Many structured interviews, particularly those at large companies, start with a question like "tell me about yourself." The interviewer doesn't really want you to go back to grade school and talk about your childhood. This is a specific question with a specific answer ... in two minutes or so, the interviewer wants to get you to relax and loosen out your vocal cords, understand your background, your accomplishments, why you want to work at XYZ company and what your future goals are. Here's how to narrow your life down into a brief but relevant and professional answer.
1. Spend about 1-2 hours writing down your top five work or personal experiences. These experiences should follow this format - situation/task, action, result (STAR). What was the situation, what did you do, and what happened?
2. Narrow each down to a paragraph. Think about the STAR format as a 100 point pie. Only about 15-20 points should go to the "situation" with about 40 points going to your actions and 30-35 points on the results.
3. Think about the themes that come across. Are you all about growth, customer focus, sales excellence, product innovation, etc. and how do the themes come through? How do your experiences reflect a recurring theme?
4. Pick your top themes. What are the top 1-2 things you want the interviewer to remember about you? When you have finished answering the question, the interviewer should know clearly what these top 2 things are.
5. Put it together. A good way to finalize this is to use the word-count feature on your word processor. At 150 words per minute, you should not use much more than 350 words for your pitch. You'll generally want to start with undergrad, unless that was a very long time ago. Quickly move past undergrad and launch into your work history, keeping in mind that you want to highlight your top 3-5 experiences and not every last thing you did in each job. Keep your undergrad and work history to 75% of your time. Save the last moments for why XYZ company and what your future goals are. These goals should match the new position and/or the opportunities at this company.
• Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You'll be amazed at your nervous habits!
• Even though you've prepared and practiced, keep it natural. Remember to breathe and smile.
• Rehearse it, but make sure it doesn't LOOK rehearsed.
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