3 Ways to shine when asked
“Tell me about yourself”

The hour of your big interview has arrived, and you know you’re going to nail it. You’ve done your research and memorized your talking points. At this point, you could talk about the company in your sleep—right down to where the interviewer attended undergrad and the exact number of Wall Street Journal mentions the company has had in the past six months.

But when the interviewer asks you to talk about yourself, you freeze, realizing with horror that you didn’t prepare enough to deliver your elevator pitch. You smile politely, shift in your chair, and say, “well…um…” as your mind frantically struggles to string something together.

Not exactly what you’re going for.

The average human attention span today is five seconds, so not only do you need a strong elevator pitch, you also need it to hook the interviewer’s attention from the outset. That’s just about all the time you have before her mind starts wandering to her next meeting, her inbox, or her lunch plans.

So, how do you do it? Don’t start regurgitating the stuff that’s on your resume—your major, your job history, your promotions. The fact that the hiring manager called you in for an interview means he or she has already decided you’re qualified.

Instead, follow these steps to craft an answer that’ll showcase your skills, passion, and fit.

1. Tell a Story

Nothing is worse than hearing a candidate’s baseless claims about his or her identity in the workplace—à la “I’m a detail-oriented problem solver!” It’s much more effective to share a story that shows, not tells—particularly if you’re early on in your career, because your career has much more potential than proof at this early stage.

Try referencing a time when your potential was recognized in the workplace, and talk about how that specific incident relates back to your talents and interest in the position at hand. For example, my client Jenny spent years working as a headhunter for a large staffing firm and was hopeful to secure more responsibility doing business development. When she heard that the CEO of a global IT company moved next door to her parents, she took it upon herself to knock on their door with some “welcome to the neighbourhood” brownies. By the end of her stay next door, she had a business deal in hand.

She weaved that story into her elevator pitch—and needless to say, she was leveraging multiple job offers in business development.

Bonus points if you’re able to express your passion for the industry in a way that tells the interviewer this isn’t just another job, but rather a critical piece of your life purpose. On that note:

2. Make it About Them, Too

It’s not enough to talk about yourself and your own interest in the position—you’ll want to make sure your pitch explains why you want to work for this company. There are always resources available to you: the company’s mission statement, client roster, press coverage, and social media platforms, and your own personal experiences, to name a few. These all provide information that you can use in explaining why you think the company is special.

For example, I had a client who dreamed of working for Vogue magazine. When she succeeded in landing an interview, she knew she had to prove more than just her love for fashion editorial; she needed to prove her passion for Vogue. She told the interviewer about flipping through the glossy pages of her mum’s copies of the magazine before she even understood what the articles were about. As she got older, she was moved by Vogue’s support for young designers. She couldn’t afford many of the clothes she saw on the pages, but she was inspired to take sewing classes so that she could modify her own department store wardrobe. To her, Vogue was more than just another fashion magazine.

By establishing a personal connection to the company, you’re also building the interviewer’s confidence that you’re more than just a new hire, you’re an investment—someone who truly wants to grow with the firm.

3. Keep it Short and Sweet

Of course, you’ll want to keep your pitch limited to a couple compelling highlights—I recommend aiming for between 60 and 90 seconds in a job or informational interview, and 20 seconds when you’re in a networking environment. We already know that we’re competing for the interviewer’s attention, so don’t waste a precious second on extraneous information. For example, when my client was preparing her elevator pitch for Vogue, she wanted to share details that she felt would have proven the sincerity of her passion, such as quotes from her favourite articles over the years. Resist the temptation to do this—overkill is distracting. Determine the most enticing points of your story and background, make them, and move on.

As a final note, don’t underestimate the power of preparation. Being asked, “Tell me about yourself” in an interview is nearly a given, and you don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants when you have the opportunity to craft a statement with pride and polish. Give your pitch the thought and time it deserves. In fact, you’ll want to invest as much time and effort in preparing to talk about yourself as you do in preparing to talk about the company.

By Ashley Stahl, The Muse

Posted on July 25, 2014 in Career Advice