interview questionsInterviews are often the most anxiety-inducing part of the job search. There are awkward handshakes, you’re trying to remember all the interviewers’ names, and you’re worried there is food in your teeth.

But the main point of anxiety for many people is the interview questions — especially the inevitable ones with no clear answer.
This includes one of the vaguest interview questions that appears nearly every time: “Tell us about yourself.” Your response to these four words can make or break the rest of the interview.

If you want it to “make” your interview, remember this: The question should be viewed not as a trap but as an opportunity. Here is your chance to tell the interviewers who you are and how your education and experience makes you stand out among your competitors.

Here are some tips about what to say — and what not to say — when this is one of your interview questions:

Why This Interview Question is Important

A variation of this question is usually asked at the beginning of the official interview. It often sets the stage for the interviewer’s first impression of you. Whatever you say will start to shape the interviewer’s thoughts of you as a candidate for the job.

Not only is this your first impression, but it’s the first time you can make your argument as to why you are the perfect candidate.

Someone has read your resume and decided you deserve an interview. But now you must show why, exactly, you should be hired above all others. Your answer should not distract from your work experience, or from the skills you learned in your degree program, but rather, it should highlight what you have to offer.

What Not to Say

A bad answer to this question can have a big impact on the rest of your interview. So, before you craft the perfect answer, here are some tips on what to avoid1:

  • A word-for-word repeat of your resume. The interviewer has read your resume already, so don’t list every degree you’ve received and job you’ve had. While they probably don’t remember your exact education and experience, they already know you are suited to the job on paper. Now is a time to prove it in person.
  • Saying nearly nothing. Do not just say a vague sentence in hopes of getting past the question. You must sell yourself as a candidate, so modesty is not best in this scenario.
  • Generalizations. Be specific about what skills you have and how you acquired them. Saying “I have a lot of programming experience” won’t go as far as “I worked as a software analyst for a financial company for six years.”


What to Say

Now that you know some things to avoid, your perfect answer should showcase the skills you are the proudest of and that you think connect to the position the most.
Here are some topics you should include in your answer:

  • State your professional identity. Pamela Skillings, in a piece at, says, “Your first sentence should be an introduction to who you are professionally, an overview statement that shows off your strengths and gives a little sense of your personality, too.”1
  • Highlight your achievements. As your only advocate in the interview, you have to brag on yourself a little. What are some of the greatest moments in your career that you think encompass your abilities? Here is a good place to show your previous experience and enthusiasm for a future opportunity.
  • Explain why you’re an applicant. Interviewers don’t want to waste their time talking to people who are applying for no reason other than a paycheck. They want someone who is passionate about getting that specific job and shows interest in the company.


Many coaches say to follow a simple formula: Present-Past-Future.2

You begin with your current position and its duties, highlighting what is relevant to the job for which you are interviewing. Next, you summarize past positions and the skills you acquired that will help you in the new role. Last, explain why you are passionate about getting the job at this company. This set-up is meant to keep your answer on a clear trajectory, so you don’t spend too much time on one section.ii

How to Prepare

Another answer formula outlines a great way for you to organize your thoughts and come up with the best answer to this interview question. It focuses on five categories for you to discuss3:

  1. Professional achievements
  2. Educational accomplishments
  3. Skills that will help you in this job
  4. Goals in your career and professional life
  5. Why you’re interested in the company

Make a list of all the relevant information that fits in these five categories. Pick out the skills and accomplishments in each section that show you can succeed in the job.

While you may want to share all your success stories with interviewers, limit yourself to 30 seconds for each category.3

Get Skills that Will Impress in Interviews

Looking to improve the education and skills sections on your resume? Grantham can help!

Our Introduction to Programming certification program can help you develop a foundation for a range of skills you need for a successful career in programming. Classes begin every month, so contact us today to get started!

Apply at Grantham