Table of Contents
While seemingly innocuous, how you navigate the next 90 seconds of this answer will either drive the conversation into boredom and mediocrity—or make you memorable, elevate your perception, build excitement about your expertise, and distance you from your competition.
Let’s hop right into what makes a great impression.
The Ingredients For A Powerful First Impression
90 seconds is not a lot of time to tell your life story in a meaningful way—but it’s certainly better than spending 10+ minutes painstakingly rambling about every detail.
You need to keep your story tight, because you need to maximize the time available in an interview to talk about the future and why you’re the right person to overcome an organization’s challenges. You will need practice.
The key to making a powerful first impression is to concentrate on being succinct, honest, relevant, and highly engaging and adaptable to the conversation as you collect more signals from the interviewer.
- Strike the right balance of personal and professional connection with the interviewer.
- Articulate your professional aptitude and relevance to the responsibilities of the role.
- Prove that you’ve done your research on the role and problems at hand.
- Build confidence that you are the right person to solve their needs.
- Show that you are the right fit through thoughtful storytelling.
- Resist the urge to give a detailed account of the last two decades of your career.
The Recipe For Storytelling Success
Your succinct ‘so, tell me about yourself…’ narrative should be approximately 5 short paragraphs.
Each section includes broad strokes talking points that encourage additional conversation—but do not explain every detail about your career. Let’s leave that to your resume.
I’ve found that the best recipe for an engaging story is 2 parts context, 1 part conflict, 1 part turning point, and 1 part transformation.
Turning Point (1)
Keep in mind that you should have more than one story prepared depending on the type of role or skill sets that you need to illustrate.
For example, if the role calls for someone that is highly entrepreneurial, you should have a brief talk track about how you are entrepreneurial with examples that anyone can relate with. “When I was young, I started a lemonade stand…” Or a similar, relatable, anecdote.
It’s best to prepare a few core stories that you’ll need to illustrate no matter the interview; e.g, leadership story, cross-functional organization story, leading through crisis, etc…
Executive Leadership Insider
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.
A 90 Second Example
The following is an example that I use when a client asks me to tell me about myself—and my intention is that I come off as interesting, successful, and an expert as a tech-minded storyteller and consultant.
This is my story for clients only—not for a job interview. The story always adapts based on what the situations specifically requires.
So, Jacob, tell me about yourself…
You know, funny enough my path has been sort of untraditional. I grew up as that ‘kid that fixed the VCR’ for my neighbors and learned how to code homework websites for my classmates in middle school. I’ve always been a little techie and entrepreneurial. But, I really got my first professional break right before the 2008 recession as a journalist.
Commentary: I choose to share details about my youth to show that being tech focused is baked into my DNA, not just a profession that I picked up because it was popular or paid well. I chose to include my break as a journalist because journalists are known for telling stories—a major foundational element for helping executives with their narratives.
Growing up, people would say, “Jacob, you are a great storyteller, you should be a journalist…” And I sort of let that guide my early career. Turns out storytelling proved valuable for my first sales and marketing roles in Silicon Valley—where I quickly accelerated into executive roles leading large teams in tech growth.
Commentary: I chose to validate myself through the lens of someone else—others told me that I was good at storytelling, so I pursued it and that helped me get my break into sales/marketing. I chose not to share details of becoming a manager, director or vice president, I simply shared that I accelerated into executive roles leading large teams to build the perception that, “wow, he must have been good.”
But something never sat right. I wasn’t fulfilled. Even though I was making a ton of money, (which I thought was the key to happiness) I felt empty. I never wanted anyone to feel that way—and I felt like I was making a mistake in my career.
Commentary: Uh oh - my career wasn’t all roses? I choose to talk about an area I failed in. This brings a human element into the conversation and shows humility. It also illustrates that I’ve used this failure to adapt and grow into something more fulfilling. This can also be used to articulate the why behind a major career shift.
Of note, it’s also likely that many of my executive clients have felt money was a solution to their happiness, but wasn’t. Empathy through shared conflict helps to build connection. Look for opportunities to relate to your interviewer similarly.
It hit me that I needed to combine my passion for storytelling with what I picked up as a growth marketing executive to help leaders—do just that. Market themselves better so that they can do more of the work they love.
Commentary: The turning point is where I explain why I’m not a marketing executive anymore and that I’ve found something better. It’s important to let someone know why you aren’t doing what you were doing before. It shows that you can overcome mistakes and can build confidence that what you’re doing next is intentional—not flippant or irrational.
I’ve since helped over 1500 executives find more fulfilling work and I’m fortunate to share what I’ve learned in Forbes, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur. This has helped me build a strong foundation for helping leaders (like you) find more fulfilling work. It’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my career.
How do you think I can best support you?
Commentary: The transformation is an area where you can share the relevant success that you’ve had and align it with what’s asked of you in the role. It used to illustrate that you can be trusted overcoming conflict and reaching a favorable outcome.
It’s also an opportunity to turn the spotlight away from yourself and toward the future. E.g, what the company is trying to accomplish and less about all of the things that you’ve accomplished in the past.
How well you flip the direction of the conversation back toward the interviewer and the company will determine how well you are navigating the interview.
Your goal is to only talk enough about yourself enough to build interest and confidence—but then take the lead to focus the conversation toward the work at hand and how you will solve their challenges. You should be asking at least 50% of the questions moving forward, if not more to get the right information you need to master the rest of the interview process.
If you’re successful:
- At the novice level, the interviewer will know that you are qualified and capable of the role.
- At the intermediate level, the interviewer will connect with you personally and like you as a person. They may even interject their own personal stories that are relatable.
- At the master level, the interviewer will be solving the challenges that their team is having with you during the conversation and already envisioning you in the role moving forward.
Take a stab at writing your 90 second pitch.
Follow the context, conflict, turning point, and transformation approach.
You don’t need to follow the formula exactly. You can write a 10 minute pitch and chip away at it over time or you can write 10 unique stories for practice. Simply forcing yourself to put pen to paper will help you improve.
Share your work with me through email or in the comments below—and practice sharing it with your friends, family, or mentors until they’re sick of helping you.
Executive Leadership Insider Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.