‘Tell me about yourself.’
This question makes people nervous. What can you say?
Honestly, this is a bad question to ask. If I was giving someone a job interview, I would never ask this question, because it makes people uncomfortable.
But, you might hear it, and need to answer! Maybe in a job interview, or an interview for university, or in an English exam, or somewhere else.
In this lesson, you’ll see answers to this question for four different situations.
One: in a job interview.
Two: in a university interview.
Three: in an English exam. This is the most general example, so if you just want a general way to respond to ‘tell me about yourself’, watch this section.
Four: when introducing yourself to new colleagues.
Before we look at our sample answers, let’s see four general tips.
First, think about the context you’re in. ‘Tell me about yourself’ doesn’t mean ‘Tell me everything about yourself.’ You need to choose where to focus.
For example, in a job interview, you should focus on your professional background.
In an English exam, you’ll probably give a more general answer.
Secondly, keep your answer short and focused. Our sample answers are mostly around three or four sentences. This is a good length to aim for.
Thirdly, remember that this question will usually be asked at the beginning of an interview. In most cases, the interviewer won’t pay much attention to the content of what you say, so don’t worry about it too much. The most important thing is that you can answer confidently and coherently.
Finally, here’s a suggestion for a general structure: make one or two sentences about your past, one or two sentences about your current situation, and one or two sentences about the future.
Now, let’s see some examples!
1. Job Interviews
- I’m currently working in HR for Dell, but actually as you’ve probably seen from my CV, my background is in graphic design. I’ve been wanting to get back to graphic design work for some time, and that’s why I applied for this position.
In this answer, you talk about your current situation, and then add details about your background.
It’s a simple answer, but that’s fine. It’s focused and clear, and it gives your interviewer the chance to ask for more details if he or she wants.
Let’s see one more example:
- I’ve been working in biomedical research for about five years. I completed my PhD four years ago, and I worked for a small pharmaceutical company here, until, unfortunately, they went out of business recently. So, I’m currently looking for a new position in biotech, pharma, or anything related to my training and experience.
This answer is a little more detailed. It also doesn’t really include information about the future. That’s OK – the past-present-future idea isn’t a template which you *have* to follow; it’s just a way to organise your ideas.
Let’s look at some language from these examples.
- I’m currently…
- My background is in…
- I’ve been working in… for…
- I’m looking for a new position in…
In sentences three and four, after ‘in’, you need to name a sector. For example, ‘I’ve been working in the education sector for seven years.’ If you want to name a company, use ‘at’. For example, ‘I’ve been working at HSBC for a year and a half.’ Learn more about this topic with our lesson on talking about your job in English.
Could you complete these sentences to make them true for you? Pause the video and try it now! Say your sentences out loud.
Next, let’s look at university interviews.
2. University Interviews
- I’ve always loved drama, watching plays, and everything else connected with the theatre. I’ve been involved in our school drama society for several years, both in terms of acting in productions and also working behind the scenes, with set design, lighting, and things like that. I’ve known for a long time that I want to be an actor, and studying drama here would be a logical next step towards that goal, I think.
This answer gives more details about the speaker’s past experience, and less information about the present and future. As you heard before, this is no problem! Don’t feel that you need to have a certain number of sentences about the past, or whatever. Different answers will fit different situations. Be flexible!
Let’s see one more sample answer.
- I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, even when I was little. My best subjects throughout school have been maths and science, but at this point I’d like to specialise more, which is why I’m applying to study astrophysics. I’m doing my IB next month, and my predicted grade is 40 or higher. I’m hoping you’ll offer me a place to study here, and I’m excited to start my studies in September.
These answers are specialised; they focus on particular subjects. But, there are several pieces of language you can use, whatever you study. Let’s look.
- I’ve always loved…
- My best subjects throughout school were…
- I’m doing … next month.
- I’m hoping…
Of course, you can change these phrases to fit your situation. For example, if you’re still at school, you’ll probably say ‘are’ or ‘have been’ in number two, instead of ‘were’.
Now, it’s your turn to practise! Use these four phrases to make your own answer, using your own ideas. Pause the video, and say your answer out loud now.
How was that? You might need to practise a few times to get everything fluent. Take your time and practise as many times as you need. Learn more about this topic with our lesson on talking about your studies in English.
Next, let’s see how to answer ‘tell me about yourself’ in a more general way, for example in an English exam.
3. English Exams
Honestly, in most English exams, you’re not likely to be asked this question. In common international exams, like IELTS or the Cambridge exams, questions are more focused.
But, it’s possible. Or, you might need to answer the question ‘tell me about yourself’ in a different situation. Let’s look at a more general answer to this question:
- Well, I was born in Vladivostok, but my dad moved around a lot for his work, so I grew up in different places: Japan, The Philippines and Malaysia. Currently I’m working part-time and studying for a Master’s in film production. I’m pretty interested in film, video production and things like that, so I’m hoping to work in that sector once I finish my studies.
You can see that the answer is more general and personal, rather than focusing on work or studies.
Let’s see one more:
- I’m originally from Buenos Aires, but I’ve been living here in Dublin for several years now. I work for an ad agency, as a copywriter, which is something I never imagined I would do, but I really like it. I was never good at English when I was younger, so it’s weird that I ended up working in a job which requires very high-level language skills. I like living here, but I feel like I’d also like to travel and experience living in other places, so I’m thinking about moving to Canada or the US in the next year or so.
This is the longest of our sample answers, but it’s still quite short: about 100 words. Remember that you don’t want your answer to be too long. Keep it short and focused!
If you’re asked the question ‘tell me about yourself’ in an English exam or general situation, let’s see some language you can use to build an answer.
- I’m originally from…
- I work for… as…
- I’m interested in…
- I’m thinking about…
In number two, you put a company after ‘for’, and your position after ‘as’. For example, ‘I’m working for Google as a tester.’
In number four, you put an -ing verb after ‘about’, to describe something which you are considering doing in the future. For example, ‘I’m thinking about changing jobs.’ Learn more in this Oxford Online English lesson on talking about the future in English.
Let’s try together. Make your own answer, using these four phrases. If you want, add more sentences or details to your answer. Pause the video, and make your answer now.
How was that? Easy? Difficult? If it’s difficult, read the sample answers – you can find the text on our website. Use the sample answers as a model, and change the details so that you’re using your own information.
Let’s move on to our last section.
4. Introducing Yourself to New Colleagues
Sometimes, if you start working in a new company, you’ll have to introduce yourself at a meeting.
Here, your answer should focus on your professional background, like in a job interview. However, you’ll probably use a more conversational English tone.
Let’s see our first sample.
- My name’s Gwen, and as you maybe know I just started here; this is my first week, in fact. I’m working in the marketing department as a web marketing coordinator. My background is a mix of marketing and software – I started my career as a software engineer. I’m still finding my feet and I haven’t met all of you yet, but I’m looking forward to working with you all. If you’re walking past my office, come and say ‘hi’!
If you work in a larger company, you might need to introduce yourself to colleagues even if you’ve worked there for some time, for example, if you’re starting a project with people you’ve never worked with before. Let’s see how that could look:
- Hi, I’m Elias. I’m the CISO, so I’m responsible for online security, and keeping our computers and networks safe. You’ve probably seen me around, because I’ve been working here for a while – almost ten years now! As you just heard, all staff need to take our cybersecurity training class, so you’ll be learning about how to stay safe online with me or one of my colleagues in the next month or two.
Here’s your final challenge: imagine you’ve started a new job, and you have to introduce yourself to your colleagues in a meeting. Make an answer to introduce yourself. You can use all the language you’ve seen in this lesson. Try to make your answer three or four sentences long. Say your answer out loud.
Could you do it? If so, great! If not, keep practising! You can also review the lesson and the sample answers to get ideas.
Now, we hope that hearing the question ‘tell me about yourself’ won’t make you feel so nervous!
So, tell me about yourself. Practise your answers and put them in the comments, and share them with other students.
Thanks for watching!