WARNING! Tell Me About Yourself: Bad Answers To Avoid [Video + Transcript]

Updated September 7, 2022

10-minute watch

In many cases, it's likely that your interviewer hasn't had a chance to fully review your resume, so your answer to "Tell me about yourself" is effectively your first professional introduction and sales pitch. If you answer it successfully, you form a compelling first impression that makes a potential employer want to learn more. But if you make any one of the five mistakes listed in this video, you could put off the recruiter and end up overlooked. Make sure to stick around till the end for the best way to structure your answer to this question! Let's dive into the top five mistakes.

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"Tell me about yourself" mistakes to avoid

Mistake #1: Failing to adapt your response to the employer and role at hand.

This is easily the most impactful mistake that people make when answering the question and for good reason. The question is, after all, "Tell me about yourself." So intuitively, most people end up with some sort of canned response about their career path that they use for every interview.

But this neglects the most fundamental principle of marketing. Know your audience. Although your experience doesn't change from interview to interview, the wants and needs of the employers you're interviewing with do, even if it's just slightly. To avoid this mistake and make a successful pitch, think critically about what skills or experiences would be most appealing to the employer, and plan to emphasize those.

If you're not sure what information would be the most appealing, you're in luck. It's all on the job posting. Look at the requirements and skill sections to find your angle, and then stick to it in order to maintain a focused, professional offering.

Pro tip: Always end with an explanation of what brings you here today. For example, were you looking for something more than in your past role? Position this employer as a unique solution.

Before I move on, if you've watched this far, give us a “like” and subscribe below for our latest career advice!

Mistake #2: Repeating your resume.

Now, while this topic prompts you to share your career highlights, it's not wise to essentially regurgitate your resume job by job. Doing so not only fails to tailor your introduction to the job at hand, but it's also not engaging. It doesn't allow the employer to connect with you on a human level.

Remember, you aren't just trying to get the employer to buy into your experience. You're also trying to make them like you and invest in you as a person. So instead of just repeating your resume, tell a condensed version of your professional story, aiming to focus on what you accomplished and the tangible results, not just a list of your job titles.

And don't be afraid to speak about your professional motivations and career aspirations. Now, this can be tricky for folks who've either had long careers or just starting out, so in each of those cases, here's what I'd recommend. If you've had a long career, it's reasonable to explain any big career transitions and how they've gotten you closer to where you want to be before returning to what you achieved in your most recent relevant job and what you're looking for out of this role.

If you're at the beginning of your career, focus on your education and your motivation to join the company and the specific role.

WARNING: If you find yourself saying, "Well if you have a copy of my resume..." you're in a danger zone! Regroup and laser in on the relevant accomplishments to the job you are interviewing for.

Mistake #3: Giving a chronological life history.

While you do want to tell a story in order to capture your interviewer's interest, it's critical to keep your response professional and relevant. So instead of telling a chronological life history, force yourself to identify whether you have a relevant reason for sharing details about your early life. Recounting your entire life story does not consider the employer's goal of linking your previous experiences to the company's priorities.

It's fine to refer to a feature of your upbringing if it's relevant. For example, if you became a dental hygienist because your mom was a dentist. But in general, don't refer to your earliest years.

WARNING: If your answer begins with "I was born in..." it's a danger zone!

Mistake #4: Talking about controversial topics or personal information.

This is in a similar vein as the last tip. While building rapport with a potential employer is useful, certain topics that are overly controversial or personal pose more risk than reward. You do want to connect on a personal level, so if asked, be prepared to sprinkle in some personal color, such as hobbies you're particularly passionate about.

However, if this isn't asked by an interviewer, it's not worth mentioning hobbies in your initial response to this question, especially when it comes at the cost of sharing other relevant professional experience or making your response too long. Religion, relationships, politics, health and even recent news stories should remain off the table.

If you do slip up and find yourself mentioning some of these private details or controversial subjects, aim to connect them to the topic of your career, and then quickly move on.

WARNING: Any answer that begins with "My home life..." is a danger zone.

Mistake #5: Rambling.

The goal in answering this question is to share your best pitch while seeming professional, confident, and at ease. And rambling can undermine the value of your response by making you seem more nervous than you are and potentially overwhelming the interviewer with information so that they lose the key thread of why you're a match for the position. Instead, take no more than two-to-three minutes to answer.

It's better to err on the side providing too little information rather than too much. If the recruiter wants to know more, they'll ask you to expand. To achieve this, prepare a concise answer ahead of time. This question is almost always asked in an interview in one form or another, and even when it's not, it benefits you to prepare for it because it requires you to think critically about the best way to talk about yourself in relation to the particular role.

The goal here is not to create a word-for-word response that you can memorize because that can sound scripted, and if you miss a word, it can really throw you off track. Instead, consider bullet points or just think through the overall arc of your response in a way that you can easily retain. Consider recording yourself, listening for areas where you can tighten your pitch. Sometimes we come across differently than we think, and a recording can help to reveal that.

Pro Tip: Everyone is nervous in an interview. If a lot of time has passed since the hiring manager has spoken, take a breath. Recover by saying, "Wow, that was a lot. I hope you can tell I'm really excited about this opportunity!" It's better to show self-awareness if you've caught yourself speaking quickly. For more information on how to create confident body language in an interview, I highly recommend you check out this video right here.

The best way to avoid rambling is to know how you want to structure your response.

So for my final tip, I'll leap into the winning response format that I mentioned at the beginning of the video. Use the present, past and future format to structure your response.

Start out with the present. It's best to start here because this is the most pertinent information as to whether you're qualified for the job.

Think about, where are you in your career right now or most recently as it relates to the role that you're interviewing for. Share what you've been doing most recently by giving a high-level view of your role that includes your title, responsibilities, and projects that you've worked on recently.

You want to try to show a relationship with this work and the role that you're applying for. If you're transitioning into a new role or industry, this is a great time to mention certifications you've completed, classes you've taken or personal projects that you've worked on. So in that case, start with your most relevant experience before shifting to your most recent role, and be sure to highlight the transferable skills you acquired that apply to the new role.

Then move on to the past. Basically, this is where employers like to hear a story of how and why you got to where you are right now. Begin with your motivation for entering the field.

You don't want to just provide a timeline for how you got here. You want to focus on your first professional ambitions for pursuing this career path, and this section can change depending on how relevant your current role is to the job that you're interviewing for. If you're changing industries, it's helpful to highlight the transferable skills you bring, even when your previous role may not seem relevant at first glance.

Wrap up by talking about the future. This part of your response is a great opportunity to get strategic with your answer and align your personal goals with those of the company. Aim to show that you've researched the company, that you know what their values are and have read their mission statement, and that you're specifically well-positioned to fill this role. By addressing how you support the employer's goals and how their values align with yours, you're showing them that it's a good match and that you're invested in them.

The future statement is all about the “why”. Why do you want this role? Why are you passionate about this opportunity? Speaking about what excites you about the role or the industry could remind your interviewer why they got into this business, which makes you much more relatable and helps to build that human connection.

And this strategy also creates a natural close to your answer. You're inviting the interviewer to deepen the conversation and shifting the focus to the topic at hand, the job. For more in-depth examples of present, past and future statements, check out this video on "Tell Me About Yourself":

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Recap of "Tell me about yourself" mistakes to avoid

All right - Let's quickly recap what we've covered here today.

Don't use the same response for every employer. Instead, adapt your story for each opportunity.

Don't repeat your resume by listing each job title. Instead, tell a professional story that highlights your key accomplishments. Don't provide a chronological life history. Instead, start with the beginnings of your career, and question whether you have a valid reason for mentioning details about your early life.

Don't discuss controversial or personal topics. Instead, stick to innocuous topics when building rapport, like what you do for fun. Don't ramble. Instead, keep your answers to two to three minutes by preparing ahead of time. And finally, our bonus tip was to structure your response using the present, past, future format.

If you found this helpful, please hit the “like” button down below. You can subscribe to our channel right here for more career advice. And for more tips, I recommend checking out this playlist here:

Finally, for a video on how to answer the most common interview questions, be sure to check this out:

I hope you found this information on knowing how to avoid these common mistakes helpful.

Thank you for watching!

Nonverbal communication is one of many tools that can help you make a good impression in interviews and in your professional life. However, candidate assessments should be based on skills and qualifications, and workplaces should strive to be inclusive and understanding of individual differences in communication styles.

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