• Mark Efinger

Developing Your Personal Story, Part III


(If you missed the first two installments of this article, you can find them on Make sure you subscribe so you can receive these articles weekly)

Last week’s portion of this article suggested that in an interview your personal story is stronger when it has a theme.

When possible begin with a theme

Now you are ready to string these success stories from your life together with the theme. Is there a personal quality that is at the heart of many of your achievements? Determination? Creativity? Loyalty? What will you use to fill in the blank we discussed in Part II of this blog?

Another way to slice this, is to ask yourself, “Is there one attribute evident in many of these achievements that I would hope they remember about me when I leave?” The achievements that will best serve your personal story demonstrate that attribute. They show how you are one who can analyze opportunity, set goals, research and prepare -- then -- achieve success because you are a ____________. And this is your theme. It is the phrase or word you want to focus the interviewer on at the onset of your interview. The theme might be a personality trait you have identified as predictive of success at this school: “I am motivated by a challenge,” “I’m a competitor,” “Analytical,” “A catalyst.”

The Hurdler

I once interviewed a young man who began his open-ended response by saying; “I can tell you a lot about myself with one word – ‘I’m a ‘Hurdler.’” He went on to discuss the various hurdles he had overcome, such as ADD, difficulty with foreign languages, and a lack of financial resource. He was also the undefeated 300 meter intermediate hurdle champion and M.V.P. of his school’s league. He had learned techniques to fold his legs over the hurdles as though they were not there. He had also learned to keep lists of tasks to be accomplished. He had written down his goals and kept them posted on his mirror. He had trained for countless hours to perfect his techniques for overcoming each of the hurdles in his life. He had worked a job after school and over the summers to pay part of his tuition at a private school that supported different learners. He managed to conquer Spanish by finding songs with the vocabulary and eventually graduated as the top music student in his school. He explained that in life, just as on the track, he had practiced and perfected techniques so that his head did not go up and down, but rather his legs would fold over each hurdle, so that he could stay on course and reach the finish line ahead of the others. He detailed his various achievements in the story, but he ordered them and hung them on his “hurdler” theme.


The last segment of “Developing Your Personal Story”, will discuss the presentation of your story and how to practice it. Mark Efinger, the Founder and President of The Interview Skill Coaching Academy, publishes a weekly blog focused on Interview Skills. “Developing Your Personal Story” is only one of the major tasks necessary to appropriately prepare for any interview.

Mark Efinger has twenty-five years of experience training interview candidates to put their best foot forward when it counts for the admissions interviews at selective schools. His clients have achieved offers from Harvard, Stamford, Williams College, Mt Holyoke, Lawrenceville, Andover, Exeter and many other institutions. If you would like to see articles on a topic related to interpersonal conversations, please visit If you would like to talk to Mark, email him at