Tell Me Your Story but Alleviate My Headache


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Here is how to think about attacking the old, “tell me about yourself” question.  The easy way to do so is in chronological order but that’s overused and frankly lacks pizzazz.  Instead, start with the end goal in mind: to get hired. One major reason why a job candidate is hired over another is because they convinced the interviewer that he or she will be the most effective pain relief for their professional pounding headache (s). One of the greatest challenges that interviewers face is trying to figure out exactly what these headaches are.  However, once you overcome this hurdle, then you’ll be able to tailor your professional story around how you have the talents they need to make their headache (s) go away.

Aside from being useful in making management decisions, a SWOT analysis can also be used in the context of a professional interview. As you likely already know, SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  You can analyze almost anything using a SWOT. Consider analyzing the sector, the company, and even the job function via a SWOT.  The goal during this analysis is making connections between the SWOT points that surface and your skills.  Specifically, nirvana is when you can articulate how you can help them capitalize on an opportunity, curtail a threat, amplify a strength, or mitigate a weakness through the use of your talents.  For example, if you want to enter the advertising industry you will learn that one of its imminent threats is that clients are reducing their marketing spend. FYI, this is a common threat across industries.  In this instance, you’ll want to highlight your ability to be resourceful with finite financial means as well as your ability to earn a client’s confidence and win their limited dollars. These themes can then help you filter the academic and/or professional experiences that you should mention along with the results that you garnered.    They can also help focus your brainstorming efforts on how you’d envision helping your target agency curtail its very real threat.  Then a strong way to end your professional story is to have tangible examples of how you’d use your skills to make your hiring manager’s professional life easier in light of what you learned via your SWOT…this is how you should tell hiring managers about yourself; focusing on your prospective employer’s headache is way more strategic and compelling than pulling that old chronological order trick.

Here is a sample yet highly fictitious response to that “Tell me about yourself” question given the following points: a) you seek an advertising gig, b) you are resourceful with finite financial means, c) you earn client confidence and win limited dollars, d) a threat to the advertising industry is that clients are reducing their marketing spend.

You may say something like…“I bring 10 years of experience in the advertising industry where I have been known for my ability to earn the respect of clients by carefully spending their limited dollars such as when I launched the Pepsi Refresh Social Media Campaign for [insert low amount] dollars which garnered [insert high amount] dollars worth of free publicity as well as when I forged the IBM relationship with Jeopardy which leveraged and showcased existing Watson technology and served my client IBM quite well by elevating its brand rank to #2…above Microsoft in 2011.

It is this ability to work within modest client budgets yet to exceed marketing goals that distinguishes my work and has helped me win client dollars as has been the case while working at advertising agency X where I won $X dollars from Apple, at advertising agency Y where I negotiated a $3M client retainer with Crazy Eddie, and at advertising agency Z where I collaborated with [insert well-known creative lead] to access $X dollars more from [insert tiny company].

Today, having done my due diligence on your firm, I know that I can benefit your <$2M in annual revenue clients in particular by instilling the confidence that they need to explore untraditional strategies such as branded entertainment which could be a great opportunity for your crayon client because of the colorful 3D structures that the Dr. Oz Show uses.”

For sample SWOTs to get you started:


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Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.


  1. Renee Ragin on May 4, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Nice application! An example would be very helpful to illustrate your point.

    • Melissa on May 8, 2012 at 9:43 am

      See above post for an example…

  2. Mark Stone on May 4, 2012 at 11:45 am

    I’m sure you’ve already been swamped with requests but I’d be interested to know what my SWOT is based on my resume and cover letter.

  3. James Bois Smith on May 7, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Great! It’s tempting to immediately start trying to solve the problems without really listening close to what they are. I guess that doesn’t really help anyone out. Thanks for the post Melissa!

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