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Winning 5-Part Formula To The First Interview Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”

The first question is always the hardest.

You want to start this interview on the right foot. And you know that you only get one chance to make that first impression.

While it’s natural to feel nervous, you know you can’t screw up the interview as well.

What if you knew and prepared for the first interview question in advance? What if you rehearsed it so well, you get through that first question with so much ease, you feel completely calm and relaxed to take on the next question?

That’s what this post is about. I’m going to give you a simple 5-step formula that so many job seekers fail to comply to.

This is going to be the best way to describe yourself in an interview.

So let’s start with the worst way

“Well I was born in …… and I got my Bachelor’s Degree in ….. I then moved to ….. where I started working in …. I then got a job at …. where I was doing a lot of …..”

Here’s why this standard approach that most job seekers have to this question does not work.

When listening to your answer, the hiring manager does not care about two things:

  1. Your personal life history (where you’re born, where/when you moved)
  2. Repeating what is already on your resume

As you can see from the standard response above, your education and the companies you worked in and the tasks you did for those companies are already in your resume.

The hiring manager already knows this, so why repeat it?

OK, I get it! So what’s the right way?

This is your elevator pitch. Keep it to 30–45 seconds.

Too short? I beg to differ.

As long as it’s well rehearsed, which means you avoid the “ummmms” and “aahhhs”, you can pack a lot of valuable information in there.

Here’s the 5-part formula you can follow:

  1. Year of Experience
  2. 2 Strengths
  3. A story to support those strengths
  4. Results of your achievements that relate to those strengths
  5. What brings you to this interview

Let’s pick it apart

1. Year of experience

Yes, this is already on your resumé. While this one point contradicts my earlier statement, it’s just an opening sentence to ease into the remaining parts of the formula.

It sets the foundation to the second part, your strengths.

So an example would be:

“I have over 5 years of experience in digital marketing in the technology industry. During that time, I’ve come to realize that my two biggest strengths are…”

2. Two Strengths

Which strengths do I pick? I have so many!

Your job description is your guide.

Remember a job interview isn’t about you. It’s about what you can do for them. Use what’s being asked for at the top of the job description to know which strengths they require and speak to them.

Ideally, take it out of the first ask in the Responsibilities and Skills section.

For example, if you are applying for a position as a Marketing Coordinator, the first responsibility could be “Assisting the marketing manager in Planning and Designing marketing strategies for our clients”.

So one of your strengths could be your planning and documentation skills, or your ability to effectively communicate with clients.

Use the keywords in the job description to guide your conversation:

“During that time, I’ve come to realize that my two biggest strengths are my documentations skills that supports my manager’s and team’s needs, and my communication skills when laying out a marketing plan for a client.”

Notice how you are providing some context to each strength.

3. A Story To Support Your Strengths

Once upon a time, you did something amazing.

Clients gave you great feedback. Your boss said “Good Job!” Perhaps you were even nominated for an award for it.

That’s the story you need to pull out of your career hat.

In our previous example, you could recollect a specific client who loved your marketing plan, and how you collaborated with the team in creating the plan.

This is where you peak the interest of the listeners. This is the gold the manager wants to hear but is not in your resumé.

Every good story has a structure. There’s a hero (you), there is a challenge the hero has to overcome, and finally the hero wins the day and everyone lives happily ever after. Here’s what that would sound like in an interview:

“There was a time we were dealing with a very complex social media plan from a challenging client who didn’t know what they want. The team was getting frustrated as the client constantly were changing their mind. So I formulated a customized and aggressive communication plan and documented all asks for the client. This helped bring the team back on track and we noticed a significant change in demands from the client.”

This works well if you are currently unemployed.

However, if you have a job right now, an alternate story you can (and should) use is the project that you’re working on right now.

Hiring managers want to hire the kind of people that are bringing about change, that are leading projects, that are inspiring others to collaborate.

If the project you are working on now speaks to any of these traits, bring it up in your introduction:

“Right now, I’m working on a project where my analytical and problem solving skills are being put to good use. All our supply chain analysts have their own ways of building reports to present to their VPs, and our senior management is complaining that they don’t have a wholistic view of the division. So I’m working with the directors and we are creating a centralized excel template with some advanced macros that I’m coding to solve this problem.”

4. Results of Your Story

This is probably the hardest part of the introduction, yet the most essential.

How does one prove they did a good job? In other words, what is the moral of your epic story above?

One boss can give you a pat on the back just for showing up. The other wants to see the blood, sweat and tears before rewarding you.

Results means separating the facts from opinions and assumptions.

Usually this is the form of numbers or quotes.

Numbers are indisputable. (That’s why senior management love ’em so much)

Quotes are things that others have actually said about you. Also fact!

In our previous example, if your story is about a fantastic marketing campaign you launched, you can have both numbers and quotes:

  1. What were your clients sales like after the campaign?
  2. Was it a social media campaign? How many Facebook likes/followers?
  3. Launched a website? How many unique visitors?
  4. What did the client say to you or your team after the campaign was launched
  5. What did your management say to you after the campaign was launched?

The results may sound like this:

“In the end, the client said they appreciated the “open communications with me and my team. The campaign launched on time despite the escalation in demands, and we boosted their social media engagement by 240% and their traffic by 98%. They extended our contract by another 2 years.”

I know this is specific to marketing, but hopefully you get the idea and how to translate results in your specific industry.

5. The final stretch

Finally, fate has brought you to this interview.

One question that is playing on the hiring manager’s mind is whether you will stay at this job.

S/he doesn’t want to go through this agonizing hiring process again.

Prepare for two things:

  1. What is it you like about XYZ company.
  2. What is it you like about this position.

If you’re a serious job seeker that actually wants to get a job ASAP, you will take the time and effort to research the company before the interview.

Not just what is in their main website. More importantly, what’s in the news.

What’s in the news is fresh material, especially for large enterprises.

Compliment that research with a specific ask from the job description that appeals to you, especially because it taps into your key strengths that you mentioned earlier.

Here’s what that would sound like:

“What brings me here today is the fact that your organization is expanding your new product line, and I noticed a couple of ads on Facebook about it. I’d love to part of the team that takes you to the next level because we share the same values of being customer focused and making lives easier through technology.”

Putting it all together

Here’s what an introduction could sound like for our ambitious marketing coordinator above.

I just copy pasted parts of a job description for a Marketing Coordinator position open for Canada Bread from Job Search Canada | Indeed

  • Reviewing current marketing processes and proposing ways to streamline and simplify
  • Sound problem solving skills , drive to take initiative with a ‘can do’ attitude

I select one point from the Responsibilities Section, and one point from the Skills section. Good enough.

Here’s what this could sound like:

“In my 5 years in the marketing industry, I’ve analyzed marketing processes and assisted marketing managers to launch campaigns with big names such as Pepsi, Microsoft and Walmart.

In each campaign I learned something new, and took the initiative (Strength 1) to improve our marketing processes so that every new campaign launch more efficiently than the last.

Where I feel I add most value is in my ability to foresee and pinpoint problems (Strength 2) before they impact the client.

I remember there was one campaign we launch for Walmart. Since the industry was similar to Pepsi in consumer goods, part of our process on the social media front was to deep dive into market analysis data to determine the best demographic to launch to. It turned out to be a disaster, as every member of the team had their own opinion which delayed the project.

I learned from that error, so for Walmart I suggested we use research data from Forrester which we had access to.

It was a big hit. The teams rallied behind the idea and it allowed us to get 87% boost in Facebook likes, 4 days after the campaign was launched.

I’ve now applied for this position because I believe I’ve gained as much experience as I can from my previous role, and based on what I’ve read is required for this role, I can utilize my strengths to bring better results to this organization.

I’m especially curious to know about the case studies I’ve reviewed about your company where you successfully launched campaigns on your leading product line.

Can we can talk a little bit more about that later on, and how similar campaigns can apply to this role?”

I don’t want to make it sound like you have to bull$hit your way through your introduction.

Yes, you are selecting strengths they want, but if you don’t possess these strengths at the top of the list of the job description, then speak to another one.

You must be confident in your opening answer, and this confidence can only come from a place of genuineness.

If you don’t have any strengths or stories from the job description, well then, why are you apply for this job?

Record yourself

I don’t expect you to memorize your answer.

If you do, it will sound robotic.

Make note of the bullet points and practice practice practice.

Then when you think you’ve done the best you can, whip out your phone and hit record.

Now, you will hear what the hiring manager hears, and I am pretty sure you will be surprised at the result.

I know it will feel weird to hear your own voice back at you, but it’s important to take this final step.

It’s more than just the words. It’s also about the tone and confidence level that you can assess when you objectively listen to the playback. Make tweaks as you see fit, and practice some more.

This final step is crucial, because once you hear yourself, it will give you the confidence boost you need to ace that interview.

You might be tempted to wing it at the interview and not take the trouble to prep. Just remember one thing. The hiring manager knows within the firs 30 seconds whether you have the job or not. And the reason this statistic is true is because of the importance of this opening question “Tell me about yourself”.

You will either ace it or screw it up. In my experience, most candidates fail to impress at the start.

While most managers and recruiters maybe be sympathetic to nervousness at the start of the interview, they will certainly remember those candidates who did not need their sympathy, because they were confident at the start.

So formulate your strengths and story in this 5-part introduction, and let the managers sympathize with your competition. That job is yours!

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12 Responses

  1. I find this educative and insightful. It speaks volume as to why many do not get called back after the interview. Thank you for the knowledge. It is useful.

  2. You are so resourceful to the solution of being turned down after the one- on – one job interviews with recruiters? You really nip it at the bud on how to tackle some grey areas of physical interviews. You are amazing!

  3. This is so informative, thank, i have one question though, can you tell stories that are not related to your work experience if that’s were your strength lie?

    1. If you are a new graduate, you certainly can. But if you are applying for a job that requires 2 years of experience, it should be work related. You can resort to personal experience when asked behavioural interview questions later in the interview such as “tell me about a time when you faced a challenge”

  4. This is an impeccably well-structured 5-step approach to answer a question that is undoubtedly “the most asked question” in any job interview and still most of the candidates stumble upon being hit by it.
    But, not anymore. The most beautiful part of the article is the application of this 5 part approach on a real job posting which gives a clear idea of how to apply it well.

    Thank you Connel for demytifying the approach to answer this dreaded question.

  5. After reading those 5 steps, I can confidently say that am better informed and ready to ace the next interview. Thank you for the wonderful insights.

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