One of my least favourite interview questions is, “tell me about yourself”. I don’t like it, so I don’t ask it. To me, it’s always felt like a ‘gotcha’ setup, because there are no parameters, there’s no direction. You could start by saying where and when you were born (almost certainly missing the recruiter’s meaning by at least a couple of decades) and technically you’d be answering the question.
And yet, you will be asked this question in an interview, if you haven’t already. So – to appease those people who (ugh) insist on asking it – what’s the right approach? The answer is: the elevator pitch.
‘Elevator pitch’ is a term from the world of sales. It refers to a sales pitch that you can deliver in roughly the amount of time it would take to ride in an elevator with a prospect to their floor. Anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds is a typical target (elevators must have moved a lot more slowly when the term first entered the language). If you’re in the job market, the product you’re selling is yourself, and there are a range of situations where it can help you to have your own elevator pitch ready to deliver smoothly and confidently. Networking events, even social gatherings where you may meet someone in a hiring position. And of course, in job interviews.
If you’re not used to crafting elevator pitches to sell services or products, it can be unfamiliar but it’s not rocket science. You already know everything you need to know to write your own; it’s just a matter of putting it together well. If you’re starting from scratch, with no idea where to begin, you might want to consider using journalism’s ‘5 W’s’ as a structure.
Depending on the context, you may actually start with your name. The real ‘who’ you’re going for here, though, is briefly outlining the kind of job you’d typically hold. You might just state your job title, or you could describe the job in a few words if the title doesn’t make it clear what you do.
Here, go into a bit more detail about what that work actually entails. Your ‘what’ might also include specialized education or training required to do your job. Pro tip: talk about outcomes. How does your work help create value for the company you work for, or make the world around you a better place?
How long have you done this work? If you used to do a different kind of work but changed fields at some point, you might also mention that here.
What company are you working for now, and what companies have you worked with in the past? What kind of company would you usually work for?
This part of your elevator pitch depends entirely on the context in which you’re delivering it. In essence, state why you’re introducing yourself. In an interview, of course, it’ll usually be because you’re interested in the job you’re interviewing for, and you’re confident you’d be a good fit for the job and the company.
Try writing an elevator pitch of your own. Each ‘W’ should be answered in a sentence or two, no more. Time yourself, and shoot for no more than 60 seconds to say the whole thing at an easy conversational pace. Once you’re happy with it, practice it! Say it out loud, over and over again, like an actor practicing their lines, and commit it to memory.
The next time you meet someone new at a networking event, or an interviewer asks you to (sigh / eye roll) tell them about yourself, you’ll be ready.
Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash