Let’ssay you’rea professional with a stretch of long-term unemployment. Or you’rea career changer, and your success stories are unique to a different ...

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how do you know where to start? It takes a bit of research and practice. But it’s worth it. And at least you can be sure that you won’t start your interview with a rant about your early childhood diseases. This guide will show you:  What the interviewer is really asking.  How to answer the tell me about yourself interview question.  Several examples of the best way to answer and why.

The tell me about yourself interview question is one of the first you'll hear in an interview. Now, a lot of job seekers find it tough to provide a satisfying answer. That’s because they’re not sure what the hiring manager is asking. So, what is the hiring manager asking? There are a few possible ways that hiring managers can phrase the request. Even if the hiring manager doesn’t ask you point blank to talk about yourself, it’s a good idea to prepare an answer. That’s because the entire interview is about answering this question.

You might hear: Tell me about yourself. Tell us a little about yourself. Tell something about yourself. Say something about yourself. Describe yourself in three words. What would you like me to know about you? But what are they really asking? Tell me about yourself as a professional. What do YOU think is important for the job? How are you going to fit in with the company and provide value? Can you answer an “unstructured” question on the fly?

You’ll also want to keep in mind that the request is “unstructured.” See, the hiring manager will leave some interview questions vague on purpose. That’s because the hiring manager wants to see HOW you answer the question. She’s less interested in what you say.

To talk about your professional self, you’ll need to do two things. First, you’ll need to identify your greatest professional achievements. Second, you’ll need to tailor your accomplishments to the needs of the company.

So, what are your greatest achievements? Ask yourself: Have you ever accomplished anything at work that you can illustrate with numbers? (Good examples are earning money, cutting costs, or improving efficiency.) Can you think of accomplishments that demonstrate how well you use a skill? Was there a time when your boss praised you? Did you ever win an award or receive a promotion? Note, you do not have to take your examples from your job experience.

If you have little or no work experience, you can take examples and success stories from anywhere. 

Are you a student or fresh graduate? Your achievements can include success stories from your extracurricular activities. You can also talk about awards and honors you received at school. Let’s say you’re a professional with a stretch of long-term unemployment. Or you’re a career changer, and your success stories are unique to a different industry. It’s more than okay to refer to success stories from jobs you had a long time ago. Your tell me about yourself answer can span your entire career. You can also talk about your achievements at the jobs you held in different industries. The point of the exercise is to identify your achievements. You’ll narrow them down later. You can write down as many as you can think of now. Once you have a master list of your top achievements, go back and take a long look at your job description. Underline all the skills and requirements listed. Where do you exceed the requirements?

The STAR approach is an interview technique that helps you keep your answers on the right track. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result: Situation - You start by explaining a situation which required you to solve a problem, use a skill, or come up with a new idea. Task - Next, you explain the action that your job requires in such a situation.

Action - After, you describe the action that you took. If it’s different than the required task, you should also explain why you chose a different path.

Part One - Your Professional Persona It’s good to tell the hiring manager how long you’ve been working and for whom. At this point, it’s also not a bad idea to name drop if you can. Of course, never mention confidential clients.

Part Two - What Makes you Stand Out Here’s where your achievements and past success stories come into play. Use the examples you’ve come up with to illustrate the skills and value you’ll bring to the position. Don’t forget to use the STAR approach when answering the tell me about yourself interview question.