My name is ————-
I started writing this essay on a piece of paper, but that’s exactly what I’m not.
Let me introduce myself properly.
I am my parents’ child.
My parents are a driving force in my ambition to make this world a better place. My dream of pioneering my own Ed-Tech start-up first began at my kitchen table, where my parents – an educational strategist and a high-tech executive – would share stories about their work.
My dad, a farmer turned president of a $2B market cap tech company, showed me that determination succeeds in any environment, from the fields to the boardroom. My mom, an education innovator and social justice advocate, impressed upon me the importance of proper and equal education for all. My parents showed me that a profession is more than advancing just yourself or your family – it’s about advancing society.
I am determined to reach and exceed my parents’ achievements, in my own way, by combining the passions born from my life’s biggest influences – education, technology and management.
I’m driven by the desire to use technology and open source principles to improve education in remote and rural areas around the world.
I am a global citizen.
Just before I entered first grade, my father was tapped by a former army commander to work in high tech in Boston. My view morphed from the rolling hills of our town to skyscrapers, the songs of birds replaced by honking taxis.
Two days after arriving in America, I found myself in a public classroom, without a single friend or a word of English to my name.
Feeling embarrassed and confused in class led me to spend my afternoons memorizing the ABC’s and scanning books in English. I forced my parents to give me English lessons every night when they returned home from work. After a year, I felt completely at home, and I even mentored new foreign arrivals, preparing them for what to expect at school and helping them to practice English.
We moved back to my town after six years in Boston, but the experience abroad was foundational. Rooting for the Celtics became as much a part of my anatomy as Brazilian asado – Boston added another layer to my identity.
Acclimating to a foreign culture at such a young age opened me in ways that have been essential to my personal and professional growth. Long afternoons of learning made me an independent learner – a skill I use often at work today, mastering new programming languages and conducting in-depth research at my employer’s innovation center.
Overcoming my language barrier at a young age taught me to be patient, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and instilled the value of mentorship. These insights helped me to become a highly cooperative person whom others feel they can trust.
I am a leader.
I first learned to lead as captain of my high school basketball team, leading my team to a national championship against all odds. We had less talent, less experience, and we were (on average) 4 centimeters shorter than our opponents. In the end, our teamwork and friendship prevailed. After winning the championship, I was invited to scrimmage with the national team. I insisted they allow my entire team come.
Becoming national champions showed me the value of persistence and never underestimating you own abilities, or the abilities of your team. This was especially instructive when serving as a paratrooper; I suffered a serious back injury from long treks with heavy equipment. My commanders presented me with two options: take a desk job, or sign an extra year beyond my mandatory service to attend Officers’ School and afterward lead an elite unit for special operations and technology development. Determined to make the most of my service in spite of my injury, I chose the latter.
Just like the basketball team I led, my first project as started as something of a lost cause: I was handed responsibility for developing a $2.8M thermal tracking device alongside a world-leading military contractor. The project was over a year behind schedule, manned by an exhausted, frustrated team.
I never doubted that we would reach the ambitious 8-month goal the army had set. I created a comprehensive Gantt to meet development, finance, logistics, and HR benchmarks. I worked hard toward creating cohesion between army and civilian team members.
When additional product features required more capital to develop, I used my nights off to create marketing campaigns that I pitched to higher-ranking officers – to countless colonels and even a brigadier general. I solicited private donations from dozens of international donors, tailoring each presentation to their cultural preferences and priorities. I raised $1M in capital, we met our deadline, and our unit became the go-to unit for product development and for special tech operations. After the release of the thermal tracking device, I led 7 additional projects with budgets totalling $4M.
I believe that Ed-Tech is the future.
Growing up in an immigrant community, I developed a close understanding of what it meant to live in a poor, remote part of a country. Teaching at-risk teenagers and elementary school orphans in Thailand brought meaning to my mother’s words, “Education is the distance between have and have-not.” Technology is the only way to shorten this distance.
I intend to leverage my technological skills, experience as an educator, and the business acumen I’ll acquire at Harvard to create Ed-Tech products to increase access to education through low-cost applications based on based on collaborative knowledge sharing and big data analytics.
My tech achievements thus far give me the confidence that I am ready to bring my own products to the public.
I developed a start-up company, an online platform for professional development and recruiting. I drew capital for entire project with nothing more than belief in my idea and very convincing power point presentations. Today, My company has thousands of users and is the main professional development platform for several multi-million-dollar tech firms.
Global change begins from local change, and my country is fertile testing-ground. After my MBA, and hopefully following success as a product manager with an Ed-Tech firm, I intend to pilot my own projects in my country’s periphery, targeting underserved populations.
Harvard is my calling.
More than being located in my beloved childhood hometown, Harvard Business School is the place that piqued my interest in management sciences. I had the opportunity to accompany my dad to HBS courses while he was studying with the Advanced Manager’s Program. Sitting in the AMP courses ignited my interest in case-studies (I ended up reading every study in my father’s folder!), and I enjoyed in-depth discussions with professors like Richard Vietor and Guhan Subramanian. I am fortunate to be able to continue my interaction with HBS through reading articles and case studies on the IBM learning portal.
Harvard is the quintessential learning experience. Through innovations in EdTech, I believe the Harvard standard can become a world-wide education standard.
I’m an adventurer, a risk taker, a challenge seeker. I’m an educator, a leader, an entrepreneur and a social innovator.
I’m not just my past, I am my future; and I’m about to embark on a new chapter of my life, with you, at Harvard.
"So, tell me about yourself."
This may just be the most common, and the most intimidating, phrase you'll hear during your job search, from informal chats to formal job interviews. And be prepared, because you're going to hear it all the time in networking situations.
Why is this question so hard? Because "tell me about yourself" sounds like a book-length essay question, but people expect a response that's only a few sentences long. And, in this stage in your life, "So, tell me about yourself" is real-world-speak for, "So, tell me why I might be helping you get a job someday."
By taking the time to learn the key elements of introducing yourself, you'll be able to impress anyone you meet in a professional situation, from a networking event to an internship coordinator to a hiring manager at the company of your dreams. Luckily, you've already read about many ways to narrow down your interests and position yourself as a mature professional, so all you need to do now is put all of those elements together.
For help with this task, I turned to Laura Allen, founder of 15SecondPitchT, a company that trains people how to sell themselves more effectively. According to Laura, the best answers to "So, tell me about yourself" demonstrate confidence and leave the other person wanting to know more about you. And, a successful answer combines preparation and presentation-it's not just about what you say, but how you say it.
According to Laura, "Whatever you do, don't wing it!" There's nothing worse than meeting an important contact or job interviewer and completely blanking when they ask this question, usually the first one they'll pose. Take some time before you start meeting with people to think about the tangible skills you have, the challenges you've overcome, and the specific reasons why you will be a great job candidate and employee. To get started crafting your answer, Laura recommends that you ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers in your career planning notebook:
- Which of your previous jobs, even if they were part-time or volunteer positions, provided you with experience relevant to what you hope to do now? If none, what about internships or academic experiences? What about courses you may have taken that gave you an understanding of the industry you're pursuing?
- What are your strongest skills?
- List specific examples of projects that you worked on where you solved an important problem. You can use those to show that you are a great troubleshooter and can think under pressure.
- What can you say about yourself that will set you apart from other young people or entry-level job candidates? In other words, what makes you memorable and special?
Now let's look at Laura's step-by-step advice on how to craft your own personalized response, using some of the information you determined above:
1. Tell them who you are.
Remember that your primary goal is simply to introduce yourself. What's the most memorable thing you can say about yourself and your accomplishments? What can you say that will immediately make the other person want to know more about you? Begin with that. "I am _________________."
- A magna cum laude graduate of ____________with a B.A. in ___________ .
- A recent grad and recipient of the ________ award in __________ .
- An accomplished musician who managed a band and put myself through college.
- An extreme sports enthusiast who jumps out of airplanes and learned to fly them.
- A strong researcher who made significant contributions to ___________ .
- A championship athlete and captain of my soccer team.
2. Tell them what you're good at.
Leverage the skills you listed earlier, and frame them in a way that is meaningful to an important networking contact who could lead you to, or be, a potential employer. (You don't have a lot of employment experience on your resume, you say? Talk instead about how you rose to the occasion in other situations.) Here are some examples:
- "I'm a great organizer. In my internship as a production assistant I received three promotions in one summer."
- "I excel at project management. In my internship as an editorial assistant I read three scripts a day while juggling administrative tasks for an office of ten people."
- "I'm an exceptional problem solver. In my work-study job at the registrar's office I received a special commendation from the dean for fixing the copy machine to make an important deadline."
- "I'm a quick learner. In my year abroad, I achieved fluency in two languages."
- "I'm great with people. As a volunteer for the Red Cross I consistently won high praise for my ability to put first-time blood donors at ease."
3. Provide a call to action.
The call to action is how you let someone know what you're looking for, and also that you're done talking. The reason it's critical to convey that you are keenly interested in networking with this person or getting a job from them is that people, especially hiring managers, want to recommend or hire someone who is passionate about a particular position or industry, not someone who is wishy-washy or will decide to leave a job after six months. You can put yourself on anyone's short list of young people to recommend or hire by making it clear that you really know what you want and will do a great job.
- "My principal career goal right now is ____________ and I'm excited to learn how your company's leadership position in the industry might open up opportunities for me."
- "I believe very strongly in your company's mission. I'd love to explore with you how my success in this position could make a contribution to that mission."
4. Practice Your Presentation
Lastly, it's time to think about how you'll deliver your answer and practice, practice, practice. Laura recommends that you think of your presentation in terms of the three Cs: be clear, creative, and concise.
Also be sure to tailor your delivery to the interpersonal circumstances of the moment: the goal is to maintain a conversational tone and not sound rehearsed. Think of the above elements-who you are, what you're good at, and your call to action-as "sound bites" that you can assemble into the flow of the conversation. And be sure to maintain eye contact and appropriate body language during the interview. These non-verbal cues say a lot about who you are and how ready you are to take on responsibility.
While most other college students and recent grads are likely to stammer and ramble, you'll be delivering a confident and polished introduction to yourself. You'll be ahead of the pack from the first few minutes you meet anyone.
MAKE THIS WORK FOR YOU
You can study all the tips in the world about preparing an answer to the question, "So, tell me about yourself," but the only way to know if you've got a great answer is to test it out for yourself. Here are three tricks to try:
1. Tape yourself. I cringe every time I hear the sound of my voice on a tape, but this reality check can be incredibly helpful. Speak your introduction into a recorder and ask yourself: Do I sound confident? Am I clear, creative, and concise? Is it apparent what I want? Am I being polite? Do I have any weird speech tics, such as using lots of "ums" or "likes," or speaking too quickly?
2. Test your introduction with a friendly audience. Once you're happy with the way your intro sounds to your own ears, try it with friends, family members, advisors, or career services counselors. Remember that every time you test your introduction and get feedback, you're also getting more and more comfortable talking about yourself.
3. Create a cheat sheet. Write your intro on an index card or on the back of one of your business cards and keep this in your wallet or handbag at all times. (Laura Allen even creates business cards with 15-second pitches on the front for her clients.) Refer to your card before you walk into any situation where you might use your introduction-a networking event, informational interview, job interview, or anyplace else. Take a quick peek for extra confidence and clarity.
About the author: Lindsey Pollak is a bestselling author, speaker, and blogger specializing in career advice for college students and young professionals. She is the author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World and writes the top-rated Lindsey Pollak Career Blog. Lindsey is also the career contributor for ABC News on Campus, has written for Marie Claire magazine and Metro New York newspaper, and frequently speaks at universities and corporations across the country. She is a graduate of Yale University.
This article was excerpted fromCollege to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. To learn more, visit www.LindseyPollak.com