Job Interview photo from ShutterstockOne 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 his 2012 blog post titled Beware The ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Job Interview Question, a poor response to this request in a job interview can have dire consequences:

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!

Your response needs to encapsulate your thoughtful personal branding in an attractive and compelling fashion. This article offers an alternative formula for creating such a response, often described as an elevator speech.

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

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, one that has the most chance of impressing your listener. This could vary, based upon the audience and 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.

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 required to accomplish 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 could be a match for those 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.

You will be better perceived if your job interview responses are, like this example, more concise and better organized. Being prepared with such concise and well organized responses will definitely help you stand out from your competitors and greatly increase your odds of getting more job offers. It is my hope that you will benefit from this information.

What about you? What has been your experience responding to the “Tell me about yourself” request? Your successes and horror stories are welcomed!