39 great comments!

Tell Me About Yourself: What’s Your Story?

interview, human interest, career management, performing arts, kathy hansen, jobs seeker, job interview, career development, job search, interviews, recruitment, job, literature, company, storytelling, career, story, employment, tell, jobs “Tell Me About Yourself” This sure sounds like a friendly inquiry during an interview.  And often it’s asked with good intentions.  By someone who truly wants to get to know you.

Ahem. Some bad news.

It is also asked by lazy people, the poorly prepared and some who are curious to see where you’ll go with it.  Like watching a busy intersection for a fender bender.

You’ll get it from recruiters, HR folks, anyone kicking off a job interview or a new department head who’d like to get to know their staff.

Now the good news.

Open ended questions are awesome opportunities to take charge of an interview or meeting.  They allow you to initiate a more conversational interview.  Where real issues get discussed and you get a chance to show off what you know and to illustrate your specific value.

Here’s more good news.

There is an art to storytelling and a huge benefit to you when you can use a story to draw someone in to your life and your work accomplishments.

Some of you may know I spent a few days last week in Las Vegas sharing a presentation on “marketing for career experts” at the Career Management Alliance Conference.  But I ended up getting most of the value from the trip.  I met great new friends.  And picked up some new ideas on how to use storytelling in the job interview from Chandlee Bryan of StartWire, and in the resume from Karen Siwak of Resume Confidential.  And then on the way home (a fun 4.5 hour drive), I had a unique opportunity to chat it up with Kathy Hansen of Quintessential Careers – one of the single best resources for job search in the world.

Kathy has an awesome book (pictured above) on storytelling called “Tell Me about Yourself: Storytelling To Get Jobs And Propel Your Career”.  So I’ll tell you about Kathy’s book.

Then I’ll tell you how you can win one of three copies she gave me.

The book is written in three parts:

1.  The basics of career-propelling stories

2.  How to use storytelling in your job search

3.  How to use storytelling throughout your career

If you are someone who freezes or cringes when asked a big, open-ended question like “tell me about yourself”, this book will be like a warm bath on a cold winter’s night.  Kathy’s writing style is very comfortable.  As you might guess from a storyteller.

She opens her book with a story of a frustrated job seeker who learns the value of storytelling.  Here’s some of that story:

“… the discouraged young man read a book that suggested composing personal stories.  Doing so, the job seeker found, provided him with better interview preparation than any coaching he had ever experienced.  Using stories he hadn’t  remembered before he read the book, he said, made him more confident, convincing, and persuasive in his interviews.”

Now isn’t that how you want to feel during a job interview?  How about your first meeting with your company’s new CEO?

According to Kathy, here are the reasons stories are so powerful in a job search (I love these!):

  1. Stories establish your identity and reveal your personality
  2. Stories help you know yourself and build confidence
  3. Stories make you memorable
  4. Stories establish trust
  5. Stories help you stand out
  6. Stories illustrate what you have to offer
  7. Stories paint vivid pictures
  8. Stories provide explanations and reveal your response to change
  9. Stories demonstrate your communication skills

Kathy’s book also provides many great samples to help you turn your experiences into engaging stories.

So if you’d like a chance to win a copy of Kathy’s book, here’s how to enter to win:  leave a comment on this post.  How? Share a story that you like to tell or a success in using a story to find a job or propel your career.  You can also ask a question and I’ll see if I can get Kathy to answer a few.

If you don’t end up a winner, you can find Kathy’s storytelling for jobs and career book on Amazon.  And please read her storytelling blog called A Storied Career.  Lets of great resources there.

Ready?  Begin.

Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
Tags: | | | | | | | | |
Categories: Job Interview Tips
  • Can’t recommend Kathy’s book highly enough! I was honoured to be included on Kathy’s panel on storytelling. She is at the vanguard of story-telling as a career management tool, and her blog, “A Storied Career” is one of my favorite must-visit sites. People are natural story-tellers, it’s inherent in how we have developed as a species. The trick is learning which stories to tell, when, and to whom, and “Tell Me About Yourself” has practical yet powerful tips for every stage of the job search and career management cycle.

  • My favorite story to share is about my summer spent working in a pencil factory. During business school I had the unusual opportunity to supervise a group of people manufacturing a product called a China Marker (or grease pencil). It’s a very evocative story with the image of a hot factory in central Tennessee, and it’s interesting because it reflects a powerful moment of self-discovery (learning that I have a knack for managing/leading people and running operations).

    Great post, Tim!

  • Thanks Karen – I loved your presentation at CMA not only because of the great examples you shared but also how you shared stories that cut through the crap. So to speak. Some stories are just too vague and don’t stand out. You are a great example of someone who can help people bring their stories to the surface in a way that recruiters or hiring managers will pay attention.

  • Ooh I like that one, Andrew. I’m getting all five senses just from your brief description. Cool! Thanks for sharing that one and I wonder how many other stories will be triggered based on yours?

  • Erin – Thanks for that great example. And I love how your story and explanation fit in so nicely with with a valuable characteristic (staying grounded) for your profession. Doesn’t it feel good to know you have some good stories?

  • Thanks, Tim, for the review, and thanks Karen for your kind words. LOVE the stories posted so far. Keep ’em coming.

  • Erin Vance

    I have a story relating to how storytelling made an interview much better, ending with me being offered a job. It was years ago, one of my very first interviews after grad school. I was less confident then, but I walked out of one particular interview with a strong sense of having nailed it. I could literally see the moment when the interviewers went from liking me to wanting me. I am a speech-language pathologist and I was interviewing with a school system. I wanted to be wholly professional in my interview, but I think I came across as stiff, even if I was eager. That changed when I was asked a question that was very open-ended (along the lines of ‘tell me about your experiences so far’). I started telling a story about a time, during one of my graduate practicums, in which I had been working with a child who – after making great progress, suddenly began to regress. Through telling this story, it became clear that I was aware of my own inexperience. I owned up to the fact that I didn’t have all the answers, and yet had the ambition and critical thinking needed to attempt addressing the problems I encountered. As I spoke, I could see admiration for my self-awareness dawn on the faces of those who were interviewing me. I was not the perfect candidate, but I was showing them a side of myself who recognized that there could be no perfect candidate (as we are all human and human error will always be a factor). I saw the moment I gained greater credibility, however, as I concluded my story with a reason why I still wanted to work for a school system after admitting to being flawed and inexperienced. I said “because I don’t want to see only the children who have communication delays or disorders. I want to experience typical development, so I don’t forget what that looks like.”

    I was offered that job, and have had many more job interviews through the years (changing states, job settings, etc), but I think I’ll always remember how much a difference telling that personal account made. It also made me more confident, as I was able to answer some annoyingly vague interview questions with stories based on specific experiences throughout my career.

  • You are welcome – hope we get at least a few more! 🙂

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  • Jason McMahon

    Once I was asked to summarize my experience so I reviewed what I had on my resume and pointed to where I was summarizing on the resume itself. This gave the supervisor a point of reference when referring to the resume after the interview had concluded. I also include a summary of my experience on a profile sheet with my resume and cover letter to help the interviewer get a clearer idea of my overall experiences regardless of where I used them. This cuts down on a lot of questions during the interview process and sometimes I get hired right from the phone interview. I just go into the company to meet those I will be working with.

  • Thanks Jason – Agree that you have to tell a good story. And then you need to help them know where to find aspects of that story to remind and reinforce . . .

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  • Writewright7

    The ability to tell one’s story succinctly and build a relationship with the interviewer are good rules of thumb for interview success.

  • Grailmduewell

    About ~ “Your Power Story” or ” Tell me about yourself”

    A quick summary about you in a 30 seconds Speech
    Quick ~ Share w/us about your experience, background, expertise and how long your being w/the company. What is your interest or what are you looking for? Knowing your target companies, objectives and your goal. Knowing your skills set, key factors & objectives to find that niche in life timely, accurately and efficiently. Be yourself, be confident and stand out from the rest. Knowing the VALUE you bring to the table or organization. Apply your PARS “ Powerful story” What you bring to the company by goals achieving (mentioned here – your contribution to the firm/organization). Demonstrate your ability, your initiative, loyalty, respect and care of the other job seeker by offering your help to them. Meaning sharing the common goals and best interests of the findings, if anything comes along the way. “Do unto others as they do unto you.” Conclusion: Wish them the best in their job search. Good luck and all the best! Closing statement: And again, my name is (Your name), ” (Job Title). “Something to remember about you.”

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  • Writewright7 and Grail – thanks for those last contributions! Here are the three book winners based on a quick drawing this AM. I will also email the winners directly. If for some reason you are a winner and you did not leave a private email address with your comment, please send me your mailing address via the “contact” page here on the site:

    #1 Erin Vance

    #2 Jason McMahon

    #3 Andrew Weber

    Congratulations and enjoy this great book!

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  • Jason McMahon

    This book is excellent. I bought several to hand out. It is the first I have seen with plenty of examples. I love stealing well written phrases to include in the resume and use in an interview. This book has plenty. The only thing I didn’t see was an example of a profile with the resume. If you would like I can send you a copy of mine.

  • Hey Tim!
    I have a great story to share in the spirit of “inspire”. I met you when we were both out of work and starting to network in both MENG and CafeNet (I think)… At the time you were in CPG and I was looking to crack into medical devices, which I did. Since that time it has been ups and downs (like the economy) with entrepreneurship in my path of growth as well.

    But what I learned through MENG and CafeNet I applied and reapplied. Being layed off 2x in 4 years was eye opening for me. But it also helped me to understand, learn and leverage the power of networking. In addition, it also helped me to better define the VISION for my career and not just “happenstance”. I shared my story via Facebook, CafeNet and told it to as many as I could, because my path was not easy or simple or clear… But I worked at, and focused on what I wanted in a career (created a document in 2009 during my second layoff when I was interviewing and the recruiter said they loved you but they didn’t feel you had “passion” realizing I didn’t really want that job) and went on a quest to make it happen. What I thought I wanted and what I fought the hardest for (medical device marketing) kept resulting in a series of “not the right fit”.

    One day after multiple, not the right fits, I started to consider, “why I am fighting so hard for it to be right- for this to work”. Keep in mind during all these job searches I have been fulltime consulting or working, always working on “building out my personal brand” rejuvenate marketing (thank you TOM PETERS for the inspiration and methodology in 2006 during my first layoff).

    Then one day a conversation on Facebook with a former employer/boss of mine resulting in a job opportunity I didn’t know about or wouldn’t have looked at. In a week, after making a quick decision to accept the invite to fly to the Bay Area for a day of “checking out the opportunity”, I had the offer of my career, a fully paid relocation and an opportunity to work with a leader I had always enjoyed working with (another former higher up the chain boss)… But the strange thing in all this, is that it happened, it worked and sure, relocation has not been easy or ideal, or what I was thinking… but I found what I believe to be the perfect fit. As a director of communications in a technology company that sells digital marketing email platforms, my passion in marketing is again realized, as all the things I love about marketing are this job. All the things that were tiring me and demotivating me are not my job.

    I guess my point is, that I never in a million years would have thought this was “my path” but for now, I can say it is and I’m super excited to be truly “rejuvenated” in my career. The only way I ever would have gotten here, is the way I did. Networking (I had a goal for LinkedIn to grow from 250 to 500 from October to December of last year- did it by end of January with quality connects), taking on leadership roles in organization voluntarily (DeviceAlliance and Camino RealPlayhouse) being available to help others- give back, defining “who I am” and “what I want in my career” and being completely open in the process.

    And by the way, my new boss told me that she and a few other people I knew from back in my first relocation to nocal had been watching me “online socially” for the past year and what I was doing with my business and my connections.

    So if you think social and networking doesn’t matter out there- think again. Leverage what you know, who you know, get involved and make a difference. It MATTERS! More on my story “note” on Facebook here.

    By the way, I got everything, EVERY single thing… on my ideal VISION of “what I want in my career” note I wrote in August 2009. Just took a few experiences along the way to get there. http://www.facebook.com/note.php?saved&&note_id=10150158818035609

    I made a good decision with this move and this risk. I feel inspired by leadership, challenged, motivated and I’m pretty sure I can be successful. Knowing those things make the difference for me.

    Hope this inspires others and keep up the great work!




  • Jenn – Sorry for being a few days late in my reply – yours is a great story. Some see the opportunity in job search immediately. Some see it months or years later. Thanks for sharing your story. Trying to think of same ways to use your story so others see it! Awesome!

  • Yes, Jason.  That was one of the things I also liked about Kathy’s book.  It’s easy to say “tell a story” but many need you to “show me”.  And that’s what she does so well!

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  • mthstar

    Once upon a time, there was a girl from Seattle.

    She grew and gathered her mettle.

    Why that great world!

    How shall I unfurl(d)?

    T’was a conund from which not to run.

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