Seven out of ten screening interviews (the first round of interviews, often done over the phone or online) start with the “tell me about yourself” question. It isn’t the most important question in any interview, but sure enough it is the first one, and it often sets the tone for the rest of the meetings with the hiring managers. As a rule of a thumb, you should focus on your strengths, and share a detail or two from your personal life, to show them that you have some life outside of work. But what does it mean for a software engineer? And what should you focus on in your interview introduction? And how does it change for freshers and for experienced software engineers? We will try to find the answers on the following lines.
Let’s start directly with 7 sample answers to the question. I tried to include on my list answers for both college students, starting engineers, and seasoned professionals with years of experience in software engineering. Do not forget to check also my notes below the answers, for some hints on what you should focus on while introducing yourself to the panel of interviewers (or to the one guy on the phone).
7 sample answers to “Tell me about yourself” interview question for software engineers
- Well, I’ve been working on mobile app development for four years now, while still studying at college. Had my own projects, coded mostly in Java and Python, but my account on the play store got suspended, for reasons I still fail to understand. But I learned a lot, both at school and while working on the apps. Now I am looking to get a job with an innovative game studio, and am glad to be interviewing with you here. Apart from coding, I enjoy reading a good book, or a nice evening out with friends. That would do for a short introduction, please tell me if you’d like me to elaborate on anything from my education, or experience with apps.
- My name’s Ron, I’m 34, have worked as a software engineer for a smaller company, in an agile team, working mostly on online maps, with Java and C++. But just like many other startups this one eventually hasn’t taken of, and now I find myself unemployed. I prefer to work in a smaller team, and see the direct impact I have on a project, which is the reason no. 1 why I am applying for the job with you. Other than that I am more or less an ordinary guy, with a girlfriend and a dog, and a passion for model trains. Is there anything else you’d like to know about my life at the moment?
- My name is Khatia, 22, still a student, looking for a part time job I can do while still at school, ideally working remotely. I’m skilled with PHP and Java, and I am trying to learn other programming languages, step by step. Have two brothers, both of them study at a med school, so it is quite funny that I, as a girl, decided for software engineering. I try to get the most out of my time at the college, and have some edge once I graduate, which is the primary reason why I seek a part time job with you.
- Jason here, 41, experienced programmer with several successful projects under my belt. I’d say my portfolio introduces me better than my words do, so if want we can look at it together, and I can tell you about the principal projects I engineered over the years. I am a lucky father of two and quite a family man, trying to find a good life-work balance. It is one of the reasons why I sit here with you today, because the expectations of the managers in my last job were extreme–they wanted me to work for 70+ hours each week, which is something I could not accept, having a family and life outside of work.
- My name’s Nicole, I’ve been working in one of the BIG 4 companies for seven years, climbing the career ladder, learning the ins and outs of programming. I still feel young though, and I got tired of working on the same tasks and application month after month, which is often the case in big corporations. Didn’t feel I was growing professionally, and I am looking for a radical change in my career. I hope to find what I am looking for in your startup, and I am ready to bring onboard everything I’ve learned in the big corp.
- I would introduce myself in seven words. Passionate coder, responsible father, best colleague ever. That pretty much sums it up, though at least the last one my former colleagues have to confirm. I try to do a good job in all roles I have in life, and I enjoy the process immensely. Do you want me to talk about my coding skills and experience now, or will we discuss it later in the interview?
- I’d introduce myself as a dreamer. I dream of working at Google, working on applications billions of people use, having an impact on the world with my work. Sure enough, I know you receive hundreds of job applications for every single job opening, and I am not the only dreamer waiting for his chance. But I will try to convince you in this meeting that I am the one who deserves a chance to prove his skills in the job…
The more experienced candidate you are, the more specific your introduction should be
If you have years of software development under your belt already, and worked on countless projects, the key is to pick just one or two right things to focus on in your interview introduction. Think about the job you are trying to get, what projects you will work on, what programming languages you will use, what the target group of final users will be. Then you should choose the most relevant from your past projects, that means one similar to the projects you will work on in your new job.
Having said that, try to avoid getting too technical (unless they ask you to do so). Remember that the person leading an interview with you may not be a software engineer. They may be just a random recruiter or HR person. Hence focus more on the functionality of the software, your role in the engineering process, and perhaps name the key factors that made it a success. If you do this well, they will easily make the right associations in their mind, imagining you doing the same for their business, working on similar projects. And if that happens, you will be just a step away from a new employment contract.
Show positive non-verbal communication right from the start
Maybe you are introverted, like many other software engineers. Or you prefer not to show any emotions in the interviews. Nevertheless, they hiring managers should get an impression that this interview means a lot to you, regardless of whether it the only one you got, or seven other wait for you over the next couple of weeks.
They should hear some enthusiasm in your voice as you introduce yourself, and as you try to convince them that you happen to be an excellent match for the job offer. Now it doesn’t mean that you have to shout from pure excitement. Gentle smile, keeping an eye contact, and talking with purpose, will do the trick.
Self introduction for freshers should be short and reasonable
It shouldn’t take you more than three minutes to answer “tell me about yourself” question, especially if your fresh of college and have little or none working experience. Your goal isn’t to explain your entire working experience (though many software engineers try to do so). Nor is it to tell them a story of your life. You will get an opportunity to talk about your experience (if you have any), and about various projects you’ve worked on over the years, later in the interview. They have specific questions ready to ask about these things later down the road.
While introducing yourself, you should simply summarize who you are, name your core strengths (years of experience, knowledge of programing languages, two or three principal personality traits) and give them something positive to work with for the rest of the interview.
You can stand out with an unconventional answer
In some cases, hiring managers will directly ask you to introduce/describe yourself in “one sentence”, “ten words only”, “three adjectives”, or, in an extreme case, in “one word”. Doing so they not only make sure they won’t have to listen to a ten minutes long monologue, but they also test your listening skills and ability to talk to the point. If they ask you to introduce yourself in three words, you should use exactly three words–no more, no less.
Anyway, even when they do not specify the extent of your answer, you can introduce yourself in ten words, three powerful adjectives, or any other short form of your choice. You will immediately stand out with such an answer, and, at the end of the day, less can often be more in the interviews. Do not overwhelm them with information right at the start. Offer a short and powerful introduction, and elaborate on it later in your interview, with other answers.
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! But it isn’t the only difficult question you will face in your interview for a software engineering job. Check also the following articles to get ready:
- Software engineer interview questions – Longer list of questions with answers to some of them.
- Tell me about a time when you used logic to solve a problem – A common one you may face, check the 7 sample answers.
- Web Developer interview: Tell me about yourself.