the job you're interviewing for.

What Hiring Managers Want to Hear

The prompt "Tell me about yourself" may seem too vague to provide any valuable information to interviewers, but it's actually quite useful to hiring managers. It's an easy way to start an interview without wasting time on small talk. The question also lets interviewers get a sense for your communications skills as well as seeing if you're prepared for the interview.

Remember, job interviewers really are trying to get to know you. They may also have interviewed so many people that all the resumes they've read are blending together in their minds, and your answer will help match you to your resume. Take the moment when you're asked this common question to help set the stage for the rest of the interview by providing prompts that the interviewer can use for follow-up questions.

What Not to Say

Planning ahead for the inevitable question "Tell me about yourself" isn't quite enough. You also need to make sure you don't add material that undercuts your efforts to make a good impression.

As you plan for this question, try to avoid these pitfalls that can send your interview in the wrong direction:

  • Don't go overboard with personal details. It's okay to mention where you grew up or went to school (especially if that gives you something in common with the interviewer), but don't go into detail. Mentioning hobbies or special interests can make you stand out if they're relevant — but this isn't the time to talk about how proud you are of your kids.
  • Don't duplicate your resume in your answer. The hiring manager has already read your resume. Now is the time to add to it, not to repeat facts the interviewer already knows.
  • Don't memorize your answer. If you're reciting a memorized answer, the interviewer will be able to tell. Think of your response in bullet points, where you hit the main elements in a different way each time you answer the question.

As you hone your answer to this commonly asked interview question, you can find ways to tailor it each time to the needs of the company you're applying to. That way, you can show yourself off at your best in each interview.