Please tell me about yourself. Please walk me through you resume.
Some say this is the most important question to nail down in the interview, because it is usually your first impression. It could be for your MBA school admission interview, to find an internship, to raise money for your venture, or for any regular job interview. The principals of answering the question are the same. Yet the majority of people we interviewed still answered this question in a suboptimal way.
What’s behind the question?
Before we work on an answer, we need to take a step back and think about what are the goals of the interviewer beyond getting to know you, when he asks you to tell him about yourself.
First, why are you here?
Or in different words: “Why do you want this school?”, “Why MBA?”, “Why this job is the perfect fit for you?” This is a tricky one, because you also don’t want to answer a question the interviewer hasn’t asked directly. But an ideal answer should imply or make it obvious why you’re there. If you’re interviewing to a management consulting role, then it might be irrelevant and a waste of everybody’s time to tell the interviewer that you are “A creative entrepreneur who’s also good with his hands”.
Second, what can they learn about you?
Everyone can read you resume, yet they cannot understand how do you communicate just by reading it. Sometimes they can’t connect the dots without your help. What can they learn about you that they didn’t learn by reading your resume?
However, in our experience, the interviewer might never read your resume. This is particularly true in job interviews, and particularly untrue in MBA interviews conducted by staff. Sometimes they are too busy and only glance at your CV prior to the interview. So when the interview begins, the interviewer really wants to hear who you are.
Taylor your answers to the interviewer goals
Here’s our suggested framework to answering the “Tell me about yourself” question.
Start with a summary
The takeaway of who you are should be summed up in one sentence that the interviewer can remember: “I’m a musician turned entrepreneur turned consultant”, “I’m an analytical people’s person who likes to solve big problems”. The more unique this summary is about you, the better. That’s because there’s a higher chance you will stand out among the other interviewees that day or week.
Ideally this summary will give a subtle hint as to why you’re such a great fit for the job / school. For example, if this is a product management job, you want to highlight ownership and bias for action. If this is a management consulting job, you want to highlight your analytical ability. However, all of these should come second to who you uniquely are.
Remember this is probably the first sentence of the answer you’ll provide to the interviewer. It is your chance to create a connection (no pressure). So don’t try to oversell. Be humble, honest, and assertive.
Continue with the proof
Most interviewees would follow by a chronological (never ending) read out of their resume. While your answer might make sense in a chronological order, don’t think about it as a chronological story. Think about the 3 strongest bullets from your professional experience who could serve as proof to:
- Your opening statement. Did you say you were a musician? Talk a little about that. Did you say you’re analytical? Give the strongest case from your experience in a two sentence summary.
- Your fit for the job or school. Again, this should flow naturally from your summary. Try not to introduce new ideas about who you are.
- Your takeaways. How did each one of these experiences contribute to who you are today? For each bullet, tell the interviewer what you learned from the experience.
Optional: add a bit of color
If you are an avid snowboarder who had conquered 50 mountains, or have three kids with whom you love doing an activity each weekend – consider adding it to your answer. Look at the surroundings in the office, and if you have a chance research about the interviewer in advance. If you have something in common, consider bringing it up in a subtle way as a fact about yourself (don’t be creepy).
There is a small chance to create a connection with the interviewer. A small chance that if fulfilled, could make your entire interview.
Set your agenda
After the proof of who you are, seal with leading the interviewer to the next question. Remember: do not answer a question you were not asked. For example, if you want the interviewer to ask you “why McKinsey?” – end your answer with “and now I believe McKinsey is the next best step for me”.
This can also be done by explaining why you’re here. “In my journey I realized I am passionate about the cross of technology and business. That’s why I want to be a consultant in X, focusing on tech clients”.
Don’t go on and on
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice. Be concise. Everyone appreciates brevity. Limit your answer to a maximum of 2 minutes. This is similar to the 1 page resume rule.
Have an additional ready made version of 1 minute if you’re interviewing for a management consulting role.
It’s the tone, not just the lyrics
Show that you’re excited about your experience and even more about why you are there.
It’s your job to convince the interviewer that he wants you to be on his team, be your classmate, grab a beer with you, or learn more about you. This is often called the “Airport test” – Would the interviewer mind being stuck with you for 5 hours in the airport or airplane?
Remember the PPP Rule
Finally I want to share with you the key to success answering this question and also interviews in general: the PPP which stands for:
And as you guessed some more PRACTICE!
Take your Practice Seriously
- Take 30 minutes and write down your answer on paper and try to see what can you cut and where you should focus more
- Now re-write your answer until you are happy with the results
- Video record and time your answer – feel free to share your video recording with colleagues or with us to get feedback
- Practice with a friend, consultant, colleagues and anyone that is willing to devote the time for you
- Ask your significant other to ask you this question before every meal
Here are some example answers
I am tech savvy entrepreneur and avid rock climber who aspire to reach higher in everything that I do.
This is why I chose to pursue my undergrad in CS while I was still in high-school. During undergrad I led CS conferences for international Ivy school students as the Conference Club VP. This made me a much more confident communicator.
Prior to graduation I wanted to gain some hands-on experience in a big tech company so I can learn from the best. I worked at Google as a Software engineer where I focused my time on improving the way the Google Maps classifies hiking and climbing routes. I learned how to work in a team efficiently, and how good working relationships add synergy to the output.
After graduating, I launched an augmented reality app providing climbers with optimal route when directing the camera at a mountain. I built a prototype, established a team, and won a pitch competition, winning us a spot at XYZ accelerator.
Now, I want to take my technical knowledge, entrepreneurial drive, and passion for sports and supplement it with a business knowledge, a sports analytics toolset, and a network. I think that an MBA here is the best path to do so.
I am a music producer turned programmer turned product leader.
I published my first EDM record when I was 19, it was played by the world’s top DJs and gave me a boost of confidence in my ability. The journey of becoming an EDM producer had stimulated my interested in tech, as I programmed my very own virtual instruments to create a distinct sound signature in my tracks.
I started developing and eventually worked as a developer for a startup targeting artists and labels. I designed and built an algorithm for detecting plays across platforms as means to track royalties. Since we had no product managers, I researched the industry myself and spoke with labels and artists to understand their needs. This had thought me about my customer obsession and how I enjoy diving deep into the data to make informed decisions.
I progressed to become the company’s first-ever product manager, and crafted the company’s product strategy. I gained full P&L responsibility on our label funnel and was able to increase our label revenues 20% year over year by focusing on the label’s needs to uncover smaller artist DJ plays in mid-sized venues.
Now it’s time for me to take the next step as a product manager at YouTube Music, and focus on customer facing experiences.
Good luck and feel free to share your tell me about yourself answers and to get live feedback from members of our community.