In the course of my work as a career coach and job search consultant, I meet new people all of the time. As a result, I have heard lots of “elevator speeches” and lots of personal introductions. In fact, I often start a typical conversation with the opener, “So, tell me about yourself,” just to see what the individual with whom I am meeting will say.
My personal observation is that the individual who starts with his work history from 1983 is likely going to bore me before very long. I am too polite (I hope) to let it show, but when I ask that question, I am not interested in the person’s 20 or 30 year work history. I know it may sound like I am, but that is not what I want to hear. I don’t intend it to be a trick question either. I find, however, that the way a person answers the question, “So, tell me about yourself,” is very telling, and may explain why they are still on the job market.
Here is what I want to hear when I ask that question, and I suspect your future employer would want to know this, too.
1. What’s your specialty?
In what area are you an expert, or, in other words, in what area are you a specialist? Instead of starting at the beginning of your work history, start with your most recent experience and work backward–but only as far back as is pertinent. Unless you want to see your listener glaze over in a few short minutes, you should start with your most pertinent and most recent work experience. Avoid starting with, “My first job was as a bagger at the local grocery store when I was 15 years old (and now I am 55).
2. What are your credentials?
You can start with your credentials if they are relevant. For example, I have a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, but I am no longer working directly in the field of education, so that isn’t relevant anymore. If your credentials are pertinent, then by all means, start with them. For example, “I am a marketing specialist. I earned my MBA from ABC University. My last project was (fill in the blank) with Company XYZ.”
3. What stories can back up your claims?
Tell a memorable story that demonstrates your experience or your expertise. We never get too old to hear a good story. You will be more memorable, and you will be on your way to making a lasting positive impression if you have a good story to tell that highlights your experience and showcases your professionalism in a particular way. You should practice your story, but don’t let it sound rehearsed. That will bore your listener. Try to change it up just enough each time you tell it so that you can tell it enthusiastically, so you don’t sound bored with yourself.
4. What’s the other side of the story?
Avoid complaining about previous employers or work experiences. You may or may not already know this, but if you didn’t already know it, here is a tip intended to help you: Nobody cares for a complainer. No offense, but as soon as someone starts telling me what a raw deal they got in their last job, I start wondering about the other side of the story. I am sure that were I to talk to the people at the previous job, they would tell the same story from their point of view. A potential employer will be turned off by even the hint of sour grapes, so be careful, and always, always, always be professional.
5. What about YOU?
Don’t forget to ask about your listener if it is appropriate. If you are meeting someone over coffee for an informational conversation about a company you are interested in learning about, it would be helpful, not to mention just plain good manners, for you to ask a question or two of the person with whom you are meeting.
I have listened to people carry on about themselves for an hour or more without taking a breath. As we part ways, I note that they haven’t asked a single question about me, so they don’t know how I might help them. Not that I need to talk about myself, but it seems a little rude to take all of the time for yourself and not show at least a passing interest in the person with whom you are meeting.
The way you present yourself in these important conversations is the way you are building your personal and professional brand. I caution my clients to remember that they ARE their brand. You create your brand with every encounter regardless of how casual. You can create a lasting impression for good or not so good depending on your initial encounter with every new individual you meet. Build a brand that is memorable for the right reasons. Develop a strategy for how to introduce yourself. It will be an effort that pays off in the end.
Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a former educator turned Career Transition and Job Strategy Coach specializing in working with teachers who are experiencing the painful symptoms of job burnout. She also works with mid-career professionals from all walks of life who find themselves at a career crossroads either by chance or by choice. Learn more about Kitty at TeachersinTransition.com or at Boitnott Coaching.com.
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