HOW TO ANSWER THE INTERVIEW QUESTION: “TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF”

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people throughout my career, and even though the interview question “Tell me about yourself” is one of the most commonly asked the world over, it’s the one that people tend to mess up the most.

The most common mistake people make is talking for way too long and in an unstructured manner. Some candidates go on and on, reciting their entire CV. They take the interviewer through a guided tour of their life, telling them about every job they’ve ever had, their grades in school, and more. Others lose focus and go off on unrelated tangents. During these moments, I struggled to focus on what they said. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to interrupt someone and ask them to wrap it up gently.  The worst case scenario is when you ask the candidate to give a five-minute or less introduction of themselves and, despite receiving instructions, STILL exceed the time limit. Imagine a 30-minute introduction call with a recruiter, and you talk for the session’s first 10-15 minutes. You have little time left to get through the other usual questions and topics during those conversations.

If you can’t answer the interview question, “Tell me about yourself,” in a focused, high-impact, and brief way – this could partially explain why you might not perform well during job interviews. First impressions count, and failing to answer this question reflects poorly on you as a candidate. Impressing your employers with your communication and time management skills is important.

Our Berlin Life guide is here to help you master the answer to this question by providing:

⭐ A simple structure that you can use to answer the question, with step-by-step guidance about how to develop your answer

⭐ Personal examples based on my personal experience to add further context to the provided structure

⭐ Other tips you can follow to reduce any stress you might experience and keep you focused 

⭐ Specific advice for those seeking employment in Germany

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TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF – YOUR CAREER IN A NUTSHELL

Whether you’re just starting your career, are in the middle of it, or are a seasoned veteran, our simple structure will help you quickly and easily answer the interview question “Tell me about yourself.”

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How to Structure Your Answer to “Tell Me About Yourself” 

Similar to your professional profile or about me statement on your CV, you need to tell your story through an “in a nutshell” summary that quickly walks potential employers through your education, work experience, key selling points, and what brought you there.

I recommend structuring your answer along these lines:

1) Name and where you’re from

2) Level of education and subject of study

3) Your years of experience

4) Types of companies/industries you’ve worked in

5) Touch upon things you did in those jobs with two or three brief examples – you can mention getting a promotion, taking on increased responsibilities, knocking out a significant accomplishment, etc. This is also where you can mention some of your key selling points. 

6) What brought you to Germany, or why you want to come to Germany

7) Why you’re there 

8) Something you like about the role or the company, especially things you discovered when you completed your company research.

An Example of Answering the Interview Question “Tell Me About Yourself”

To give you an idea of what your response could look like, here’s how I often answer that question:

⭐ I’m from Toronto, Canada. There, I pursued my post-secondary studies and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business Operations. 

⭐ My career started in IT project management, where I began as a project coordinator, moved on to project manager, and then program manager. At one point, I even managed a team of three software engineers. Over the years, I’ve worked in the energy sector and ad-tech space, for a ground transportation company and an NGO, and for small startups, scaleups, and big corporates.

⭐ One organization I worked for in Toronto found that the waterfall project management wasn’t for them and asked me to lead one of their first agile teams as a scrum master. Not long after, I moved to Berlin, where I continued to work as a scrum master for about 5 years, absolutely loving the new way of work. I later progressed into a coaching role, coaching individuals, teams, departments, and leadership.

⭐ Examples of things I do as an agile (and team coach) include conflict resolution, feedback training, and helping various individuals and groups find better ways of working through agility. I specialize in running workshops (both in-person and remote), to help with things like forming team agreements, creating a vision and mission, or doing fun team-building exercises. 

⭐ I’m seeking a new role as my current employer plans to downsize the workforce. While sad to leave, I’m excited to explore new opportunities. As I glanced through job openings on LinkedIn, I saw yours and applied immediately. I am interested in contributing to your organization and helping you implement new agile and lean practices to support you through your expected growth period. Finally, I’m happy to be here today and curious to learn more about the job, team, and company.

You can see that I hit all of the important points:

⭐ I mention where I’m from, which is especially interesting to German employers who may be keen to know if I need visa support, if they should hire me, and whether I can support certain markets. For example, I once (very briefly) worked as a content writer, and it was important for them to understand if I could author communications for their North American audience.

⭐ I very briefly touched on my education, different roles, and the types of industries and companies I’ve worked for.

⭐ I then mentioned a pivotal point in my career—the big change from waterfall to agile and from scrum master to agile and team coach. This is an especially important point, as the career change accelerated my professional growth and shows that I can adapt and am willing to try new things. Next, I share a few examples, without going into too much detail, about what I do as a coach and the different types of groups I support. This is where I could weave in my key selling points and describe the heart of what I do – supporting organizations and those within it by uncovering better ways of working.

⭐ I end by sharing why I’m there and what I hope to get from the interview. I also drop a small tidbit of information about why I want to work there, not just that I’m looking for new opportunities. Also, the question about why you’re looking for a new job almost always comes up during interviews. By sharing this information upfront and directly, employers usually appreciate receiving that explanation and don’t ask much more. 

I also express appreciation for being there and desire to hear more from them.

In general, answering an interview question should take you no more than two or three minutes, even this one. I usually get through this little monologue in two or three minutes while managing to tell them about my education, 20 years of experience, and more. 

Why This Structure Makes Sense

This structure works because it’s amazingly simple. But it also works for other reasons. It:

⭐ Helps you remain focused and not go off track.

⭐ Enables you to quickly and easily give an answer that doesn’t last more than two or three minutes. 

⭐ Has an impact when you provide a high level overview of not only your education and career, but the things that you do, are passionate about, and the value you can provide to companies. 

⭐ Makes employers interested and keen to learn more. Being short, but not too short, with your answers only encourages employers to ask more questions. I’ve noticed interviewers write things down as I give my speech and they almost always inquite more about the workshops I do, the types of challenges I help teams solve, or how it felt to change careers.

⭐ Demonstrates your motivation for working there when you can say a little bit about the company and express curiousity about them as well. 

⭐ Shows that you have top communication skills by being able to distill a large topic (your entire life!) into a concise and meaningful summary. 

⭐ Reflects a core value that companies like – that you’re upfront and honest and can easily talk about why you’re looking for work. 

Other Tips to Help You Master Your Response

Other essential things to do when answering the interview question, “Tell me about yourself.”:

⭐ Before your next interview, write down your response using the recommended structure.

⭐ Read it over, practice saying it out loud and refine your answer as needed. Then practice some more until you feel confident in what you’re saying.

By completing these steps, you should be able to deliver a response that is brief, impactful, and focused. Your newfound ability to do this will impress your potential employer right away, as they’ll learn just how awesome you are and why they should hire you. 💛

What has your experience been like when you’ve answered the timeless job interview question “Tell me about yourself.”? Have you tried our suggested structure? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life

Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life

Hi, I’m Cheryl. My mission is to help you move to Berlin and find work.

A Canadian in Berlin for 10+ years, I have the unique experience of moving to Berlin – not once, but twice. During my time in Berlin, I’ve had five different visas and worked as both a freelancer and a permanent employee for numerous Berlin companies. I even managed to find a new job during the pandemic and again in 2023, during Germany’s recession and massive layoffs in tech. 

My day job has involved work as a hiring manager, overseeing the recruitment of countless people, as well as a team coach helping teams and individuals work better and find happiness in their careers. Through my side projects, I’ve also shared my personal experiences by publishing a series of helpful blog posts, creating a thriving community of job seekers, and hosting events to help people find work in Berlin. In 2021, I decided to put my coaching and recruiting talents to use by creating The Berlin Life, bringing my existing content and community together in one spot.

The combination of my personal and professional experience means I know exactly what it takes to move to Berlin and find work.