When an interviewer says, “Tell me your story” – you’ve hit the jackpot, right? After all, your story is personal, unique, and you know it like the back of your hand. But in reality, this question can be difficult. Candidates often get nervous given the open-ended nature and endless possibilities of how to answer. Since you’ll likely hear this question in an interview, here are four quick tips to help you stand out:
Remember: this is a story.
So tell it like one! There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end (or in the case of your career, a “to be continued…”). Use your resume to guide your answer and start where it makes the most logical sense – at the beginning. The interviewer is trying to get to know you, what you’ve done, and how you’ve made decisions. Make this easier for them by discussing the events chronologically. Of course “the beginning” will vary depending on what has been most defining in your career – some may start with their first job, others may start with college or even earlier. The key is to know in advance where you want your professional story to start and why.
Define your themes in advance and weave them into your story.
Even though you can likely tell your story without rehearsal, a little practice can go a long way. Before an interview, take a few minutes to reflect on your career and highlight key themes. Have you consistently chosen jobs in innovative industries? Do you like to bring order to chaos? Do you naturally gravitate towards leadership positions? Are you motivated by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone? Whatever your themes are, know them, state them explicitly, and weave them into your story. Understanding what’s motivated you and what lessons you’ve learned throughout your career can be an excellent predictor of success in the future.
At AppNexus, we weigh a candidate’s potential for future success over previous professional or educational experience. You can learn more from our Chief People Officer on how we assess for potential in the interview process by reading Hiring for What Will Be Over What Is.
Be mindful of being too high level or too in the weeds.
Remember this is the interviewer’s chance to get to know you on a deeper level than your resume, but it all has to happen within a 60-minute timeframe (or less!). If you breeze through your story in two minutes, the interviewer may struggle to differentiate you from other candidates. On the flip side, if you spend 45-minutes going over every single small detail, they might miss the big picture of who you are. Pull out the pivotal moments from your resume (graduating, starting new jobs, moving to new cities) and for each of these moments synthesize what you did, why you did it (tied to your themes above!), and what you learned. Be prepared with examples from each pivotal moment, but don’t feel the need to dive right into details unprompted. If your interviewer wants to know more, he or she will ask.
Don’t gloss over things that “look bad” on your resume – speak to it.
We all have moments on our resume that we are nervous to discuss in an interview, perhaps a long gap between jobs, a job you were let go from, or a less than perfect GPA. Remember, the interviewer saw this on your resume and still wanted to talk to you – so don’t sweat it, you’re already in the door. What happens next is entirely up to you, so seize the opportunity to shine. Nothing in life goes as planned, so it is important for the interviewer to know who you are in the face of adversity. Reflect on areas when you’ve “failed” and speak intelligently to them – Why did it happen? What did you learn? How have you applied those learnings to more recent experiences? Glossing over the moments where personal growth happens may make you seem inauthentic or afraid of failure. So go in there and be yourself – imperfect, but genuine and resilient.
An interviewer asking for your story is not a formality – it is a defining moment in an interview when you can truly stand out from the crowd. All of your accomplishments, setbacks, and thoughtful decisions have created a story that you should be proud and excited to share. And if you tell it in a way that does it justice, your interviewer will be excited to have you on their team for the next chapter!
About the Author
Kelsey Browne is a recruiter on the AppNexus Talent Acquisition team, where she focuses on product management and marketing roles. She lives in Brooklyn and loves hot dogs and her puppy, Otis.