How to Respond to “Tell me about yourself" During a Job Interview
“Tell me about yourself” is one of the vaguest questions a job interviewer can ask. Should you respond by discussing your childhood? Start with your current family situation and work backward? Discuss your favorite ice cream? Revert the question back to the interviewer? How could such a vague question help determine your candidacy?
According to former recruiter Barbara Saunders, this question is actually used to get an idea of your motivations. Most people, in general, even outside of an interview, will answer this question by talking about what they care most about. Even if you choose a topic that you think will impress the interviewer, you inevitably reveal your own values when you discuss what you think is most impressive.
So, focus on making an honest answer that is clear. If you're motivated by learning, frame your career as a series of learning moments and how you used that learning to contribute to your employers. If you're motivated by money, that's fine. Put it in context of benefitting the company (e.g. “When I make money, the company makes money. It’s a win-win.”) If you're in sales, being "hungry" is a good attribute for meeting quota. For other roles, talk about how your interests, lifestyle, and motivation will benefit the company. In general, talk about how you can save the company money or contribute to profitability with the work you enjoy.
Sometimes, bringing up a personal interest will spark more interesting and easier conversation. There are a lot of leisure fishermen, antiques collectors, sports team lovers, and gardeners out there. Hobbies and interests are perfectly respectable conversation starters. Talking about your interests will make you feel more comfortable, and the more comfortable you feel, the easier and more comfortable the overall conversation and interview will be.
Don’t worry about answering the way you think the interviewer wants you to answer; you will sound like you’re pandering and disingenuous. Instead, speak the truth about your interests and hobbies in the context of how your experience makes you the best candidate.