How to talk about yourself in your next job interview

by Zoe Mackey

December 18, 2017

"So, tell me about yourself."

This question comes up all the time in job interviews. But when asked to talk about ourselves, many of us have a tendency to freeze up, desperately floundering to convey the perfect response to establish a connection, build conversation, or open up new opportunities.


According to Holley Murchison, founder and CEO of the communications consulting group Oratory Glory, it’s as simple as a lack of practice and preparation.

Given the power of personal introductions, it’s essential to be able to share your story effectively. But if this struggle sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. In fact, Murchison wrote her book Tell Me About Yourself to help bolster effective and authentic communication for just these types of moments.

Murchison points out that in introductions, we’re essentially being called upon to tell our own stories. We use stories every day to build and share connections, whether on social media or IRL. And as society grows more and more interconnected, it is more and more necessary to be able to not just tell our stories effectively, but articulate them in our own unique voice.

Like any other craft, she says, storytelling takes work. In her book, she offers a six step process to help craft your story for multiple audiences and scenarios. The key is to plan ahead—and to practice. Here’s a quick summary of her process:

The Scenario

First, Murchison writes, you need to do the work to understand the scenario. Your story will likely change based on the circumstance and needs of the audience. “You’ll want to think of your introduction as the perfect appetizer. Because no one conversation (our imagined meal) is the same, the appetizer is likely to change across the different scenarios, setting the tone for what’s to come.”

The Audience

Next, you need to understand the audience. To do this, she suggests addressing the following questions:

  • Who are you talking to? Colleagues, friends, family?
  • What do they know about you so far?
  • What do you know about them so far?
  • Do you have experiences or interests that overlap?
  • What do you think they are interested in learning about you? Why? How could this new information benefit or overlap with their interests or needs?

The Intent

Next, think through your intent. What do you want to get out of the conversation and how much time do you have? “Too often,” she says, “we enter conversations without an end goal in mind.” And that can cause our introductory stories about ourselves to languish. Ask yourself, what are you seeking? “A follow-up call or meeting? An invitation to collaborate? A brief encounter that leads to a warm memory as you each go on about your lives?”

The Question

One of the best pieces of advice offered by Murchison: if “Tell me about yourself” is overwhelmingly broad and you find yourself unable to think of anything remotely interesting to say, try reframing the question. “What’s a clearer, more coherent question that makes sense to you?” she asks. For instance, if you get the question in a job interview, you can try reframing the question with one of her examples below:

  • “What can you tell me about how your personality, interests, work habits, and background will help you succeed in this position?”
  • “What unique work experiences have brought you to this moment in time, where you’re interviewing for this position?”
  • “What educational, personal, or professional wins, passions, or aspirations that weren’t highlighted in your resume make you the right fit for our team or company?”

The Details

When delivering a personal introduction, have you ever found yourself rambling about seemingly unimportant details because you were caught off guard and simply didn’t know what to say? Before meeting new people, think through which personal details of your story will best support the unique needs of the situation, the audience, and your desired outcome. Murchison says “There are four core categories of information we draw from when we tell our stories: background and interests, values and beliefs, passions and aspirations, and skills and achievements.” If you take a moment to think it through, you’ll be more likely to remember these relevant details when it really counts.

The Story

Finally, you must build your story. Essentially, you’ll want to run through your introduction while keeping the scenario, audience, intent, and important details in mind. Murchison recommends filling out this storyboard template (free to download from Oratory Glory) and recording yourself practicing your introduction across a few different scenarios in which you might conceivably find yourself. Use those recordings to note what works and what doesn’t and, as Murchison says, “to stay true to you as you practice, practice, practice.”

Taking control of your first impression is one of the most important job interview skills you can master. Try mapping out your personal story with this storyboard template from Oratory Glory. And for more advice on crafting the perfect introductory story, check out Holley Murchison’s book Tell Me About Yourself.


This article is based on chapter 3 of Tell Me About Yourself by Holley Murchison, founder and CEO of Oratory Glory. 

Topics: You, Career Development, Communication, 25th Anniversary, People and Culture

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