A cross-word puzzle like illustration showing the phrase "Tell me about yourself"

The most important UX interview question to master

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There seems to be an endless list of things to prepare for when it comes to job interviews. One of the biggest areas of preparation is to practice interview questions, which is critical for both the initial phone screenings and the later 1:1 interview rounds of the UX job interview process.

If you google common UX interview questions,” you will find dozens of articles that feature anywhere from top 7 to over 100 most common interview questions to prepare for. When you look closer, most of these questions are centered around your design process, general UX knowledge, collaboration experiences, and many more. Amongst these questions, I’d say that the most overlooked one is the “Tell me about yourself” question. I’d also argue that this is the single most important question you should master to set yourself up for a job offer with that company. For this article, I will share some thoughts about the importance of this question, what the hiring managers are looking to get out of, and how to best approach this question.

Why is this question important?

An interview can be an uncertain process. Although we can do homework to figure out the interview process, who we will be speaking with, and what each interviewer is like, it is difficult to know for sure what questions the person will ask or focus on.

You will get this question 99% of the time

The only constant we can count on is arguably the “Tell me about yourself” question, which will like to be asked at every initial interview.

Given that we know what to expect, you have the opportunity to start the interview on a good note by making sure you provide a great response. More on this in the later section.

This response sets the tone for the rest of the interview

You also don’t have a good reason to fail at answering this question. If you didn’t answer this question well, the negative impact is much greater than failing other questions that may be considered a curb ball.

I’ve conducted interviews in the past with candidates responding to the “Tell me about yourself” question like this:

I am a multidisciplinary designer who has worked in both the healthcare and education industries. Currently I work as a UX Designer at ____.

There are some issues with this type of response:

Starting the interview with an overly simple response can create a subpar impression for the hiring manager. This is not to say that your opening response needs to tell your entire life story. There is a balance we need to strike when answering the “Tell me about yourself” question.

What do interviewers look for with this question?

One common misconception I hear is that the “Tell me about yourself” question is just one of the small talk, ice breaker questions to warm up the interview with. Based on my experience, this question is a lot more important than most people realize because there are several things the hiring managers will actively look for when listening to your response.

Given how open-ended the question is, it enables the interviewee to share a wide range of information. For example, one person may choose to talk about his/her career path, and another person may focus on the most current job experience. Before we get into ways to approach this question, it’s important first to understand what the interviewer may be focusing on. Below is a list of what an interviewer may be thinking about while listening to your response:

What else should I know about you aside from what’s already on your application?

A resume alone may not always provide enough details about a person’s experience. It is common to use this question as a way to obtain more detailed information about a candidate. For example, how and why did you become a designer? Or another example is why did you only work at a job for less than a month?

How well can you tell a story?

This is perhaps the first opportunity for the hiring manager to see how you tell stories. Rest assured that the hiring manager will pay close attention to how you communicate. Therefore, both the structure and the way you delivered are important.

Are there other areas I want to ask more about later in the interview?

Some interviewers have a more fluid interview style, which means that they may not have pre-defined questions to ask, and they plan to pick up cues from candidates' responses and follow up with ad-hoc questions. Therefore, if you are the type of candidate that tends to provide short and generic responses, then it makes this type of interviewers do extra work.

How to respond to the “Tell me about yourself” question?

Now that we understand what the interviewers may be looking for. Let us discuss how you can approach this question during interviews. There are two areas to focus on: What information to share and how to structure your response.

What should you talk about?

For an open-ended question, you have the freedom to share anything you like. Based on what the hiring managers may be looking for, you should consider sharing the following:

How to structure your response?

Knowing what to say is just half of the puzzle. Knowing how to articulate your response is equally important, so make sure you carve out the time to work on your delivery.

The challenge is, there isn’t a perfect structure to follow. Depending on what information you are sharing, the right structure for you can be very different from everyone else. That being said, based on what I have experienced through my past interviews, I compiled three types of approaches below for you to consider:

I have personally used each of these approaches throughout my career. I find that early on in my UX career, I needed to lean on the last two approaches because I didn’t have sufficient experience to make a case for my qualifications. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a single right approach for each person. There is also not a single right approach for each job interview. For each job interview, consider evaluating your own experiences, job description, and interviewers first then strategize on the best approach for you.

Here is another note. I get asked often about how long the response should be for the tell me about yourself question. While there isn’t an expectation for how long your answer should be, my recommendation is to keep your response at about 3–5 minutes long. Especially if you are more introverted (like myself), the time constraint will force you to elaborate.

Conclusion

The “Tell me about yourself” question is not merely a casual ice breaker question because many hiring managers use it to acquire critical information about you that sets the tone for the rest of the interviews. When preparing for your response to this question, consider how to approach it so that you can provide useful details to the interviewer to help reinforce your qualifications.