“So…tell me about yourself.”

Interviews often start out with this rather ambiguous prompt. How do you tackle it? One approach is to launch into a verbal resume, spouting your past experiences and degrees earned. But a better approach is to tell your unique story, and explain why you’re there sitting in that room. For example, which of the following responses do you think an interviewer would find more interesting, and would therefore serve as a better conversation starter?

Example 1: “I’ve been a Product Manager for six years at Company ABC, and before that I worked as a Business Analyst for Company XYZ. I just finished my MBA at University of ABC and now I’m looking to take the next step in my career.”

Example 2: “I’m a seasoned Product Manager who’s ready to tackle more meaningful problems. I’m really passionate about aviation and build model airplanes in my spare time. I’m also a bit of a word nerd and recently wrote a book about improving communication on cross-functional teams.”

Whether you’re getting into technical sales, marketing, development, or design, employers are increasingly looking for more. It’s getting harder and harder to compete on skills alone.

Other people will have your skills, but no one will ever have your story.

So, how do you craft your story? With projects like these:

  • Passion projects (stuff you’ve worked on for yourself because you love doing it; e.g., building mobile apps, writing a book, creating music or art)
  • Contract projects (stuff you’ve worked on for other people because you’re amazingly good at the thing they needed done; e.g., building websites, designing logos, managing social media campaigns)
  • Participation in your industry (stuff you do to network and keep your thinking sharp; e.g., regularly attend meetups and conferences, association memberships)
  • Contribution to your industry (stuff you do to share your expertise with others; e.g., blog posts, Twitter updates, LinkedIn articles, open source projects)
  • Leadership activities (stuff you’ve done because you saw a gap and wanted to fill it; e.g., starting a meetup group, starting a book club, launching a non-profit, throwing an event)
  • Learning activities (stuff you’ve done to beef up your skills, just because you wanted to; e.g., taking an online or offline course, participating in a hackathon, studying a new language, getting a certification)
  • Volunteer activities (stuff you’ve done because you care about giving back; e.g., working in a shelter, building schools, mentoring kids)

With some of the above suggestions, it’s obvious to see how they could be relevant to your job hunt. With others, not so much. But even those off-topic personal projects are really important. They show your creativity and ability to get stuff done, and help you stick out among a sea of similar candidates.

For your next interview, try incorporating more of your extracurricular projects and activities into your career story. You’ll likely find it cuts down the transactional feel of the interview and helps create a more relaxed and conversational vibe with the interviewer, which dramatically increases your odds of landing the gig you want.