Business Essentials

"Tell me about yourself": 4 Ways to construct your career story

"Tell me about yourself": 4 Ways to construct your career story

Thursday, 25 February 2021

IT’S THE JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION YOU MIGHT DREAD ABOVE ALL OTHERS, BUT GETTING YOUR ANSWER RIGHT ISN’T JUST IMPORTANT WHEN YOU’RE HOPING TO MAKE YOUR NEXT CAREER MOVE…

Knowing your own script is just as necessary at formal networking events; in impromptu meetings with decision makers; when constructing your LinkedIn profile summary; even when you’re preparing to become a mentor and need to demonstrate why someone coming up behind you could benefit from your experiences.

 

“Sharing your journey can be really hard,” says everywoman Associate Sara Parsons in our recent webinar What does mentoring involve?. It might be that you don’t like talking about yourself or appearing to ‘brag’, or maybe the sum of your experiences makes it difficult for you to tell a coherent and concise story about your journey.

 

Consider though that 90% of potential collaborators’ minds are made up in the first 90 seconds, and preparing an authentic, engaging and relevant answer to that broadest of questions - “Tell me about yourself” – starts to look crucial.

 

1. IF YOUR CAREER TO DATE IS A NOVEL IN PROGRESS; WHAT’S THE HEADLINE OF EACH COMPLETED CHAPTER?

Divide up your career into time chunks – depending on your level of experience this might mean looking at a few months at a time, or even years or decades. If time segments don’t make sense for you, think about themes – the first job, the first promotion, the early management days, the biggest learning curve.

Take each section at a time and jot down some key bullet points that sum up that period in your working life. If you’re struggling, Sara advises asking yourself the following prompts:

  • What inspiration did you draw from people at that time?
  • Who were your role models or guiders?
  • What specific industry knowledge did you gain?
  • What else did you gain during that time that would be really useful for someone with less experience to know?
  • What were your biggest achievements?
  • What was your decision-making around moving on from that period?

Once you have all the info, you can work out what elements are really important to convey to the person asking the question – what particular knowledge, behaviours, strength or skills? This might change depending on the environment and why you’re being asked the question, but understanding your own journey is the first step to communicating it effectively to whomever and in whichever situation.

 

2. TELL A (SHORT) STORY USING PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE TENSES

Once you know what key messages you want to convey, these points will need to be structured in such a way that engages the listener. One technique recommended by leading recruiters is to deliver a short story with one sentence each from the past, present and future. Let’s say for example that you want to convey a long and deeply held passion for your industry (past), a hands-on approach to work (present), and a desire to become a manager having already laid the groundwork (future):

“I knew I wanted to be a computer programmer from the age of five – I was fascinated by machines and wanted to understand them and make them smarter. I was quickly promoted to supervisor level in my current role, though I am still very involved with coding. I really enjoy my role as a mentor so I’m excited about this opportunity because it means being hands on while further developing my management credentials.”

 

3. DIRECT YOUR OWN MOVIE TRAILER

Another technique used by recruitment specialists is to approach your answer as if you were directing a trailer about your career. Aside from the obvious need for brevity, this means that you need to include hooks to encourage the watcher to invest in the full-length version. So ensure you include just enough detail to allow the questioner to find very obvious next questions. In the example above, the questioner might probe deeper into your early interest in computers, how you worked yourself up into a supervisor role, your most rewarding experience as a mentor, or how you will manage time effectively between leading a team and being “hands on”.

Likewise your movie trailer also has to quickly signify to the questioner that the full-length version is relevant to their viewing needs. When you’re at the movies to see a romantic comedy, the trailers seldom veer into an unrelated genre. The same applies to interviews, networking events or in early mentoring session – the other person wants to know how relevant you and your experience are to theirs needs. Ensure your past, present, future story is aligned with a job description or what you know of an organisation; check through delegate lists before events to understand the broad interests of those you’ll be meeting; invite potential mentees to talk through their biggest challenges before you give them the lowdown on why and how you can help, adapting your story to showcase what you offer.

 

4. HEIGHTEN YOUR STORY’S IMPACT BY DEMONSTRATING THAT YOU’RE AN ACTIVE LISTENER

You’ll no doubt have heard that what you say is eclipsed by body language in terms of others’ perceptions of you. But what you say and how you say it clearly are still very important, and your content is more likely to engage your audience if you’re involving them in the story, demonstrating that you’ve listened or done your preparatory research.

Pay attention when your interviewer outlines what they’re looking for in candidates, and relate back to it when you’re telling them about yourself (for example, “You mentioned that this role has a very broad remit, which is great because I work best when I have a lot of variety in my role…”). If a potential new connection asks what you do, you might start off by explaining why your industry or situation is very similar to or very different from theirs, demonstrating you’ve been hearing them rather than just waiting for your opportunity to speak (for example, “Your industry is clearly much more technical than mine, but it sounds as if both our roles are really all about people…”)

Active listening is an essential skill and the key way to make your conversations engaging. Develop yours by switching your senses onto high alert during conversations – however casual or brief - and reflecting on what you learn about the speaker.

 

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