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How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” for College Students

Updated: Jun 9


Navigating the “Tell me about yourself” question in job interviews can be a pivotal moment for college students. We’ve gathered insights from twenty professionals, including HR managers and CEOs, to offer their best tips. From avoiding generic descriptors to preparing with mock interviews, these experts provide a roadmap for crafting a compelling personal narrative.


  • Avoid Generic Descriptors

  • Be a Storyteller with Relevance

  • Show Professional Presence

  • Transition from Basics to Aspirations

  • Structure Your Response Strategically

  • Formulate a TMAY Elevator Pitch

  • Focus on Industry Engagement

  • Convey Fluency Over Content

  • Tell a Resonant “Why” Story

  • Showcase Proactivity and Eagerness

  • Tailor Your “About Me” Response

  • Craft a Concise Elevator Pitch

  • Emphasize Skills and Aspirations

  • Deliver a Low-Risk Pitch

  • Highlight Soft Skills with Examples

  • Focus on Three Key Aspects

  • Share Your Major Choice

  • Blend Personal and Professional

  • Communicate Passion for the Role

  • Prepare with Mock Interviews


Avoid Generic Descriptors


As a regular interviewer (and I’m guessing others feel the same), generic words such as “passionate,” “reliable,” “motivated,” “conscientious,” and so on, just wash over you like white noise during an interview. You might as well save your breath. We know when candidates are telling us what we want to hear, and it can come across at best as a lack of imagination and is predictable at the very least.

I want to figure out for myself whether a candidate is passionate, reliable, or conscientious, so by giving me some specific background details or relaying a situation where they’ve demonstrated the kind of person they are, this really fleshes out that individual. For example, I want to hear:

  • what their passions are

  • what makes them tick

  • what gets them up in the morning

  • what stimulates and fascinates them


And the “whys?”

This tells me whether or not they’re the sort of person we need for the role. So, if they’re the kind of person who needs to be on the move—off scuba-diving, climbing mountains, or engaging in other physical adventures—then perhaps meticulous, focused editorial work wouldn’t be for them ultimately. However, if they tell me about their love and passion for words and their etymology, or their love of reading and how they get a real kick out of sublime sentence structure, then, bingo! You’ve got me interested.

And if my assumptions aren’t correct, then I need to be persuaded otherwise….


Of course, I’m interested in a candidate’s family life and the name and breed of their dog, but that can come later. What I really want to know is what attracted them to the position applied for in the first place. I can very quickly tell if they don’t really know about the job or the company, or have done no research whatsoever, and have simply uploaded their CV for a bit of job-fishing, so it’s imperative that they make it clear to me what they have in their personal repertoire or about their character that would make them a great fit for the company.


Anyone can pay lip service; believe me, it’s easy to do an unimpressive interview. Yet, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to stand out from the crowd, so my advice to any college student is to get yourself noticed and big up those unique traits that make you the perfect person for the job!


Lisa Tucker, Head of HR and Communications, Intellek


Be a Storyteller with Relevance


We get a lot of fresh college graduates for interviews at our legal process outsourcing company. Every time we conduct interviews or participate in college placement rounds, we allocate 1-2 minutes for the candidate to introduce themselves and the customary “tell me about yourself” session. 


We usually prefer a candidate to be more of a storyteller, as we know that a college student might lack practical knowledge of the actual process on which we work. We also prefer minimal usage of industry jargon and more real-life incidents, where the job responsibilities laid out in the recruitment offer are fulfilled or accomplished by the candidate through a personal incident, or any academic qualification. This gives a better peek into the skills of the candidate and shows how street-smart they are in applying college education to real-world problems.


I also prefer when college students read and research the job responsibilities prior to showing up at the interview. When a candidate weaves some keywords from the job description while responding to “tell me about yourself,” it sprinkles magic dust on their responses and makes their story more believable, further making them a potential future star at our company.


College students appearing for interviews should also try to demonstrate the impact of their work at any previous internship in quantifiable terms. For example, the contract drafting associate at our company told us that in one of her previous internships, she could speed up the teardown sheet preparation by 60%, resulting in reduced cycle time and improving the TAT for their final customers. 


The techniques described by her during the interview were relevant to the requirements we had, and she explained it in a quantifiable way while sticking to a storytelling tone. Her authenticity and lack of robotic recitations landed her a job at our company.


Aseem Jha, Founder and Head of Customer Delivery, Legal Consulting Pro


Show Professional Presence


Start your answer by saying, “As you may have read in my LinkedIn profile…” to show professional presence, and be sure that your profile fits the jobs you are pursuing and answers how you excel at what you do. 


Then work into your reply to the interviewer(s), “I reviewed your profile and would like to ask you a few questions as they relate to my career path, from your experience.” Watch them sit up straight because no one does this! And you will stand out for it.

Marc W. Halpert, LinkedIn Coach, Trainer, Marketing Consultant, connect2collaborate.com


Transition from Basics to Aspirations


When asked, “Tell me about yourself” in a job interview, start by quickly covering the basics like your hometown, university, and major, ideally within a minute. The key tip here is to then seamlessly transition into a deeper dive of your interests and professional aspirations. Let your personality fly! Talk about what drew you to your major, which career path(s) interest you, or the types of learning experiences you’re looking for. You can also tie in extracurriculars and share what relevant skills they have helped you build.


For example, you could say, “My name is Katie, and I’m graduating from Boston College this spring. I’m originally from Texas and came to Boston to study marketing. I’ve interned at two software companies over the last three years, helping each organization build out their social media and email marketing strategies. I love marketing because it’s the perfect blend of writing, psychology, and design, and I’m looking for a role that allows me to explore all three of these areas. This social media strategist role especially caught my eye because I’ve built a significant Instagram following for my food blog, and I’m interested in using the skills I’ve learned there in a more professional setting. In my free time, I love exploring Boston’s food scene, performing in my college’s improv group, and reading romance novels!”


The goal here is to make your introduction memorable enough to stand out and open up various avenues for further discussion during the interview. This approach not only personalizes your opening but also demonstrates a clear link between your academic pursuits, personal interests, and the job you’re interviewing for, making you a much more relatable and compelling candidate.


Katie White, Content Marketing Manager, Centime


Structure Your Response Strategically


One key strategy for delivering this response is to structure it strategically and concisely.

You can start by summarizing your academic background and initiatives that match the requirements of the position. Emphasize your internships, part-time jobs, if there are any, or other activities that honed your skills. If you want to be more creative, you can inject an object that symbolizes your characteristics. This will leave a powerful impression on the interviewer.


Remember how critical it is to tailor your response to the particular job and company you’re applying for. This approach shows not only your suitability for the job but also your thorough understanding of the company.

Make sure that your response lasts only two to three minutes. This encourages follow-up questions, leading to a lively and insightful discussion about your potential.


Bianca Nagac, Marketing Manager, MVP Asia Pacific


Formulate a TMAY Elevator Pitch


Tell Me About Yourself, or TMAY as I like to call it, is a frequent opener from interviewers to get candidates talking about themselves.

A common way to formulate your TMAY is as follows:

My name is ________, and I am a (Profession/Level)

With expertise in (function or capabilities)

My strengths include (unique professional qualities)

Particular accomplishments or distinctions relevant to the position are:

I have worked for/with (type of organizations/industries)

I am now seeking a permanent, interim, or consultant role and would like to apply my skills in delivering for your organization.


Of course, you can adapt this for your own individual situation. Practice saying this out loud so that you can deliver it at the drop of a hat. Perfect for the beginning of an interview—in person, via Zoom, or on the telephone. Can also introduce yourself in a new situation. Keep it under 2 minutes.


Jane Ferré, Talent Management Strategist, Jane Ferré Coaching


Focus on Industry Engagement


It seems obvious, but this is something I didn’t know when I was in college. “Tell them what they want to hear” has become my new mantra.


If you’re a college student and you’re asked, “Tell me about yourself,” in a job interview, say this: “Honestly, I pretty much spend all my time learning about [the industry you’re applying to], but I need first-hand experience, which is why I’m looking at this job. This profession is something I’m very interested in, but the best way to learn is by doing.”

Here’s why this answer works: It shows you’re engaged with the profession and will probably do above-average work. It shows you’re interested, so you will work hard. Finally, it shows you’re a self-starter.


You may be asked, “What have you learned so far?” But, since you’re a college student, you won’t be expected to be an expert in the subject. What interviewers most want to hear is that you’re passionate, eager to learn, and eager to work.

Tell them what they want to hear.


Edward Sturm, SEO and Marketing Expert, Edwardsturm.com


Convey Fluency Over Content


When answering this question, the most important thing you need to convey is fluency. Employers want to know whether candidates have communication skills and whether a candidate can speak about themselves in a smooth, natural way. The content of your response isn’t the priority; it’s the delivery that your interviewer will be assessing. 


No one is expecting a college student to have decades of experience or highly developed workplace-relevant skills. Consequently, you don’t need to immediately start listing buzzwords or highlighting personal competencies; this isn’t the goal of the question. Instead, simply tell the interviewer about yourself, but with a particular focus on presenting that information fluently.



Tell a Resonant “Why” Story


A great way to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself,” is by telling a story that explains your “why” and how it aligns with the company’s mission and values. Try to make the story interesting and avoid rambling. 


Above all, stay authentic. Don’t make stuff up to try and win over your interviewer. Do highlight the aspects of your backstory that you feel would resonate most, and show a little emotion without losing control.


Dennis Consorte, Digital Marketing and Leadership Consultant for Startups, Snackable Solutions


Showcase Proactivity and Eagerness


For obvious reasons, college students can’t be expected to have extensive work experience. Luckily, job history is not everything. Therefore, when asked, “Tell me about yourself,” college students should do their best to showcase their proactive attitude, motivation, and eagerness to learn.


Elaborate on the academic accomplishments you take pride in. It’s good to mention membership in student organizations, internships, and volunteer work. Also, don’t be shy to talk about your interpersonal skills and character traits that could make you a valuable employee. After all, it’s often easier to train someone to do the job than to interact with people.


Last but not least, to make your answer both compelling and convincing for a recruiter, provide relevant examples illustrating what has shaped you the way you are and how you can use this experience in the position you’re applying for.


Agata Szczepanek, Community Manager, LiveCareer Tailor Your “About Me” Response


When asked, “Tell me about yourself” in a job interview, shine by focusing on your strengths. Talk about something you’re good at that matches the job. Like, I talk about my internship where I made social media more popular by 30%. Numbers matter, and they remember that. 

Keep it short, connect your experiences to the job, and speak with excitement. It’s not just about saying what you did, but showing why you love it. Remember, it’s not reading your resume but telling a story about why you’re perfect for the job.

Joe Li, Managing Director, CheckYa


Craft a Concise Elevator Pitch


The “Tell me about yourself” question can seem like a loaded question because it is vague. You can’t give your entire life story to answer this question because that would take too long, but you also want to highlight your accomplishments, and you might have years of those. 

This question is also referred to as your elevator pitch. It is called this because to answer this question, you should only take about 20-30 seconds to answer, or about the time it would take to introduce yourself to someone if you are riding in an elevator with them.

For this question, follow this skeleton:

Introduce yourself: This could include your name, your current professional role, and academic background.

Objective or Goal: What are you seeking or looking to achieve? Are you going for a professional role, or admission into a school or internship?

Relevant experience and value: Highlight your strengths here. What sets you apart from others? This would be a great place for you to back that up with an example that is relevant to the context of your strengths.

Skills: Showcase your specific skills or qualifications that make you a good fit for the role. Focus on what you bring to the table for them.

Remember:

  • Don’t include unnecessary detail. If this is an interview, you can talk about the details as you answer other questions.

  • Exude passion in your communication. Show a genuine interest in the role or opportunity. Don’t forget to smile!

  • Practice. Practice answering this question as it is almost always going to be part of an interview, a networking event, a college fair, etc.

Mary Krull, SHRM-SCP, PRC, Lead Talent Attraction Partner, Southern New Hampshire University Emphasize Skills and Aspirations


As an HR leader, with a sibling who’s currently a college freshman, I have discussed this topic quite a bit. The major piece of advice I stick to is to emphasize your skill set, aspirations, and goals. 

For instance, if applying for positions like a barista, cashier, or customer service agent, it’s essential to showcase how the skills acquired in these roles align with broader career objectives. For example, you can highlight organizational and multitasking skills as they relate to schoolwork and their relevance to the fast-paced nature of the job. 

This approach not only demonstrates suitability for the specific role but also conveys a strategic and forward-thinking mindset.

Brittney Simpson, HR Director, CallRevu Deliver a Low-Risk Pitch


Keep in mind that when you’re asked a question, the person asking might actually mean something different from the words they’ve chosen to use. “Tell me about yourself” is often said by interviewers who aren’t well-prepared and might not even remember what job they’re interviewing you for. 

Give them an elevator pitch—maybe 30 seconds—about the role, why you feel you’re well-qualified, and how hiring you will be better for them than hiring any other candidate. You’re unlikely to know much about the others, but if you can convince the interviewer that you’re a very low-risk hire, you’re far more likely to get the job.

Steven Rothberg, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, College Recruiter


Highlight Soft Skills with Examples


While you may lack considerable work experience, I recommend focusing on the skills you have gained through academic and extracurricular activities. A few examples of this kind of work include taking the helm at a club, volunteering, or working occasionally. 

Provide concrete examples to illustrate the importance of “soft skills,” such as collaboration, communication, and problem-solving. Consider sharing an example of a collaborative endeavor in which you served as team captain and overcame significant obstacles.


Cindi Keller, Communications Coordinator, The Criminal Defense Firm


Focus on Three Key Aspects


Try to focus on three things about yourself that you think they need to know. For example, “There are three things I think you’d want to know about me as it relates to this job: First, blah. Second, blah. Third, blah.” 


From there, you can end it with “I’m happy to dive into any of those, or I can expand on anything you had in mind?” Then you can pause. This shows you know your value, you’ve thought about how you can be valuable to their organization, and it focuses the conversation on something you know you’re good at.



Share Your Major Choice


As a college student interviewing, potential employers are curious to understand motivation. Students should be able to thoughtfully answer the question, “Tell me about yourself,” by incorporating an answer affiliated with “Why did you choose your major?” 

By sharing the reason behind the choice of major, it provides a sense of the career path of interest and elicits your “why,” which is usually personal and relatable. It’s helpful to expand on this by explaining what led you to choose your major and, as a result, what you are looking to do next, which corresponds to the role you’re interviewing for (via background/interests), and demonstrates motivation for that particular arena. 


By providing a personal story, you are more likely to stand out as a candidate, be memorable, and therefore have a higher likelihood of receiving an offer. Furthermore, this demonstrates independent critical thinking, the ability to transfer academic knowledge into the work environment, and overall, communicate a sense of self-awareness.


Megan Dias, Career Services Coach, Parsity 


Blend Personal and Professional


When college students are asked, “Tell me about yourself,” in a job interview, my key tip is to craft a response that’s a blend of personal insights and professional aspirations, tailored to the job they’re applying for. This question is often the interviewer’s way of gauging how well a candidate can articulate their story, linking their background, skills, and interests to the position and company.


For example, a student applying for a marketing role might start by briefly mentioning their major and a personal trait that drew them to marketing, such as a love for storytelling or creativity. Then, they can highlight a relevant project or internship experience, explaining how it solidified their interest in the field and developed specific skills related to the job. Finally, they should express enthusiasm about how this role aligns with their career aspirations.


This structured approach—personal introduction, relevant experience, and connection to the role—provides a concise yet comprehensive snapshot of the candidate, making their response memorable and engaging. It’s about painting a picture of who they are, what they’ve achieved, and how they see themselves contributing to the potential employer’s success.


Niclas Schlopsna, Managing Consultant and CEO, spectup


Communicate Passion for the Role


Aim to convey the level of passion that you have for your hobbies and the role itself. Really strive to show that you can communicate that level of passion effectively, and how it will relate to the role itself.



Prepare with Mock Interviews


When you are in an interview, and you get this question, you may suddenly draw a blank in responding to it. This is why conducting mock interviews is a crucial preparation step. It helps you become aware of potential questions that may be asked, and it gives you time so that you will be adequately prepared to answer these questions. Ahead of the interview, do a bit of self-reflection and assess your hobbies and factors that make you the person you are. 


Then, you should try to find a way to highlight these aspects of yourself and how they relate to your work and career passions. You would be surprised at how your hobbies and daily tasks influence your goals and aspirations, and vice versa. When you are doing the mock interview, make bullet points so that it will be easier to digest and remember for the interview.



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