This post is was originally published on The Penny Hoarder

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If anyone reading this loves job interviews and thinks they’re a walk in the park, please write and tell me how I can achieve that kind of Zen.

For the rest of us, job interviews can be an unnerving experience no matter how well prepared we are.

You never know exactly what a hiring manager will ask during an interview, but you always hope it’s nothing too outlandish.

However, there are several common questions you can expect to be asked that help the interviewer learn more about you and whether you’d be a good fit for the company.

There’s one question that’s difficult to answer without sounding like you’re bragging or offering up more information than the interviewer needs to know: the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself.”

To answer this question well, it helps to understand why interviewers ask it in the first place.

“Simply put… they are looking to learn pertinent and relevant information to the job position,” says Nate Masterson, HR representative at Maple Holistics.

Masterson says this is not a cue for job candidates to “tell their life story, complete with family history, relationship status and living arrangements.”

He says, “Not only is this not relevant to the position or the professional interview, it is usually somewhat off-putting to the interviewer.”

Masterson also points out that sharing too much information could inadvertently make you seem unfit for the job, “whether that be a busy family life, erratic life pattern or something else altogether.”  

What to Say When an Interviewer Says, “Tell Me About Yourself”

“The ‘tell me about yourself’ question is critical because it’s a top-line inquiry into your professional profile,” says Jason Patel, founder of college prep company Transizion. “You should always have a two-to-three-minute answer prepared for it.”

It’s important to have an answer at the ready, but Patel cautions job candidates not to overthink it. The basic message you want to get across is who you are and why you’re perfect for the job.

In many cases, you can simply use the elevator pitch you prepared when you began your job search.

If you don’t have one prepared, Patel recommends preparing a brief response that covers three important points.

1. What You’ve Done

Begin by mentioning your degrees, certifications, specialized training, educational and work experience.

You don’t need to cover everything you’ve ever done (that’s what resumes are for). Just hit the highlights.  

“Use your discretion to pick the most important parts,” says Patel. “[You] want to keep the attention of the interviewers.”

2. What You’re Doing

Here’s where to highlight what work-related things you’re doing right now.

Whether you’re pursuing a secondary degree or a specific certification or are merely looking for a job opportunity in your chosen field, this is your chance to prove your commitment to your career.

“You can be broad here,” says Patel. “First, mention details pertinent to the job you’re interviewing for, but afterward you can add anything that makes you unique.

“Show the interviewers how you are working toward becoming an expert in the field you’re applying to.”

3. Where You Want to Go

Round out your response by talking about your ambitions and where you see yourself professionally in the next few years.

“I strongly suggest you discuss goals that are relevant to the job posting. Don’t go off on a tangent,” recommends Patel.

“Tell the interviewers why they should invest in you and how you would be an appreciating asset for the company.”

According to Patel, when you put all three elements together your ideal response should be “30% what you’ve done, 40% what you’re doing and 30% where you want to go.’’

It’s important to give careful thought about your answer ahead of time rather than trying to wing it on the spot.

Showing a hiring manager you’re both prepared and confident with your answer will go a long way toward landing the job.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She always wants to answer this question with, “You first” but knows that’s a really bad idea.

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