Career Resources

The Ubiquitous Invitation: “Tell me about yourself”

What is a ubiquitous invitation? The request “Tell me about yourself” is perhaps the most ubiquitous invitation encountered in any executive’s efforts at career management.

As executives engage in informal networking and formal job interviewing, they encounter “Tell me about yourself” invitations everywhere. Often it is the first topic of conversation following the exchange of names and polite “Pleased to meet you” statements. And, of course, in job interviews, you can expect to hear “Tell me about yourself” each time you encounter a new face along the gauntlet of interviewers.

It would be an error to consider these requests as merely invitations. Rather, one should recognize “Tell me about yourself” as a privileged directive. It is privileged because the networking contact who asks you to tell them about yourself is waiting to extend help to you in your career development. It is a directive because unless you tell the colleague who you are, what you have done, and what assistance you expect from them, he or she won’t know what information or suggestions make sense for you.

It is crucial to be well prepared to tell your networking contact about yourself. Failure to do so makes you look bad, makes your contact less able and less likely to help you, and makes the contact less likely to want to help other networkers in the future. Consider the following recommendations for preparing to answer the “Tell me about yourself” request.

First, identify the context in which you will be answering the question. The environment in which the conversation is taking place will determine how much time you should devote to your answer. Two minutes may be the maximum time any networking colleague will attentively listen to another person talking about him- or herself in a formal situation. In situations that are not formal one-on-one interviews, you should budget even less time—perhaps no more than one minute. And when speaking on the phone you may have to adjust even more, especially when leaving a voice-mail message—30 seconds may be the limit.

Second, plan what information you will convey. Here are some of the crucial sound bites you should plan to include:

  • Who you are… your name and, as appropriate, your ACHE credential
  • What business you are in or have been in… hospitals, health plans, medical groups, etc.
  • What levels of positions you have held, e.g., CEO, director, manager
  • What roles you have fulfilled such as start-ups, turnarounds, mergers, reengineering
  • What your technical skills are.
  • Which of your abilities are transferable
  • What kind of person you are to work with

Then, try to make the information interesting. Tell a story. Find a way to grab the listener’s attention. One especially interesting networker opened with the statement, “I am the oldest of four sons of parents who were both World War II veterans.” Marvelous. The opening grabbed attention and provided lots of background information about generation, birth order, and family in one short sentence!

Finally, rehearse. You need to sound practiced but not so rehearsed that the listener feels he or she has been subjected to an insincere script. Your self-assessment work should have prepared you to answer with honesty, sincerity, and true insight. When you convey that information, you will make it easier for networking contacts or interviewers to accept your invitation to consider how your abilities can make a contribution to your profession and your career.