by Peter K. Studner, author of “Super Job Search IV: The Complete Manual for Job Seekers and Career Changers“
If you’re a job seeker, you can bet you’ll run into the request, “Tell me about yourself.” And you can also bet that your interviewer isn’t looking for an answer like, “Well, I’m a Pisces, I like to read sci-fi novels, and I have a pet rabbit named Sesame.” (If only it were that easy, right?) The truth is, many people struggle to give interviewers an accurate, targeted portrait of themselves as job candidates.
If you’re one of them, you need to turn your rambling, unfocused answer into an articulate pitch that will leave interviewers wanting to know more about how you can help their company.
Think of your answer as a 90-second commercial that presents the essence of what makes you a unique, experienced, engaging businessperson. You’ll need to write and practice ‘performing’ this commercial with as much enthusiasm as you can muster while still seeming natural.
Here’s an outline you can use to develop your own 90-second commercial:
1. Start with a brief introduction.
State your name and thank the person for his or her time.
2. My background is…
List your degrees or certificates and the schools you attended. Avoid mentioning dates, unless you are asked.
3. I specialize in…
Briefly describe your area of expertise and/or any particular skills you have. At this point, it wouldn’t hurt to mention a good accomplishment. For example, “During my last job, I was instrumental in bringing in three new clients with first-year sales of $6.7 million.”
4. I’ve worked at…
Share your most pertinent jobs, not a list of every position you’ve ever had. Remember that the interviewer has a copy of your résumé. (And just in case he or she doesn’t, make sure you bring a copy to the interview.) Again, you might put in another briefaccomplishment to support your expertise. “We reformed our sales team, and I recruited three new associates. We exceeded our sales goals by 43 percent!”
5. I was responsible for…
Again, don’t recite a laundry list of all the responsibilities you held in your previous job. Share the most prominent and pertinent.
6. I’m especially proud of…
List one or two additional major accomplishments, including the benefits they brought to your employer(s). Don’t fall in the trap of getting into the details of how you achieved each accomplishment. Of course, you might be asked, “How did you do that?” Then you know you’ve hit pay dirt, as the interviewer may have an identical problem that you already know how to solve.
7. I’m excited to be here because…
The interviewer obviously knows you’re at the meeting because you’re looking for a job — this is an opportunity to make it a bit more personal. Using (well-researched!) details, you might mention the company’s reputation, products, management, technology, international scope, etc., and how these things fit with your skills and aspirations. If you are currently unemployed, this might also be a good place to share a plausible reason for leaving your last position.
8. Close, but keep the conversation flowing.
Turn the questions back to the interviewer with, “So I can better relate to you, could you please tell me a little about your [company, department]?”
Note that some of these components might change from interview to interview. Before each meeting, think about which of your skills would best fit with this particular company and this particular job. Consider what problems the company might have and how you can solve them. Then tweak your pitch to reflect your conclusions.
And what if you have a long, detailed work history that doesn’t fully fit into this template? Remember that 90 seconds is a long time to listen to someone’s monologue. You can always provide more information later in the interview — and if you craft your commercial well, interviewers will ask to hear more.
Once you’ve developed your commercial, record yourself reciting it, speaking slowly enough that someone hearing it for the first time will be able to understand and process what you’re saying. Edit, improve, and record again and again until you can deliver your commercial with the same ease with which you would tell a favorite anecdote. Rest assured, your effort will be worth it. Your 90-second commercial will stand head and shoulders above the multitude of um-s, uh-s, and well, let me see-s your interviewer has doubtless heard.
Peter K. Studner is the author of “Super Job Search IV: The Complete Manual for Job Seekers and Career Changers“. He is a master career counselor and former chief executive and board member of companies in the United States, France, and Great Britain. He has helped thousands of people with their career transitions and trains other career professionals to deliver this easy-to-follow program.