4 steps to kick ass in 5 minutes

Frankie Kemp

20 January 2014

You’ve researched and practised all the really important questions for your impending interview— and then, as soon as you’ve sat down, they hit you with it:

“Tell me about yourself.”

You knew you’d get that, but why prepare for it? It’s only a warm-up question.  Well, actually it’s not.

While some interviewers might ask this to break the ice or because they don’t know what else to ask, most people ask it for a reason: to get a quick idea of whether or not you’re right for the job.

If you get this right, the rest is just filling in time.

So, instead of regurgitating your cover letter or rambling on about your year spent trucking around Asia,  follow this four-step process to impress the interviewer in the first 5 minutes.


1. Identify the competencies you want to show

Go through the role description and jot down how you can match your experience with the required competencies.  For example:

Project Manager:

What they want (the Competency)

What I’ve got (the Experience)

1.Work to understand the customer’s point of view





2. Devising and maintaining complex project plans

  • client request to introduce completely new system in order to cut transaction process time by 30%.  Persuaded them to better use existing systems.  This decreased client spend by 20% and cut transaction process time by 40%


  •  with xxxx client, liaised with 3 teams on 2 continents to draw up client project plan, to facilitate merger affecting 10,000 staff.  Liaised closely with project team and client to keep them informed of scope, budget and timing changes.  Teams completed project to time and in budget despite client scope change throughout the project.


For each competency, you may have a few examples, maybe mixing up the personal with the professional to vary the stories you tell.


 2. Choose stories that show your competencies

Once you’ve identified the competencies that the role requires, you’ll want to match them up to three points relating to your own experience.  To start with, pick three of the following to talk about:

  • A personal achievement
  • A professional achievement
  • A (future) professional challenge/A (future) personal challenge
    (something you will be dealing with and need to solve e.g. getting your Prince II exam; keeping cohesive communication when new partners enter the picture)
  • Hobbies and interests – you may wonder why this is relevant but remember they’re taking ‘you’ on as an individual and they want to see if culturally you are the right fit.


Mix up the personal and professional

Using examples from the both social and professional spheres helps interviewers see if you’d fit into the cultural framework of the business.

For example, with a ‘future professional challenge’, for a Business Development role, you may mention your desire to forge stronger links with local businesses both on and off-line.

For the same role, mentioning your solo hiking trips reflects resilience as you reach your goal: 15 km, 3 valleys and 2 mountains down the coastal path.

Note that many of these experiences may not be on your CV.  You are more than a couple of sheets of a resume so build in what’s not on there or embellish what is.  You’ll be on your way to standing out from the other candidates.

Example outline

So for a Project Management role, you may mention:

1)   a personal achievement – your own wedding plan

  1. what you organised
  2. timescale
  3. challenges

2)   a professional challenge – setting up a department abroad,

  1. how many people involved, timescale,
  2. extent of your responsibilities
  3. any particular obstacles e.g. lack of resource and mention solution

3)   personal interests and hobbies.

  1. hiking
  2. sightseeing
  3. painting


3. Add ‘a tail’

At the end of each section of the “Tell me about yourself” question, draw out more explicitly the competencies that you’ve demonstrated with a simple sentence—a “tail” to your story.

This way, you’re making it more obvious to the interviewer how you meet the needs of the role for which you’re interviewing. Many people can feel uncomfortable with this because they think it sounds like bragging, but using the following phrases at the beginning of the ‘tail’ can help you:

  1. “So, what I learned from this was… ”
  2. “This helped me to develop… ”
  3. “What I got from the experience was… ”


Tailing in the examples I covered above could look like this:


  • “I learned how I could apply my knowledge of motivating people to real situations and ones where there was a genuine risk.”


  • “This helped me to develop the ability to plan projects in fine detail.”


This way, you’re bringing the story full circle, ticking the boxes for your interviewer and, sounding less braggy than if you’d said “I’m obviously highly resourceful and an excellent leader.”


 4. Plan the introductory sentence

I’ve put the ‘intro’ sentence as the last step because this part is generally easier to draft at the end, even though it will be your beginning.

This is the sentence (or two) that introduces the whole piece, acting as a springboard for your three stories.

A good way to come up with this is to think how you’d complete one or two of the sentences below:

“I have a background in…”; “I trained at…”, “I’ve had several roles in…for…”

then go into your first story, marked in the example below with the last sentence:

“Since leaving college, I have had several roles in both online and offline business development for start-ups and big corporates. I think one of my greatest challenges was…”


5. In a nutshell

  1. Firstly, define the defined competencies, before picking the three areas you’ll talk about that show off these competencies.
  2. Make sure you conclude each section with the tail, so that you tick the boxes for the interviewer.
  3. Finally, then, and only then, write your ‘intro sentence’

You’ll have the interviewer eating out of your hand in the time it takes to boil an egg.

WATCH OUT: Many ‘job interviews aren’t formal.  They’re disguised as a ‘chat’.  They’re not: the potential employer or partner is measuring you up.  

Have this structure up your sleeve and it’ll be easy to equally casually slip parts into a conversation.  In this case, subtly sell yourself, rather than hit them over the head with your skills and experience.


(Who do you know that may be looking for a role soon? Send this to them with ?.  They’ll appreciate you – even more – for having done so.)

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