Answering, “Tell me about yourself.”

Our client, Barbara, had just sat down in an interview for a teaching position at a local elementary school.

“Barbara, thank you for coming in today.  First, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.”

Barbara’s hands started sweating.  The pause stretched on.  She wasn’t sure what to say and the only thing that came to her mind was, “I’m a native of Utah.  I love hiking and spending time with my two daughters.  I’m active in my church and the local soup kitchen.”

Uh-oh.  Barbara wasn’t prepared to answer the most asked interview question.  Nearly every interview starts with, “Tell me about yourself.”  Interviewers don’t care about your hobbies and personal information.  They want to know more about you, your qualities, skills, and personality traits.  And they don’t want to hear a recap of your resume.

The best way to prepare for this question is a short elevator speech.  What is an elevator speech?  It is frequently used in marketing.  It is a pitch about your business, your products or services.  Imagine you get into an elevator with someone you have been dying to get in front of for months.  You have until the door opens again to explain your idea and impress this person enough that they are willing to give you more time.

Why an elevator speech?  Well, in a job search you are actually simply marketing yourself, right?  Sell yourself to your interviewer.  Tell them what makes you the best candidate for the position you are interviewing for.  Barbara has been a teacher for most of her life and really enjoys her work where she can help people.

When creating an elevator speech you should use “power words.”  Words or short phrases that say much more than the overused words hardworking, goal-oriented, or team player.  Where do you find these words?  There are some good lists out there that you can use.  Another great way to find words that describe you personally and specifically is by using personality and behavioral assessments like the Myers-Briggs and DISC assessments.

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, Barbara is an ENFP.  Some of the characteristics of the ENFP personality type are enthusiastic, idealistic, and open-minded.  ENFP’s are constantly generating new ideas and associations, they tend to be creative and champions of diversity and multiculturalism.  They readily see different points of view and have a sense of empathy and respect for individuality

According to the DISC analysis that Barbara took, she is a high I and secondary S type.  I/S types are friendly, self confident, patient, persistent, sociable, trusting and sympathetic.  They are also intuitive and motivational.

All of these traits make for a great teacher.  But how can Barbara use these qualities in her job search.  First these are great attributes to express in a resume and cover letter, but mostly excellent phrases to use during an elevator speech.

Barbara’s new answer to “Tell me about yourself,” sounds something like this:

“People find me to be an enthusiastic and open-minded individual.  My career shows my ability to work with diverse individuals, including children, parents, and other teachers.  My creative problem solving abilities have served me well working with more difficult students.  I am patient and persistent, never giving up on the children I am teaching.”

Now Barbara has prepared and practiced her elevator speech and she is ready for her next interview.

You’ll be amazed how much more confident you feel answering “Tell me about yourself,” once you have memorized your qualities and strengths.  I challenge you to actually write down your own elevator speech and post it here.  You can learn from other’s speeches and perhaps they can learn from you.

Post Script:  Don’t forget about the Empowered Professional’s Career Club every other Thursday at the Salt Lake Public Library.  RSVP on Meetup!


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