“Tell me about yourself.”
It seems like a simple request—a getting-to-know-you softball. But interviewers will gauge your answer to learn about your experience and to hear why you’re there. On any job interview, especially one for a nursing job, this is a great chance to share important details about your career journey and the strengths that led you to this new job opportunity. It’s a chance to start the interview with a clear sense of why you’re a great fit for the position.
But be careful. If you don’t think about your answer ahead of time, you run the risk of underwhelming the interviewer with your lack of focus. So be sure to prepare ahead of time so you know exactly how to answer if and when the question does come up. There are many acceptable ways to reply, but there are also pitfalls you’ll want to avoid.
Strategy #1: Share Your Mini-Autobiography
Think about the highlights of your career so far and tell your interviewer about your experiences. Share some colorful details about your best qualities and provide anecdotes about how you’ve put them to use in the positions you’ve held. By doing this, you’ll help make your qualifications come to life for the interviewer, more so than if they just read about them on your resume. For example, if you thrive while working with children, or if you love taking nursing students under your wing during their internships or externships, say so and back it up with a real-life experience.
Be sure to mention any credentials that help you stand out from other candidates. If you were involved in any special projects at former jobs, those are worth mentioning, too.
Your answer can also touch upon the reasons why you want to work at the facility where you’re interviewing and why you’re the best choice for the job. You could start your answer with this sample opening statement (see below), or wrap up your response with why you feel you’re a great fit.
“I’m thrilled to be here today. I recently graduated from [XYZ] nursing program, and it has been a dream to work in this unit because of your reputation for _____ . I was drawn to nursing because of _____. In school, I did my clinicals in _____. It was during my time in the _____ unit that I was able to hone my expertise in _____. I’m hoping to add to and learn from this center’s notoriety in _____.”
Strategy #2: Highlight Career Superlatives
Because there are so many facets of yourself and your career to talk about, you can take this in almost any direction you choose. Feel free to share details about any awards or commendations you’ve received. If you received any accolades that are relevant to the particular position you’re applying for, be sure to mention those as well.
You should also talk about your proudest accomplishment as a nurse, or about a meaningful experience you had with a patient. This is especially true if it had an impact on your career or changed the way you communicate with patients and their families.
“One reason I love being a [insert specialty] is the ability to ________. In fact, during my time at _____, I focused on _____ and even received praise from my supervisor on my sense of patience and ability to stay calm under pressure. In fact, I started teaching other [insert nurse specialty] how to simplify [XYZ] procedure while lowering the stress of patients, a technique which is still implemented today.”
Strategy #3: Keep Personal Information to a Minimum
It’s OK to share some brief comments about your personal life, as long as what you’re saying is intended to provide a human-to-human connection with your interviewer. But keep in mind that whatever you say about yourself outside of your professional life will reveal details about yourself that you may not intend to share (e.g., marriage, kids, family obligations).
Interviewers aren’t allowed to ask questions about your personal life, such as your age, your marital status, whether you have children, or whether you plan to start a family. But if you offer that information in response to “tell me about yourself,” some interviewers will proceed as if you’ve invited them to talk about the subjects you brought up, which could lead to topics you weren’t prepared to discuss.
One way to include some personal details without revealing too much about yourself is to explain why you decided to become a nurse. Maybe you spent time with a young cousin who was fighting cancer, for example, and that inspired you to go into pediatric oncology.
But looking for a new job to be closer to your child’s daycare center might not be the personal information you want to share. Even if that’s the case, look for other facts about the position that make this job stand out.
Above all, remember that you’re interviewing for a job, not for a friend. Even if you get a warm vibe from your interviewer (or you’re sitting at a cafe and not an office), the focus of what you say should be almost entirely on your professional highlights and aspirations.
5 Pitfalls to Avoid When a Hiring Manager Says ‘Tell Me About Yourself’
1. Reciting your resume.
Don’t overdo it. Let your resume speak for itself. Pick three to five highlights and weave them into a story that outlines your career journey up to that point.
2. Sounding rehearsed.
Don’t prepare verbatim answers, but rather have a solid idea of how you’ll answer. Focus on how all your career experiences brought you there today.
3. Not bragging enough.
Too often, people feel they can’t boast about themselves, but this is a chance to sell yourself and your skills. If there’s a particular award or career highlight you want people to know about, this might be your only chance to talk about it.
4. Lacking emotion.
Since this is a “getting to know you” question, you want to share your answer while letting some of your personality shine through. Make eye contact and smile. Be proud of the experience that led you to this interview.
5. Discussing family drama.
If a bad commute or the need to make more money has led you to this job search, don’t share it. Instead, highlight why your skills are an excellent match for this medical practice. It’s also best to not share spouse, kid, or school schedules that might label you as “difficult” in this first impression.
Experts who helped with this guide include:
- Laurie G. Combe, MN, RN, NCSN, president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses
- Nancy Freeland, MS, RN-BC, CCRN-K, a senior nurse educator for adult critical care nursing at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, and a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- Elizabeth Rochin, PhD, RN, NE-BC, president of the National Perinatal Information Center
- Seun Ross, DNP, MSN, CRNP-F, NP-C, NEA-BC, director of Nursing Practice and Work Environment for the American Nurses Association
- Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, Emergency Nurses Association member and president-elect of ENA’s East Bay Chapter in California, an emergency department nurse in a community hospital in East Bay, and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing community