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Everyone wants a competitive edge—whether they’re looking for a new job, exploring new markets or just wanting more customers to buy their products or services. People are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to promote themselves or their businesses. Oftentimes, however, it’s a small personal gesture that gives you the big business advantage.

The seemingly innocuous request, “Tell me about yourself,” made by virtually every hiring manager to every interviewee, is so critical it has acquired its own acronym in the HR community: the T-MAY.

Now that you know its importance, how do you handle it? First, remember that the best spontaneity is planned. “This is no time to ad-lib,” advises Laman Snyder, director of Human Resources at Kitchell, an Arizona-based construction and real estate development corporation. Anticipate the T-MAY and be ready with a compelling response.

At the same time, be relevant. Don’t ramble on and boast that you were a cheerleader in high school, like cats and absolutely love Italian food.

The T-MAY response should be, “a little bit about your interests and a bit of background,” says Dr. Gregory Ketchum, a clinical psychologist who now offers services as a career coach. Ketchum goes by the name Dr. Greg when he gives employment advice on television and the Internet. “It’s really about your accomplishments and what you’re passionate about,” especially as they relate to the prospective job.

Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch

What simultaneously has the power to forge connections but keeps you at arm’s length? Is fleeting yet leaves a lasting impression? In a word, a handshake.

Any human-resources professional or career expert will tell you that résumé customization is key to standing out in a job search. They’ll also stress the importance of including information about your background and skills that might spark the hiring manager’s curiosity and make her want to take a second look. However, they’re unlikely to recommend divulging such personal information as your ties to the mob, your genius status or your glory days as homecoming prom prince.

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