Building Your #1 Interview Answer

job interviewWhat do you say in an interview when they say “Tell me about yourself”? Will your interview move you forward, in the interview and in your career?

In my last post, Job Interviews: “Tell me about yourself”, I revealed what goes into a great answer to this most crucial question – and by great answer, I mean one that immediately makes clear why you’re the right person for the job.

This week I will guide you along the steps to developing and perfecting that answer.


Brainstorm your key points.

Once you’ve read last week’s article, brainstorm the information you want to include in your answer. You could talk it through with a buddy or a job search coach, or on your own. Jot down the key points.

Don’t write it out word-for-word and memorize it. That approach leads to robotic, “canned” answers that make the listener’s eyes glaze over.

Put the key points in order.

Rearrange those key points into an order that makes sense and that puts the most important and interesting points first. For example, when talking about your experience, start with the most recent and/or the experience that is most likely to impress.


You can start by saying it out loud to yourself. Adjust the keyword outline as necessary.

Then try out your answer on others – friends, family members, trusted business acquaintances. Ask them to tell you at least one thing that works well in your answer, and at least one thing you could improve.

If they say “Really, it’s just great, I don’t have any suggestions,” ask them questions: “Did you understand everything? Was anything puzzling at all? How was the length? Which parts of it were most interesting?” (Assume that the other parts may have been a bit dull.)

Or maybe ask them to summarize what they heard. If they can’t, your answer may not be as clear and memorable as it should be.

Repurpose your work.

You can get a lot of mileage out of this answer, which can be used as a “positioning statement,” “elevator intro” or “30-second commercial” for networking situations. For example, a super-short version (maybe 10 seconds) could be used to introduce yourself at the start of a phone call, such as a follow-up call after applying for a job online. Develop a few versions for various situations.

Invest some effort, because this is a powerful tool.

Is this a lot of work? Sure, it may take hours. Will it all be worth it when you have a very effective, well-practiced opener for all your job search conversations? When you feel confident and know you’re making a smart first impression? You bet!

A great “tell me about yourself” answer is one of the most powerful job-search tools you can have.

Job Interviews: “Tell me about yourself”

Job Interviews: "Tell me about yourself"The most important interview question may be the most dreaded: “Would you please tell me about yourself?”

Suddenly you’re tongue-tied. Where should you start? What should you say? You don’t want your answer to be dull, awkward or unclear.

Your best answer to this question is virtually the same as a good “elevator intro,” which is a crucial networking tool.

It’s also known as a “positioning statement,” because if done well it positions you memorably in the listener’s mind.

Being remembered – for the right reasons! – is huge in job search. So is making a great first impression.

First tip: When you hear “Tell me about yourself” in an interview, think of it as “Tell me why we should hire you.” Don’t distract with personal details or a dull career obituary starting from your oldest job to the present. Instead, give them your best stuff right off the bat!

What are your top five selling points? What’s your Unique Value Proposition? That’s the kind of information to include here.

Keep those key points in mind as you tell who you are, what you do and have done, where you’ve done it and why you’re the one to hire. Then there’s a little extra step I’ll call “wow” – which I’ll explain below – and ending with a question to keep the conversation flowing.

So these are the basic elements of your statement: Who, What, Where, Why, Wow – and then ending with a question.


First, introduce yourself with your professional identity, in the present tense. You may no longer be Regional Vice President of Sales and Marketing, but you’re still a sales and marketing professional. You may no longer be Alumni Service Associate at University of Gotham City, but you have a professional identity: “I’m an experienced customer service rep, most recently with UGC…”


What are your competencies and expertise? What are you likely to be doing for your next employer? Briefly summarize your strongest, most relevant, most in-demand skills.


What types of organizations have you worked in? You can name specific companies if they’re well known and relevant; or categories like “Fortune 500 or larger Telecommunications companies” or “software startups” or “large nonprofits and higher education.”


Why would a company want to hire you? What qualifications or skills make you stand out from the competition? Tell one or two brief stories that illustrate the value you bring to employers.


Add something that makes your statement more interesting, gives some insight into who you are, or brings some excitement into your voice. This might start with phrases like “I’m passionate about . . .” or What I really love is . . .” or mention an impressive or interesting example of your work.

Here’s an example, off the top of my head: I love my work because I meet interesting people with varied backgrounds. I recently coached a former Olympic athlete to negotiate a better salary at his new job.

End with a question.

Ending with a question turns your answer into the beginning of a dialog, and may gain valuable feedback. In an interview, the question might be (with a smile) “How does that match up to what you’re looking for?” In a networking situation, it might be, “How about you – what do you do?”

Of course, all of this needs to be adapted to your situation. The best positioning statement is the one that gets results for you!

In the next post, “Building Your #1 Interview Answer,” I lay out steps to developing and perfecting your positioning statement.