By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes

“I bombed the interview.”

This was a message I got from a brand new coaching client, we can call her Sarah, and something I hear too often from clients I first meet. Immediately I asked why she felt this way and began to study her communication back at me, with the goal of improving her interview skills. 

She said it all came down to one question.  

“He started by asking me to tell him about myself and I accidentally talked for fifteen minutes. The interview was only thirty minutes long and I basically said nothing valuable.”

Nerves got her. In fact, nervousness impacts your ability to carry on compelling conversation. Combate these interview nerves by standing tall before walking into the interview and practice deep breathing to slow your heart rate.

Like Sarah, you walk into an interview having done all the research on the company, you updated your resume and you fine-tuned your elevator pitch… So what gives?

No matter how much you have prepared, there is still one question that seems to throw job-seekers for a loop: “Tell me about yourself.”

It’s shockingly obvious— and that’s why so many job seekers overlook it.

The good news is, this is a simple fix, and it starts with realizing that talking about yourself is an art, and science.

Here are three insights this question, or rather request, reveals to an interviewer and how you can prepare to win them over with your answer.

1. Determines how conscientious you can be.

This question is incredibly open-ended. You could choose to start answering with the day you were born and feed all the way through your life chronologically… Or you can keep it so short, yet the interviewer feels they still know nothing about you.

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But neither of those will work.

The key to answering this question is to determine what content they will find most valuable and then convey it in a compelling manner. I hate to say it, but the interviewer doesn’t care about the ex-boyfriend who led you to this new city to start over and need this job, and they are certainly bored by the thought of you having outgrown your past role.

That means showing them the WHY of why you’re passionate about the direction you’re going. Evaluate your life and ask yourself: where did I learn to use and value the skillset I’m harnessing in my career right now? Do I have any stories of my upbringing, and how this skillset has always been a gift within me? This will captivate them, when done right. 

Sarah improved her response: “I grew up in a house where sports was encouraged, and I’ll never forget how much it honed my teamwork skills. I was always the one encouraging the team to get together outside of practice, and the culture I created through that, even at a young age, translated into big results for us. It’s no surprise that I’m now a project manager, as it gives me the opportunity to create a collaborative culture in the office.”

From there, Sarah could share a statistic or quantifiable impact she’s made as a result of her focus on teamwork and project management. 

These short sentences say so much, as they offer insight for the listener into why she operates the way she does in the world, which is so much more powerful than regurgitating her resume.  

2. Reveals what you find valuable.

For Sarah, she had a passion for teambuilding and a knack for bringing people together. Combine this with her organizational skills and work this, and she’s a dream candidate for many Project Manager vacancies.  

As part of the interview prep, you need to know what your strengths are, and that means having concrete examples of how you have used them in times of duress. If you struggle to know what this might be, ask your coworkers for feedback. Data indicates that most people don’t know their own shortcomings, or strengths, as well as the people who know and watch them.

3. Shows your personality right away.

If you’re hired, you are about to spend countless hours with this person and others in the company. That’s why when you make it to the interview, it’s all about personality fit. Possible colleagues will want to know what you are like and who they will be working with.

Resist the urge to coldly rattle bullet points off from your resume. They have that document in front of them to read whenever they want. This is your time to let them see who you are as a person.  

This doesn’t mean whipping out your phone and sharing your puppy’s Instagram page, but it does mean fearlessly showing them who you are and building an authentic connection. According to research, our nerves turn us into someone else. An interview can often feel similar to public speaking and approximately 75% of the population sees this is a fearful challenge. So how do we manage our nerves? Perhaps you can practice diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation prior to walking into the interview. This also means asking yourself: how do I step more fully into who I am when I’m in this interview?

Sarah went into her next interview, where, low and behold they asked her this very question. 

Needless to say, she knew exactly how to answer it and was able to get right into the nitty-gritty conversation and show her value.  

That following month she landed not only one but three job offers.

With a little prep, answer this 

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  • I'm a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast) and author, here to help you step into a career you're excited about and aligned with. This may look like coaching you 1:1, hosting you in one of my courses, or meeting you at one of workshops or keynote speaking engagements! I also own CAKE Media, a house of ghostwriters, copywriters, publicists and SEO whizzes that help companies and influencers expand their voice online. Before being an entrepreneur, I was an award-winning counterterrorism professional who helped the Pentagon in Washington, DC with preparing civilians to prepare for the frontlines of the war on terror.