This dreaded opener is often asked at the beginning of interviews, and it’s surprisingly difficult to answer. Where to start? You’re a complex individual, and I think there’s something in us that resists being summarized in a few minutes. And selling ourselves is somehow depressing, isn’t it? We’re not commodities.
But polishing an answer is like carrying a crisp copy of a resume wherever you go, because you can drop it into conversations at a conference you’re attending, or even at a bus stop when someone asks you what you do.
Tips for answering:
1. Before you think about the content of your answer, think pacing. As in, how fast are you answering, and are you coming off as a Gilmore Girl because you’re answering too fast for the human ear to track you? Record your voice and listen.
2. Now, for content. Keep it relevant, but not too relevant. Throw out something quirky now and then, something that isn’t all about achievement and can lead to conversation. So, where were you born? Are you a native, or from a far-flung country? Fill in your college, your major, companies or organizations you’ve worked for. But also, what do you do in your down time? And what projects are you working on now?
3. Wrap it up and ask for something. Well, not really ask, ask. Let them know why you want to work for them, if you’re in an interview, or if you’re at that proverbial bus stop, let them know you’re job searching. This is so easy to say on paper, but so tough to do in person. We’re not accustomed to asking for things from strangers. There’s shame involved. Remember, though, it’s a gift you’re giving, this sharing. You’re letting people know they’re worth your time, and you’re interested in their organization and their work.
When all this is put together, practice it in front of a mirror, recording it on your laptop memo program, or with a friend until it fits in a 30 second speech.
Here’s my version of a quick intro. Depending on the context, I might also add that I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, that I teach knitting in my free time at a local yarn store, or that I’m trying to learn Mandarin but am mostly tongue-tied at this point. What I hope for is that I hear those magical words. “Oh, really, I did X,Y, Z too. Or I know someone who grew up there.” You never know what will help you make a connection.