Describing yourself can be harder than you think.

You're introducing yourself to a CEO at the start of a job interview. Or perhaps you are on a first interview phone screening and the recruiter says the classic “Please tell me about yourself.” The way you answer this question decides the first impression you make — it is important and it will stick. So how do you best modify your elevator pitch to answer this classic interview question?

Be clear on who you are

It is impossible to create a strong response to this interview question and truly be a top candidate if you are not 100 percent clear on who you are as a professional. Of course, that doesn't mean your career goals won't change or evolve throughout your life, but during the interview process, you must be able to clearly communicate who you are career-wise at this stage. Know what makes you unique. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity:

1. What is my education and career background?

Ex: I have a BS in Business Management from MSU and 15 years of experience in finance operations, communication, and information technology.

2. What sets me apart from other candidates seeking this role?

Ex: I have extensive experience in accounting and human resource management. I know what it takes to motivate and reward employees in a way that sets them up for success.

3. What makes my career story unique? How do I connect personally to my work?

Ex: I had a really incredible uncle in California who was both an accountant and a surfer. I always looked up to him, and one summer in high school he let me work as his assistant. We worked hard all day and surfed every night! This experience helped me form a connection between work and play that has allowed me to find real joy in my field. I've loved accounting (and surfing) ever since!

When you craft your response to “Tell me about yourself,” start by answering the above questions. By identifying the key points of your professional timeline, you will discover that you too have a compelling career story to share.

Let your personality shine

Too often, candidates are so focused on adequately summarizing their career, education, and background that they forget about the fact that they are introducing themselves as a person, not just a robotic collection of facts. When a company is taking on new employees, they are looking for candidates who will fit well with the team, bring positive contributions to the company, and be enjoyable to communicate with each and every day. You need to come across well personally in your response to make this impression and stand out as a top candidate.

How does this translate into practice? It is simple: Be yourself. If you tend to have a humorous side, throw in a funny comment or story somewhere. If you are a people person, be sure to share your genuine passion for connecting with and helping others. If you are shy and introverted, don't be afraid to make reference to this while conveying how your personality type helps you in roles like this. Or, like the above example, share a fun fact — this guy who loves both accounting and surfing stands out!

Jobvite stated in their 2016 Report that 83 percent of recruiters say communication style is the most important determination for cultural fit, and 51 percent of recruiters believe employee branding is the No. 1 investment that will increase in the next year. Therefore, it is essential and worth your time and care to drive home a perfect “Tell me about yourself” interview response.

Avoid common interview mistakes

There are three common mistakes people make when trying to deliver an elevator pitch in response to the “Tell me about yourself” interview question. But if you know what they are, they are also very easy to avoid.

Common Interview Mistake #1: Taking too long. Don't let your response get too lengthy — ideally it should be between one and two minutes long. Don't go into too much detail. When an employer asks you to introduce yourself or give an overview of your career background, they want just that — an overview.

Common Interview Mistake #2: Getting off track. Like any interview question, your response to “Tell me about yourself” needs to be brief, well-put, and powerful. Babbling and going off on irrelevant tangents, therefore, can be immediate killers. Focus your energy on keeping your speech concise and on-topic, or mental “ughs” and hesitations will ensue. And random chatter is the last thing you want in your interview.

Common Interview Mistake #3: Forgetting to add value. Listing your distinctive skills is great, but what really matters is the value they can bring to the table for this specific company and position, so remember to tailor that part of your elevator pitch. Do your homework before any interview — know the company's goals, values, and needs and you can speak directly to how you can be an asset to their team.

From boredom to brilliance

Have you ever walked on the beach and passed by hundreds of seashells in between your footprints? Occasionally, you might notice some that stand out. As a job candidate, You have to be that shell on the beach. You have to stand out. You have to be the one that the hiring manager wants to keep and bring onto his or her team full time.

The “Tell me about yourself” question is your opportunity to convey why your specific talents stand out from the rest and how your distinctive capabilities match up with the duties described for the position. Present yourself as interesting by coming up with accurate, reflective, compact wording that best describes no one else but you. Be confident and natural in sharing exactly who you are!

Be polished

How do you deliver a polished elevator pitch in response to this interview question? Practice, practice, practice. Like any interview question, crafting your answer will take some work. Try videotaping yourself until you like what you hear. Have friends or family members listen and offer suggestions. Or, better yet, work with an interview coaching expert to provide you with professional and objective feedback. Refine your response until you feel it best reflects who you are as a top candidate. You'd be surprised how often hiring managers mention how a candidate's career story caught their attention. Be bold, let your individuality shine, and most importantly, be you. Be that shell on the beach!

Do you want help perfecting your elevator pitch for interviews? Learn more about TopInterview's interview coaching services today!

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