It’s that time of the year again and you’re sitting in a dimly lit office, staring down the menacing HR. He throws a question at you, and then another – both of which you gracefully dodge answer. You’re almost there, and you can feel it – at this point, the job is in your pocket. Until, of course, the HR mutters the unholy words, “tell me about yourself.” Your heart starts beating – you’d known this moment would come from the start.

“Tell me about yourself” is, without a doubt, one of the most confusing questions a recruiter can ask. It tends to catch you off-guard, especially if you don’t have a pre-thought answer, as it’s not a question with any sort of singular answer. If you, however, do some thinking beforehand, then you can breeze through it like any other.

So what do they want from me?

First off, no – they don’t want your life story. Funny enough, the answer to the “what” is your reaction. The idea is to throw you off-guard. After your first interview, you already get a feel to all the normal questions. “What’s your greatest strength/weakness?” Pretty much everyone asks that, and there’s a good chance you already have a canned answer to it. “Tell me about yourself,” however, can be interpreted in a lot of ways, and the answer can make or break your game.

Details, please.

As a given, the context of the answer should be relevant to the company and your career. To make it simple, when they say, “Tell me about yourself,” what they’re really asking for is for you to sell yourself. From this point of view, the question makes a bit more sense. Say you’re a door-to-door salesman & a client asks you to talk about your product. What do you answer? Well, you talk about the features of the product and on how it’s different from anything else they’ve ever seen. Then, you tailor it to their needs, specifically, and explain why they need the product here and now.

When you think about it like this, it seems a lot easier, doesn’t it?

Let’s put all that into a framework.

How to answer the question?

We start with the core of the product. What is it? It’s a vacuum cleaner. What are you? You’re a marketing expert with over 5 years of experience.

Answer example: I’m a marketing expert with over 5 years of experience. I started out in a small consulting firm, learning about Adwords & PPC. 2 years back, I switched to freelancing and developing my personal client base.

Step two, features. The vacuum cleaner is super high-tech, has about 3 times the cleaning power (or however you measure a vacuum cleaner), and is very portable (again, not an expert on vacuum cleaners).

You? You excel at online marketing, everything from search engine optimization to content creation.

Answer Example: I’ve worked with 10+ clients, helping them develop their content & SEO strategies. The goal was creating a personalized plan for their specific industry & training their in-house teams. Some highlights include ranking on high-competition keywords for 2 companies, leading to a 40% increase in revenue. On the other hand, I’ve helped companies have their content published in big medias, such as Mashable, Forbes, and Techcrunch.

Finally, you need to convince them how you’re relevant for this specific position in this particular company. In the case of the vacuum, you can emphasize how hard it can be to drag around a giant hunk of metal around the house, and how it is easier and faster if the thing’s portable. Now, in human terms.

Answer Example: Freelancing caused a big part of my time to be dedicated to client acquisition, that’s why right now, I’m looking for something more stable so that I can use my time to grow my expertise even further. I’ve worked with clients in your industry and have gone through your blog, I’m confident that within the next few weeks you’ll start seeing results.

Over to you.

I’ve been on many job interviews and each time it was pretty stressful. The good thing is, I always learned something new. Now that you know what exactly they seek to know when they ask ‘’Tell me about yourself’’ you’ll be prepared and stand out from the other candidates.

Good luck!