“So, tell me about yourself.” “Tell me your story.” “Walk me through your resume.” Virtually every job interview opens with a version of the same one-liner. It’s a softball, but it’s also a trap. Answer it poorly, and spend the rest of your interview trying to undo a bad impression. Answer it well, and the job is yours to lose.

I’ve given hundreds of mock interviews to job-seeking students and young alumni through Evisors and Firsthand. It stumps me how many people swing and miss at this easy opener. Crafting a great opening elevator pitch isn’t rocket science however, and with practice, anyone can master it. Here’s how.  

1. Start with WHY

The interviewer knows what’s on your resume. What they don’t know is why it’s there. Why are you a biology major who wants to work in finance? Oh, so you’re passionate about cancer drugs because you had a family member who suffered? That’s why you pursued a biology degree and worked at an oncology lab last summer. Seeing how vital research struggled to get funding, you’re now passionate about fixing that. Got it. And you’ve taken up swimming because you never learned to swim as a kid and like challenging yourself. Cool!  

2. Connect it with what they’re looking for 

Talking about passions can be powerful, but only if you tie it what an employer is looking for. If the job description says they’re looking for generous, proactive, problem solvers, talking about being passionate about helping others, being organized and getting ahead of things, or challenging yourself will play well. It’s not about contorting your life story to fit with every company value, but pick a value or two that resonates and use it to frame your story. Calling yourself a problem solver and using learning to swim and improving research funding as examples is one way to do it. 

3. Talk about setting goals and achieving them 

Employers want someone with drive who can get things done. While you may not have a story or a passion that aligns with every aspect of what an employer is looking for, presenting yourself as someone who sets goals and achieves them always works well. Oh, so your goal was to be a confident swimmer – you started out barely able to stay afloat, but now you compete in a water polo league? Impressive.

4. Keep it short and sweet

Don’t ramble or go off on a tangent. Good answers stay on point and don’t exceed 1-2 minutes.

5. Mention what you do for fun

You’re being interviewed by your future colleagues. No one wants to work with someone who is all work and no play. So talk about what you do for fun. Mention things you could involve your future colleagues in, like baking, bar trivia, karaoke, exercise classes, fantasy sports, or multi-player video games.

You’d be surprised how similar most resumes look to interviewers. If you’re just going to read your resume’s bullet-points out loud when I ask you to tell me your story, you may as well not bother. Instead, give yourself a new set of bullet-points to practice covering the five elements above. If you can tell me about your passions in a way that resonates with my company’s mission and values, and you show me you’re a go-getter who knows how to have fun, I’ll be sold.