Everyone Has a Great Story to Tell. What’s Yours?
Them: So, tell me about yourself.
You: What do you want to know?
Them: You know, a little bit about your background.
You: Well…I started out as a child…
Well, maybe not actually snoring. But I did once doze off once with a client back in the days when I was a therapist. I felt so bad. But it was the same story she had told several weeks running and, well, I just checked out. She called me on it. “Did you just fall asleep”, she asked. I confessed that I did. Bless her heart; she confessed she was also tired of her story so therapy took a turn for the better when she vowed to lived a better and more interesting life. And she did, too. I was proud of her though not really proud of my therapeutic technique. It was an effective moment with her when I fell asleep.
It would be really bad for a job search to have people fall asleep because of your professional life story.
Job seekers are told they should have a ready-made answer to the “tell me about yourself” question. In the search we use it with everyone we meet. Some experts say this is a professional commercial and that there should be a 20 second “elevator speech” version and a more comprehensive two minute version. This is so important that Martha and I dedicated Chapter 25 in our book to this topic.
Here’s the problem: Most of these stories are really bad.
After hearing thousands of these stories, I am convinced that they are not bad because people lives are uninspiring. They are bad because it is very tough to tell your own story without it sounding boring, boorish, or half baked. Trust me on this, get your story right and you will make your interviews sing!
Start with a hook and link it to your career. Everyone has an interesting twist to their history. Did you grow up in a small town and learned the value of reputation, hard work and community? Or maybe you joined the Air Force for a ticket to be the first in your family to go to college and learned the commitment and discipline to do a job right because people’s lives depended on you.
Avoid fancy and fluffy words. Tone it down. You are not a talking resume. A good technique to make it more real is to explain how your listener might have experienced the work, the services or the products you have done. Give them something they can personally relate to. Paint a word picture. Think about how you would explain your work to a friend over drinks.
Use third party proof. If you were promoted because your boss told you that you were good at getting cross-functional teams to work together, say so.
Highlight what you learned and what makes you tick. The real purpose of any interview is to give the interviewer a sense of what you know and what motivates you. For example, your first supervision job might be summarized as, “…a time when I was given a strong foundation in team building, managing and measuring work and performance management”.
Always end with a tight wrap-up and question. If you are out of work, your story will always end with a job loss. Yuck. Try this: “So the industry hit a slump and the company was forced to restructure. A lot of good people and jobs were impacted. So now I am looking for another position. Tell me more about what type of person you are looking to fill this job?
The only yesterday you talk about is all about tomorrow. By now you are asking, “TWO MINUTES? How do you do this in TWO MINUTES?!” The secret to keeping it short is that your sole focus is to highlight only aspects of your background that fit the next step in your career. In essence, act as if everything in your career story prepared you perfectly for your next position. And now, today, it is only logical that you are fully qualified to do the job. You have arrived.
And they will be glad they stayed awake.