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How would you describe yourself?

22 August 2013

± minute read

    How would you describe yourself?
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We have all been to at least one interview in our lives, and we all get asked: “how would you describe yourself?” If you are like most, your answer will most probably be, “Well, I am a competent person, skilled in the following areas, with experience in this, that and the other.” However, this was not the question. The question asks about YOU, not about your capabilities. Your capabilities are stated in your CV. What you need to emphasise are those aspects that describe you as a person.

People buy you, before they buy your message.

Having an "elevator-pitch" about yourself might sound easy, yet it can be quite a daunting task - what if your story is dull? To complicate matters, your story needs to be flexible enough to meet the different requirements and contexts of a wide audience.

Who are you?

A good dose of self-knowledge and self-insight is always a powerful ingredient in building your brand and telling your story. Your story needs to be relevant, original and authentic. You need to be real, accessible and approachable. "But how do I know that my story does all these things?" you might ask. The answer: start with WHY.

Why do you do what you do?

Employees, who build their career plans around their unique strengths and values, build a strong sense of purpose and inner belief to guide them in the progress of their career goals; they feel more powerful and connected with their work, enabling them to achieve sustained levels of excellence and engagement. They also build a positive reputation with others. Keeping their strengths in sharp focus also helps them build the agility and resilience required to cope with an increasingly volatile and uncertain work environment. Make sure that what you do, aligns with why you are doing it...This is what gives your story credibility. The reasons you provide for WHY you do what you do, illustrate your values, and make you relate-able to your audience. An example: "I think education is really important - the future of our country depends on inspired and knowledgeable youth - which is why I studied to become a teacher..."

What energises you?

Research is showing that those who build their personal brand around the underlying qualities that energise them and contribute to their personal growth - their strengths - are more likely to be successful in work and play, than those who focus on fixing their weaknesses and trying to become all-rounders in their performance (Breweton & Brook, 2006). “By identifying and playing to natural strengths, aligning them to the company values and ensuring a strong, positive contribution in areas where they can perform at their best, employees can build a strong professional brand and enhance their career prospects” (Brook, 2013). An example: "I love the feeling of nailing a pitch to a prospective client and I've been told that I'm pretty good at it...I used to be scared to do it, but these days it gives me an immense rush!"

Your Personal Branding tool-kit:

Along with your story, you have several other tools that also communicate something about you. Do they all say the same thing?

  • Your business card – be it printed or electronic, a business card can include your “mission statement”.
  • Your resume/cover letter/ reference – bearing in mind these documents would need to be customized for the target position or project.
  • Your portfolio of previous work done, as this is evidence of what you have achieved.
  • Your social media presence (i.e. LinkedIn profile, twitter, Facebook, video resume, etc.) - make sure the “style” of your online persona matches the brand you wish to communicate to potential contacts and is up-to-date at all times.
  • Your e-mail address and signature – e-mail is still the preferred means of contact. Make sure that your address and signature match or even enhance your brand. These tools can expand your reach and promote your career, but they can also be your worst nightmare if not managed correctly.

The next time you get asked to "describe yourself”...

Try sharing the story of your personal guiding beliefs, values and strengths in such a way that your audience gets to know you as a person. Tell them why you do what you do and how you came to do it. Share your mistakes and what you learnt because of them. You will be more relate-able and have more persuasion power if you do. Sandra Case is the manager of professional development at JvR Academy and Yvonne Nieuwoudt is HR Manager at JvR Psychometrics


Brook, J. (2013). Staff of steel. PharmaField, July. Brewerton, P., & Brook, J. (2006). Strengthscope™ Technical and User’s manual. London: Strengths Partnership.

For more information, please contact us on +27(0) 11 781 3705/6/7 or send an email to

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