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How to express what you do, or want to do, in a sentence

September 9, 2021

How are you when it comes to talking about yourself? You know, those spotlight moments when the interviewer says ‘tell me about yourself’ or you’re at an event and everyone’s given 30 seconds to introduce themselves?

Some folk just seem to have the knack of getting across who they are and what they’re about succinctly and with grace. They make it look so easy, but if it doesn’t come naturally to you, it can bring up some unpleasant emotions. I get clients who are worried about sounding boastful, embarrassed they’re waffling or really self-critical with their failure (in their eyes) to create a good impression.

Since setting up my own business, I’ve had to get better at explaining what I do, and I’ve found it does get easier over time. When I started out, I followed advice about crafting and practising the perfect elevator pitch until I could say it without thinking. But something about this perfection didn’t quite work for me: it felt anything but natural. I got hung up on getting it ‘right’ which got in the way of connecting with the listener.

What I wanted was a structure I could adapt to all sorts of situations without the pressure of perfection! I found it with what I call the XYZ sentence, adapted from John Lees’ ‘two-breath message’. Here’s how it goes:

“I use/want to use X, in Y, to do Z” where X = your strengths (skills, knowledge, experience), Y = the situation or type/style of organisation/team/culture and Z = your desired outcome.

It’s easy to remember and it works in a range of written or face-to-face situations: networking for business or career opportunities, doing job applications, being interviewed for a job or media, social media profiles, starting a new job, and when meeting people at social occasions too. Here are some examples:

Seeking employment: “I want to use my fundraising skills (X) in a recently established, ambitious or innovative charity (Y) to increase the support available for single-parent families (Z).” People like to help, so knowing what you’re looking for, the other person can make suggestions of how you might do that or people they could introduce you to. 

Discussing opportunities with your manager: “I’d like to get a secondment to the central operations team (Y) so I can use my knowledge of the problems we’ve got on the front line (X) to see if we can smooth out some of the wider issues that are contributing to them and give me some influencing practice too (Z).”  You can swap the order of the elements like this but the message stays clear and succinct. 

It’s not just about what you want to do. You can use the format to explain what you do now, so I might say: “I use my logical thinking and calm encouragement (X) with women who are feeling overwhelmed by an issue in their working lives (Y) to help them work out what’s going on, see their choices and get unstuck (Z).” 

The clients I’ve shared this with really appreciate having a way to open a conversation about what they do or want to do, confidently and clearly without feeling they’re bragging. I hope you find it similarly helpful. I’d love to hear from you if you try it.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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