When preparing my students for internship and job interviews, the question that takes the longest time to prepare is, “tell me about yourself.” This is often the first question asked, and it is important to answer well because the answer sets the tone for the rest of the interview. The problem with answering this question, though, is that it is a very open-ended question. What does the interviewer want to hear about? Favorite foods? Childhood memories? Celebrity crushes? (Hint: they do not.) Here are three tips to answer this question well:
1. Focus on relevant skills and qualifications: The key to answering this question well is to answer the question while communicating the main selling points as to why the student is the best candidate for the position. In each question the interviewer asks, the interviewer is trying to answer the ultimate question of “Why should we hire this person?” Therefore, when answering “tell me about yourself,” the student should focus the answer on the student’s relevant skills and qualifications for the position. A student can discuss relevant classes the student has taken, relevant certifications and skills, extracurricular clubs where the student has gained relevant experience, and even unrelated part-time jobs where the student has demonstrated important soft skills such as leadership, teamwork, conflict resolution, and time management.
2. Keep it concise: The answer should be concise and focused. A student does not have to include all their personal background. If the answer is too long, the student will lose the interviewer’s attention, which is then difficult to regain. The student should aim for an answer that is about 45-60 seconds long.
3. Be comfortable with self-promotion: Many students are uncomfortable promoting themselves or talking about their accomplishments. However, to get the job, a student must show to the employer how the student can add value. If not, the interviewer will then choose another candidate that is more effective at communicating their value. Of course, a student should not sound arrogant or boastful when discussing their qualifications, but a student must become comfortable communicating their abilities to an employer.
Here is an example answer to “tell me about yourself” for a student seeking a mechanical engineering internship:
“I am a third-year student at UCLA majoring in mechanical engineering. I chose mechanical engineering because it combines my two academic strengths, math and science. At school, I have taken a number of engineering courses, including thermodynamics, statics, mechanical design, and mechanical systems. Through these classes, I have applied what I have learned through projects, including modeling a payload design in SOLIDWORKS, performing FEA analysis, and learning how to document processes. Outside of class, I am an active member of the school’s Bruin Formula Racing club. In this club, I am working with 25 teammates to build a racing car from scratch. I am part of the Controls sub-team, where I work with six teammates to focus on driver ergonomics and safety issues. I am skilled in Microsoft Excel and AutoCAD, and I recently passed my certification test in SOLIDWORKS. I am eager to contribute as best as I can as an intern while also gaining more real-world experience.”
Here is an example answer to “tell me about yourself” for a student seeking a digital marketing internship:
“I am a third-year student at UCI majoring in business with a focus in marketing. I am passionate about using my skills to create engaging and effective campaigns for businesses, particularly when it comes to digital marketing. Through my college years, I have gained skills in using and advertising on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Yelp, and LinkedIn. I am currently working with two local restaurants, assisting them with their digital marketing presence. For one restaurant, I have increased their Instagram follower count from 400 to 3,600 in five months by posting new content three times a week and running promotions. I hope to use my education and experiences so far to add value as a marketing intern while also continuing to develop my marketing knowledge.”
To summarize, the focus of the answer should be on how the student can contribute their knowledge and skills to the position. With preparation and practice, the student should be able to answer the question confidently and be one step closer to obtaining the position.