One of the most dreaded requests job seekers struggle with while networking and during job interviewing is “Tell me about yourself.”

As my recruiter friend Skip Freeman noted in one of his blog posts, a poor response to this request in a job interview can have dire consequences. Skip said:

“Blow the answer and you risk irrevocably and immediately branding yourself as just another “run of the mill” candidate and ending up blowing  the entire job interview. Nail the answer and… well… good things certainly can follow!”

A great response indicates you are thoughtful, prepared, and well organized in your thinking. These are attributes all employers want. This article offers an alternative formula for creating such a response, often described as an elevator speech. I have used this formula with hundreds of clients I have coached and their feedback indicates that it works!

A formula for job interview success

Your response needs to encapsulate your thoughtful personal branding in an attractive and compelling fashion.

As outlined in the job interviewing chapter in Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!), I  recommend keeping your responses under 60 seconds during job interviews and networking conversations. Here is a simple five point chronological (which makes it easier to remember) elevator speech formula that you can use the next time you encounter a “Tell me about yourself” request.

Five Point Chronological Elevator Speech Formula – for Interviews and Networking:

  1. To start, tell them something personal about your origins, family, etc. prior to completing your education. This adds human interest, which I think is important (more on this in another article).
  2. Assuming your education is adequate for jobs you are pursuing, next mention your most notable educational achievements/degrees.
  3. Next, describe your early work experience or total experience to date.
  4. Next, mention a recent notable business/professional accomplishment that you can quantify … one that has the most chance of impressing your listener. This may need to vary based upon the specific person being engaged and the specific job being pursued.
  5. Finish with a transitioning statement that brings the listener into the current circumstances and, if necessary, explains why you are sitting in front of them.

A specific job interview response example

Here is a bare-bones example that could be embellished a little to get to 60 seconds and sound more impressive:

“I grew up on a farm in South Africa and my family moved to the United States when I was sixteen… That provided me a wonderful opportunity to attend Columbia University, where I received my bachelor’s degree in business and my MBA in finance… After graduation, I joined a Big4 consulting firm in Manhattan, which launched my career in advising Fortune500 companies regarding many aspects of financial management and leadership… In my current role as VP of Finance for XYZ Corporation, I am most proud of having provided the critical financial due diligence that was needed to complete four successful business acquisitions totaling $350 million… I appreciate this opportunity to meet today with you and your team, to learn more about your needs for a new CFO and help you understand how my capabilities match your needs. Thanks for having me!”

At my rate of speech, this clocked in at 45 seconds. This leaves a little room for a few more descriptive words or possibly a second sentence in item three or four. But, be careful. It is better to be concise and hard hitting than to drag things out and dilute your message.

Being more successful in your job interviews and networking

Having an excellent elevator speech will create more positive impressions in job interviews as well as in your general networking activities. You will be perceived as thoughtful and well organized, which will set you apart from 90% of the crowd. This will significantly increase your odds of getting more job offers.

What about you? What has been your experience responding to the “Tell me about yourself” request? Do you feel like you hit home runs or struck out? I’d love to hear your comments!

Richard Kirby, CMC, Atlanta Premier Executive Career Consultant

Atlanta executive career consultant Richard Kirby of Executive Impact has over 12 years of successful experience mentoring professionals and executives through successful career transitions and life-changing job searches. His methodical career change programs start with career assessment testing, followed by career options identification and analysis that defines short-term and long-term career goals. Testing and analysis form the foundation for subsequent resume writing, career marketing plans, networking strategies, and job interview enhancements. To learn key strategies for proper career planning, grab a free excerpt from his eBook Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!)

Richard Kirby – who has written posts on Executive Impact.

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