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Earlier this week I was on a few back-to-back phone calls with potential clients. I do these brief conversations to get a sense of who people are, their career pain point, and how coaching might aid them in their search for a more fulfilling career.

I start most conversations with potential clients with a simple question: “Tell me about yourself.”

Where do you start? How honest should you be? What should you highlight?

After doing this kind of work for years, I am still stunned by how often people come across as an absolute train wreck when they’re answering this question. And I’ll be the first to admit that years ago, I was one of those train wrecks.

Where do you start? How honest should you be? What should you highlight?

I can pretty much guarantee that whoever you speak with is going to ask you to tell them about yourself. Even if you’re only meeting for an informational interview, preparation is still critical. If you can’t discuss why you’re interested in talking with them and what you’d like to know, they won’t know how to help you, either!

First and foremost, be prepared.

Tell me about yourself: Response framework

Use this simple framework in an informational interview when you're asked to talk a bit about yourself. Follow this format to give the listener a good picture of where you’re coming from and why you want to talk to them.

  1. First, begin with where you are. I currently work at [X company/nonprofit], and am a [job title] where I do [describe what you do briefly]. If you’re not currently working you can always reference your most recent position or say, I’ve worked in the [field/industry/issue area] for X years.
  2. Relate it back to your interest and/or experience over time. I enjoy [type of work] because I’m [describe
  3. your skill set, i.e. someone who loves policy, enjoys direct service to underserved communities, etc.]. My previous positions have also given me a lot of experience in [skill set, area of expertise, interest area].
  4. Tell them why you are interested in talking with them. I’m curious about exploring [field, topic, job roles, course of study etc] because [why this is of interest]. Specifically, I wanted to talk with you about your experience in [field, topic, role, study area etc.]. I’d love to know… [start with a broad question]. Think about what experience or knowledge they have that they could share with you that would be helpful to hear.

A few things to remember as you work through this framework and organize your response:

Focus on the positive.

  • Don’t go into the details of why your current boss is awful. Simply focus on why you’re excited about all the new opportunities out there.

Approach the conversation with genuine curiosity.

  • You’re more likely to find out about potential jobs this way. Coming out with, "Do you have a job for me?" can be awkwardly aggressive.

Be prepared.

  • Take some time prior to your conversation or meeting to organize questions to show that genuine curiosity your informational interviewee and their work. For more tips on how to prepare for your informational interview, visit

Don’t be a robot.

  • Just because you’ve prepared and rehearsed your answer doesn’t mean it should come across that way. You can practice having it come across naturally with pauses, vocal intonations, and enthusiasm. Try reciting it to a friend and ask for any feedback on how you can make it sound more natural.

So if you couldn’t tell, the absolute best way to ensure a kickass informational interview is to prepare. It's just like legendary automobile racer Bobby Unser said, "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet."

Emily Lamia profile image

Emily Lamia

Emily Lamia is the Founder of Pivot Journeys, which offers career coaching, group programs, and organizational consulting to teams that want to build strengths-based cultures that increase engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

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