One of the most powerful tools for making a great impression in job search – and feeling confident while doing so – is a well crafted positioning statement you can use when someone says “Tell me about yourself.”
Most of us realize this is important. We’re going to be asked this question, or ones like it, again and again. This opening statement greatly influences first impressions and sets the tone for the networking conversation or interview that follows. A dull, awkward or confusing statement will not take the discussion in the direction we want it to go.
Barbara, who was laid off last month from her position as a Project Coordinator with XYZ Technology Consulting, has been introduced by a friend to Elise, who works for a similar company. Elise says to Barbara, “Tell me about yourself.” Here are two ways she could respond.
A less-effective response:
“Well, I was a Project Coordination Associate for XYZ Consultants until they laid me off. I was with the company from 2006 until a month ago, supporting the consultants who did the consulting work. I organized the workflow and wrote reports and flowcharts and such. Before that, I was with BCD, where I did blah blah . . . and EFG, where I did blah blah . . . and American Consulting, where I did blah blah . . . Aside from that, um, well, I’ve lived in San Francisco for my whole life and I have two children.”
An effective positioning statement:
“I’m a Project Coordinator for high tech consulting companies like XYZ, where I worked for five years, project-managing high-profile technology projects. I’ve worked with a wide range of consulting firms, from Fortune 100 to startups, mainly in tech and finance.
“I’m certified in Project Management, and I’m very comfortable with related applications, like Microsoft Project, Excel, SharePoint and so on. What I’ve been especially been appreciated for are my communications skills; I’ve always been told that my reports and correspondence are very clear and complete and up-to-the-minute, so everyone can feel confident that they know exactly where the project is at.
“What I love about my work is that I find a fast pace exhilarating! When there’s just a flood of work, I really enjoy directing that flood into the right channels, making sure everything gets handled by the right person and at the right time. I’m a born coordinator!
“So, I understand you work at TechWave. What do you like best about working there?”
Elements of an effective statement
Let’s look at the elements of an effective positioning statement. You could think of these as who, what, where, why, wow & how.
Who? What’s your identity in the working world, in general terms? Butcher, baker, candlestick maker? Put this in the present tense. You may no longer be Regional Vice President of Sales and Marketing as of last Friday, but you still have a professional identity: you’re a sales and marketing executive. You may no longer be an Alumni Service Associate at UCLA, but you’re a customer service representative ready to bring your skills to your next employer.
What? What are your competencies and expertise? What are you likely to be doing for your next employer?
Where? What types of organizations have you worked in, or are you interested in? You can name specific companies if they’re well known; or categories like “Fortune 500 or larger Telecommunications companies.”
Why? Why would a company want to hire you? What qualifications or skills make you stand out from the competition?
Wow! Add something that makes your statement more interesting or brings some excitement into your voice. This might start with phrases like “I’m passionate about . . .” or What I really love is . . .” or My approach is . . .” Or give a short example from your work. “I once . . .”
You? It’s a good idea to end with an open-ended question that gets the other person talking. For example, “How does your company do (such and such)?” or “What do you like best about working here?”
Putting it together
How do you proceed from here? You might start by brainstorming, either on paper or with a buddy or a job search coach. Then write out an outline – not a word-for-word speech, just key points. Then practice talking from that outline until the statement rolls off your tongue. Don’t talk like a written report. Feel free to say “a lot” instead of “extensively.” Be conversational.
Then, adapt your speech for different situations. How will you say it to a neighbor you run into while walking the dog? To a potential networking partner when introducing yourself at the beginning of a phone call? When asked “Tell me about yourself” at the start of an interview? Sometimes you’ll only have 10 seconds to make your point; sometimes a minute or more.
Finally, try it out on others and ask them to tell you at least one thing that works well about your statement, and at least one way it could be better.
(You can also adapt this statement to become part of your resume, LinkedIn profile or cover letter.)
Is this a lot of work? Uh-huh. Will it make you crazy at first? Maybe. Will it all be worth it when you have a super-effective opener for all your job search conversations? You bet! It’s one of the best job-search tools you can have.