“Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer says.
“So, what do you do?” asks the person you just met at a networking get-together.
You find yourself on an elevator with a person you’ve wanted to meet. What do you say?
Be ready to say something! It’s smart to prepare a brief summary of your background and experience. Often called an “elevator pitch” — because it should be short enough to give during an elevator ride — there are many situations when a short, pre-prepared introduction (no more than 30 seconds) will come in handy.
This introduction can be used:
- When networking
- In a job search
- On career documents (in the cover letter, for example)
- In job interviews
- When a stranger strikes up a conversation with you in line at the grocery store
- To request an informational interview
You have probably heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So how do you provide a brief, concise introduction of yourself? This guide will give you some easy formulas to help, no matter what your profession or the situation where you’re using the introduction.
Your introduction should answer four questions:
- Who are you? (education, work experience, skills, specialization)
- What do you do?
- What sets you apart?
- Where do you want to go from here?
There are several formulas to choose from. Pick the one that helps you create the best introduction to describe you and for the specific situation you’re using it in.
Simple Formula (Profession, Time, Industry)
The simplest formula is to identify your current profession — or the profession you hope to be in — and the number of years and industry you work in. You can also include the name of the company you work for, if it’s a recognizable name.
The formula looks like this:
I’m a [job title] with [time in the industry] doing [what]
Or[Profession] with [time] in [industry]
I’ve worked as a [job title] for [company name] for [number of] years
- I’m a middle school principal with 3 years in my current position, and 11 years in the education field overall.
- I’m a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business and specialization in digital marketing and media.
- I’ve worked as an accountant for 5 years with a Big Four accounting firm.
- I’m a marketing and public relations director at Hudl.
If you’re using the formula in a job search, you can add a sentence about what kind of role you’re seeking.
That formula would be:[Profession] with [time] in [industry], [seeking]…
- I’m a sales representative with 14 years’ experience in the telecommunications industry and I’m looking for a sales leadership role.
- I’ve been an operations manager for a national furniture retailer for the past 6 years, and I’m looking to leverage my customer service, project management, and supervisory experience into a general management role in a Fortune 100
If you’re responding to the “tell me about yourself” question, you can add a sentence about your background to communicate key areas of your career and to highlight job and industry strengths.
I’m a retail merchandising manager with 9 years working at a big box store. I’m looking to use my inventory management and organizational skills to transition to a warehouse management role. My background includes experience setting up RFID systems to improve inventory tracking and reporting.
The Three “Wheres” Formula
This formula is simple:
- Where are you now?
- Where have you been?
- Where do you want to go? (with an optional call to action)
I’m currently a television news anchor, but I got my start in television as a meteorologist. I’m looking to combine my journalism and weather forecasting experience to work for The Weather Channel.
I’m a bilingual financial analyst who specializes in international accounts. My background is in forensic accounting and auditing. I’m currently pursuing my certification as a Master Analyst in Financial Forensics so I can identify and investigate financial crimes — hopefully for a government agency or a law firm.
I’m a PR specialist with emphasis in new product launches. I’m unique because I’m a product engineer who moved into communications. My technical expertise gives me an edge in pitching the media for news coverage. I’m looking to align myself with a manufacturer with at least six new launches a year, and I’d love to talk with you about what you’ve got in the pipeline.
If you’re doing an elevator pitch, you can also start with the problem first before you talk about yourself as the solution. This works best for a networking situation versus the “tell me about yourself” question in a job interview
Does your company struggle with theft and inventory losses?
I’m a loss prevention expert who has helped my employers reduce employee and customer theft by 98%, saving more than $100,000 over the last three years.
Does your company participate in trade shows?
I’m a trade show specialist with a knack for creating show-stopping booths that attract 20% more traffic than our competitors.
Formula for Service Providers (Person, Problem, Story, Solution)
If you’re in a service industry — therapist, coach, consultant, etc. — one of the easiest ways to answer the “What do you do?” question is to take the focus off you and put it onto your clients. This focuses the conversation on what you do for your clients and what they get from working with you.
First, start with who you work with. “I work with [target market]” — for example, “women who are looking for better balance between their personal and professional lives.”
Next, articulate the problem or pain that your target client is experiencing — using language that is relevant to the work you do. For example, “who find themselves constantly thinking about their family while they’re at work, and their work while they’re with their family.”
Then, tell them more about the problem and give an example of those you’ve worked with. “Many of these women are feeling pulled in a million different directions because of the pandemic and the challenge of having school-age kids whose schools can close again at a moment’s notice, providing uncertainty in their home and work lives.”
Finally, tell them your solution and what sets you apart. “I’ve helped these women better define their priorities, articulate their boundaries, and develop a game plan to respond to fluid situations in their personal and professional lives. I help them become more resilient in the face of difficult situations so they can be successful at home and at work.”
Another example of the formula in action:
Person: I work with C-level executives in Fortune 100 companies…
Problem: Who are feeling burned out because of the challenges in today’s corporate environment.
Story: Many C-level executives have had to adjust to managing a workforce that is increasingly remote, and they’re struggling with adapting their management style as a result. This has led to a 75% increase in burnout among corporate leaders in the last 12 months.
Solution: I work with these executives to draw on their strengths and successes and shore up their skills, reinvigorating them to deal with the changing corporate environment. More than 90% of the executives I work with report greater engagement with their work. They don’t want to change jobs or change companies — they just want to enjoy the work again. I help them do that.
This formula works well for people who can quantify their impact and achievements. It starts with who you are and what you do, gives some insight into how you do or did it, and gives metrics (dollars, numbers, percentages) to make you memorable.
Here’s the formula:
I’m a [job title] that [what you do] by [how you do it], resulting in [metric].
I’m a security specialist, providing mostly commercial protection services. I manage a team of 17 part-time and full-time guards, ensuring 24/7 coverage for more than a dozen high-risk properties. We’ve achieved zero incidents of vandalism and theft for these clients in the past year, saving them tens of thousands of dollars.
Tips for an Effective Introduction
No matter which formula you follow, here are some tips to make your introduction more effective.
- Introduce yourself first, if necessary. Start your introduction with “Hi, I’m (your name).”
- Write it out first. Then, read it out loud. Record yourself, either by yourself or practicing it with a friend. Watch it back, looking for words that you stumble over. Then edit it. Then read it out loud and/or record it again.
- Be concise. Keep it simple, short, and direct — and don’t use jargon or buzzwords.
- Adapt it for the situation. Customize it for the situation and the recipient. Have more than one pitch if you have more than one job target, and use the right pitch for the right situation and audience. And remember, you don’t have to include everything — this is a quick summary, not a comprehensive retelling of your entire career history.
- Practice it. Smile as you say it! And slow down when you talk — you want it to sound like a conversation, not a rehearsed speech.
- Be future-oriented — especially if you want to do something different going forward in your career. Talk about what you want to do — not what you don’t want to do.
- Include something that sets you apart. Your introduction should be compelling — make it interesting. Think about what you want the person to remember about you.
- Ask for what you want/need. Especially if you are using your introduction in a networking situation, end it with a specific request. Ask if they know a company that needs someone like you. Ask if they know any recruiters that work with candidates with your experience.
Most important, put your introduction to work for you. Keep refining it, making little changes until you come up with something that is simple and effective. That way, you’ll never struggle or stumble when someone says, “So, what do you do?”