‘Tell me about yourself.’ Strategies for Telling Your Career Story

“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most challenging interview questions you may face.  Although the question seems so basic, the direction you choose to take with your response can make or break your chances of getting the job.

Vintage inscription made by old typewriter

This is the opportunity to tell your story – not your life story, but your career story.

The Power of Storytelling 

Research conducted by psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that stories form the basis of how humans think, organize, and remember information. In addition to strengthening your brand, sharing your career experiences using storytelling techniques is a great strategy for:

  • Self-assessing your skills and strengths;
  • Helping you become confident, convincing and persuasive;
  • Establishing your identity and revealing your personality;
  • Establishing trust and communicating what you have to offer; and
  • Making you memorable by connecting with your audience.

Your Story Must Be Memorable

Stories are powerful because they are memorable. People rarely remember a series of facts or accomplishments. A Stanford research study showed that statistics alone have a retention rate of 5-10%, but when coupled with anecdotes, the retention rate rises to 65-70%. When details are included in a story, we remember the core of the story – or the central theme.  So, to make your story memorable, generate a theme.

What is the Theme of Your Story?

When thinking about what story to share, it might help to reflect on the following questions:

  • What is the central theme or message you would like to convey to your audience?
  • How are you sharing your passions with others?
  • Did you recently get a new job or promotion?
  • How has your degree changed your career?
  • Did your networking efforts lead to a new career opportunity?
  • How did your volunteer work help you to build your skills and relationships?

Your theme should come from your accomplishments.  That way your theme will be unique to you.  Think about an appropriate, but memorable theme for your career story

Are you the community educator with a passion for HIV prevention, the brilliant strategist with a knack for relationship building and sales, or the leader who inspires her teammates with a passion for student success?

The Elements of a Building Your Story

According to writer Robert McKee, “Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes.” There are several keys to telling a great story:

  • Start with a clear purpose. Remember that in a job search the purpose of story-telling is to communicate your abilities as a candidate.
  • Set the stage. Make sure to give a brief description of the circumstances, so the audience understands the context and situation of the story.
  • Show how you overcame a challenging situation. The best way to engage your audience is to include some type of inciting incident. It is important to show how you face challenges.
  • Describe your achievements. You are the protagonist of your own story, so be ready to tell your audience how you overcame adversity and highlight your achievements to complete your story with a memorable “happy ending”.
  • The key to good story- telling is pacing. A good story has a clear beginning, ending, and a connection to the listener or viewer. In an interview setting, this can include a segue way back to the interviewer’s question.

Share Your Story

Whenever possible, integrate parts of your story throughout your job search process and career marketing documents.  For example, add your passions and accomplishments to your cover letter, resume and LinkedIn Profile; write about your research and industry trends in a blog; or use an e-portfolio to communicate your story to employers even when you are not present.

Learn more about career storytelling by viewing the Career Services archived webinar, “Telling Your Career Story.”

View Walden student and alumni success stories on our Career Spotlights You Tube channel.

Written by Nicolle Skalski, Senior Career Services AdvisorNicolle Skalski