Read this if “Tell me about yourself” makes you start with “Errr…”

Tell me about yourself. Seems easy enough to answer, doesn’t it? You know all about yourself, don’t you? But (big BUT) it’s a tricky question to get right – especially when you have limited time to answer and can’t really say: “That’s a big topic, what specifically would you like to know?”

There’s also the added pressure that this question can make or break an interview or dictate whether a networking meeting is productive. Unlike a competency or experience-based question at interview, you can’t use STAR or other helpful models to craft a structured answer. Or can you?

The answer is…Yes, you can. And you should.

The ‘Tell me about yourself’ question really can make or break your connection with an interviewer or contact, so make sure you are prepared. Use these three steps:

Step 1 – Focus

‘You’ is a big, fascinating topic. We all have a backstory, unique experiences and events that have shaped who we are and how we come to be where we are.

But everything you are and have ever done isn’t needed here. You’ve got 1 minute or maybe 2 to get the main points across and make a positive impression. Use your time wisely.

Having a ‘pitch’ or value proposition is how to do it. And an effective pitch starts with a tagline, a personal brand statement that encapsulates what you are and what you have to offer. Mine is ‘I help people be happier at work.’ It’s what I do, how I add value and also tells you about the kind of person I am. 

I coached a recruiter recently and his pitch and CV profile start with ‘I help organisations find great talent.’ It tells you he’s experienced at recruiting and confident in his abilities. But, more than that, it tells you he works in partnership, doing what he does not for his own ego, but to bring great people together to move an organisation forward.

Now, while self-belief and confidence are important, stating “I’m amazing” isn’t the way to start. Be more subtle, be humble. You may well be utterly amazing (or believe yourself to be) but there’s always room to improve, so weave your fabulousness into your story in more discreet ways. Making sweeping claims of how great you are will not help you build a connection and will turn people off. You’ll just come across as arrogant.

And don’t make it all about you. It’s called a value proposition because it’s about how you can add value – by contributing to a business, by helping others, by connecting with people and sharing your knowledge and ideas. Focus on how you do that. 

Step 2 – Craft

Three words to guide you as you set about crafting your PVP:
– Relevant, Personal and Positive.

Back to focusing, this time on what the person asking you the question is looking to find out. If it’s a job interview, then focus on the skills and experience in the role description and how you’d be able to add value. Look at the company culture and talk about experience and behaviours that would make you a good fit.

You are unique so don’t ‘bland’ that out by playing down your personality, background and experiences too much. An interesting fact about you could be the hook that catches someone’s interest and keeps it. 

You want to be memorable, but make sure you’re memorable for the right reasons. Be selective and focus on something positive, an event or experience that has shaped your can-do attitude, your ability to empathise or pro-active behaviour. And be honest. Be truthful about how capable you are and why you’re there. We don’t have to be a trained professional to spot lies and bluster and even if we don’t know it, we have an innate ability to know if someone is being authentic or not.

Step 3 – Practice (and practice and practice)

Do you know how long 60 seconds is? Of course, you do. But do you know how long 60 seconds is when you have to listen to someone who isn’t saying anything that interests you?

I recently ran a value proposition writing workshop with a group of internal recruiters and was astonished when they presented the propositions they’d been asked to create. Despite the guideline of 1-2 minutes, they went on and on and on until at 3 minutes, I cut them off. If you can’t articulate your value and capture attention in 30 seconds, it isn’t going to get better after 1 minute, let alone 3.

Be concise. Less is definitely more. People can always ask you more questions, or if there’s an awkward silence, just ask “Would you like me to expand on that?”

What they’d also not done was listen to what they were saying and how they came across. They’d written their propositions down, crafted them on screen or paper but then not spent any time practising how they sounded. And they all sounded like they were being read off the page. 

I sent them away and asked them to record and time themselves, to play back their statements and cut the extra words, to tighten their points up, to make sure they sounded natural, confident but humble, authentic and engaging. That worked. They’d got it by the final go around.

There’s a lot to consider when answering the ‘Tell me about yourself…’ question, so if you’d like some help, why not try a session of Career Therapy? It could help you be happier at work.

Header image by Daria Volkova on Unsplash
Other image by Kaleidico on Unsplash

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