The invitation “Tell something about yourself” is one of the classic openings in a job interview. For you, this is about sharing a few highlights from your career. Instead of telling any arbitrary experiences, you share exactly those that illustrate your professional successes and directly relate them to your future job. In addition, you will share one or two aspects that distinguish you and tell something about you as a personality.
Less is more: show Quality instead of Quantity
In a job interview, some people introduce themselves by name and finish after just one or two sentences: “My name is Stephen Wagner, my weight is 72 kilograms, my shoe size is 8.75 and I live in Bonn together with my family. I like riding my bicycle and reading a lot of books”. Some of them talk about their family life and leisure activities beyond words. None of this is target-oriented: Of course, the employer would like to get to know more about you personally. On the other hand, avoid talking about it in the first place and avoid talking about banalities. Still others are tempted to retell their entire life story: “I graduated from a business high school in Giessen in 1991. Then I completed vocational training in Frankfurt to become a computer specialist. Then I studied geography. Then I was a PhD student…then a research assistant…then I started my own business…and then…and then…and then…and then…” In fact, not many people care what you did 20 or 30 years ago.
For your presentation it is important to summarize the most important and interesting facts about you concisely. Provide clear evidence of your professional experience and associated soft skills. Just cut them out briefly without putting all facts on the table at once. That way, you are much more likely to arouse the interest of the interviewer and encourage them to dig deeper. This is your moment to address the most interesting details and to demonstrate that you are a good match for your future job, both professionally and personally.
In this way you present yourself far more purposefully than when you clumsily reiterate your resume. The HR people on the other side have your CV spread out in front of them anyway. So limit yourself to the most suitable qualifications and work experience that match the requirements of the advertised position.
Behind the call “Tell me about yourself”
By asking about who you are, your counterpart wants to learn more about you. In the subtext, on the other hand, there is always the question whether you are able to get to the point. I have once coached an applicant who has brought with him a CV with a variety of very demanding professional stations. While he has already spread out his CV over seven pages, the applicant did not finish his presentation even after ten minutes, despite a tight time schedule. No doubt about it: This extremely likeable person is highly qualified and knows his professional sector inside out. He had a hard time breaking down his experiences in such a way to introduce himself briefly. Still, this is the only way he can show that he knows what is important. That is why I recommend that all applicants take another close look at their own knowledge base and work out the exact fit – the matching – to the job content of the future position.
This is where the employer sheds light on whether you know your personal strengths and whether you know how to make the best use of them in your future job. In a nutshell: Are you confident in yourself? Do you appear modest? Or do you like to exaggerate? Are you aware of the added value you bring to your employer? Or are you simply applying for a job at random and with no firm intention? The interview is a first practical test of whether you are a good match with the company. Here you will characterize yourself and reveal your personality at the same time.
Elevator Pitch in the Job Interview
So how do you keep it short? Preferably with an elevator pitch! In case you have not yet heard of the elevator pitch: This is a short and very concise presentation that will get you to the point in no time at all. Some of them last only a few seconds, some may even last five minutes. The aim of the elevator pitch is to spark the other person’s interest in your topic. This way, your interviewer will listen more closely and ask specific questions. Depending on the situation and setting, you will also have to limit yourself in the interview, often one or two minutes.
As you prepare for your Elevator Pitch, first look at the job posting. Here the employer briefly introduces himself; he describes the tasks of the vacant position, i.e. he explains his “problem” or need. With the listed qualifications or the personal profile of requirements, he or she also shows the appropriate solution. Obviously, there are still many applicants at this point. Now it is up to you not to simply recite your CV, but to highlight specific areas of your professional experience. Furthermore, you want to emphasize certain facets of your personality in a manner that creates as many interfaces between you and the employer as possible. The aim is therefore to show the best possible “matching”.
While the solution to the employer’s problem is initially independent of you, you can now actively contribute with your personal offer. This may include your expertise with all your professional and life experiences as well as your professional qualifications. In addition to this, you can also address soft skills as mentioned in the job posting. You should also consider skills that distinguish you as a person. Again, this is not about proving all the points mentioned, but rather about specifically demonstrating the most important and interesting skills.
You add value to the employer with all your experience, i.e. the employer has a certain advantage when hiring you. Perhaps you support the vision or the why of the company where you apply for? Then you can also highlight this part in your elevator pitch.
You can make the whole thing even more impressive by succinctly highlighting your unique selling proposition (USP). What makes you stand out as a personality and as a specialist? Which characteristic do only you have – or you as one of very few people? This can be a single aspect or a combination of two or three characteristics that distinguish you from all others. Here you can relate your USP directly to your practical work and thus emphasize your benefit for the employer.
It is important to include a call to action in your elevator pitch. What do you want to achieve with your presentation? What should happen after this? Because at this point at the latest, your monolog will turn into a dialog again.
To illustrate, I will provide a fictitious example of an elevator pitch: Suppose you are in a job interview for a position as an environmental protection officer. Here is what you may want to say, once you introduce yourself: “You are looking for a consultant for environmental protection and nature conservation (problem), who also has practical experience in environmental impact studies with her studies of landscape ecology (solution)? For this position, I bring three years of project experience in addition to my Master’s degree in landscape ecology (offer). You will particularly benefit from the fact that I have already worked on and coordinated three environmental impact studies during this time. I have mapped the results and transferred them into information systems (GIS). As mentioned in your job posting, you will use exactly the same system for your studies. This way the training period will be much shorter (advantages). What distinguishes me is on the one hand the entrepreneurial thinking – I already worked in my parents’ planning office, where cost-conscious working was a very important aspect. I have always liked to stand in front of other people: Even in kindergarten I told stories to the whole group of children. Years later, when I worked on three environmental projects, I was one of the speakers who presented the results of our studies. I have inspired many people in the surrounding area for our projects (unique selling proposition, USP). If you are interested to know the biggest challenge I had to master at the time, I will gladly tell you more about it (appeal).”
This elevator pitch lasts approximately one minute and therefore has the ideal length. It contains everything that is important at this point: The reference of the personal and professional experience to the advertised position is just as recognizable as the resulting benefit for the employer. In addition, the applicant contributes a personal anecdote that may be unusual at this point, but which fits perfectly. There is also no clumsy enumeration of personal characteristics in it. Much better: the applicant briefly outlines the most important points.
It also enables the employer to make several points of reference and is a practical invitation to follow up: Which studies did the applicant participate in? What exactly has she worked on? What exactly has she coordinated? Did she work in her parents’ planning office, and if so, how did this work look like? To which audience did she present? What challenges did she have to master? With this presentation, the applicant directly invites further discussion.
When preparing for your presentation, the point is not to recite everything by heart, since the conversation also thrives on the spontaneity of the moment. Of course, you should already know what you are bringing in. You should have practiced your elevator pitch in advance and train yourself according to any questions that may arise. Good preparation raises your confidence enabling you to conduct the conversation in the right direction.
“Please describe yourself in one sentence!”
If you usually have one to five minutes for your self-presentation, you may also need to describe yourself in just one sentence. As with the Elevator Pitch, you can also prepare yourself for this. A look at the advertising industry is helpful at this point.
You probably know most of the following slogans:
- Just do it! (Nike)
- Yes we can (Barack Obama)
- “Kids and grown-ups love it so – the happy world of Haribo” (in German: “Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso”)
- “Quality. Chocolate. Squared.” and “Quality in a Square” (Ritter Sport)
Slogans live from their deliberate shortening. Some are thought-provoking, others are action-oriented, and all of them contain a positive message. On the other hand, they reveal very little information, but that is not the point here either. If you describe your resume and yourself as a striking character, it should be something catchy and memorable that inspires or makes your interviewer think. I myself developed the following slogans during the five years of my self-employment, and I still use some of them today:
- Feedback for your Presentation
- Color your Speech
- Speak to global-minded People
- Mit Reden Wissen schaffen (Create Knowledge with Speeches; a word play related to “have a say” for the German word “mitreden”; “Wissenschaft” relates to my professional background as well as to one of my target groups, but creating knowledge for “Wissen schaffen”)
- Reden in der Landschaft (Speeches in the Landscape; relates to my domainde)
For resumes and interviews, you may want to consider a brainstorming to create several options. Once you have developed ten or twenty variations, you choose from the best ones or put them together to create a new slogan. If you are asked later in the interview to “describe yourself in one sentence”, you will be well prepared. The applicant shown above could choose one of the following phrases:
- “What’s the environmental impact – I will find out for you!”
- “Your entrepreneur for our environment”
- “Our environment is my project”
In the interview, you will certainly have to explain your slogan again, so prepare yourself for this! Of course, you can also deliver an impromptu presentation regarding your slogan. Consider what your slogan tells about you as a person. With your answer, you can position yourself very clearly towards the employer. If you are well prepared, this will give you a very good introduction that will be a good base for you during the further discussion.