Use the rule of 3 to give your career an Olympic boost


Adapted from citius altius fortius. empathy2016. lviv. by Yaroslav F.

As something that I usually mention in interview preparation with students and graduates, I’ve been thinking about writing a post on the rule of 3 for a while. Being reminded of the Olympic motto, with its focus on aiming high and continuous improvement, this weekend prompted me to get it written.

The Olympic motto; “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, meaning “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, is one example of the rule of 3. Think how often popular phrases, soundbites from famous speeches or advertising slogans are comprised of 3 words or parts.

You can find examples in pretty much any area of life,

from literature; e.g. “Friends, Romans, countrymen”

to public safety; “stop, look, listen”

to popular culture; e.g. “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

You can probably think of many, many more examples too.  Have you ever wondered why?

Why it works

Simply put, it’s a powerful communication tool.  We remember groups of 3s better than we remember other numbers of things.  So whether in writing or speaking, you will find loads of advice on how you can use it to improve your communications.

How it can help you – the careers perspective

Being a Careers Consultant, I’m particularly interested in how you can use the rule of three to help your career and job applications.  Three (what else?!) easy ways you can use it include;

  • Applications & interviews
  • Presentations
  • Introductions

In an application or interview

Giving your responses in a structured and coherent manner, whether at application or interview stage is really important.   Doing so gives your answers impact, makes them more memorable, meaning you are more likely to be successful.

There is a lot of advice available on how to structure your responses to competency, or behavioural, based questions. These are questions which typically begin “Tell me about a time when…..”, or “Give me an example of a time when…” (see our website for more on this).

However, there is not so  much advice on how to deal with other questions. You can use the rule of 3 to create a powerful and memorable structure to your responses to the questions which don’t call for a specific example. Questions like;

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • What do you know about our organisation?
  • What is your understanding of this job?
  • Why should we give you this job?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • What makes you a strong candidate?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Where do you see yourself in 2/5/10 years?
  • Why did you choose this course/ University etc.?
  • The list goes on…..

In your preparation, try to think of 3 key bits of information that you can use to answer key questions that are likely to come up, such as those above, and build your responses around these.  If you would like additional ideas on types of common interview questions, see the resources on our website.

In a presentation

Presentations are an increasingly common part of selection processes. You have probably heard many ‘golden rules’ of presenting effectively, possibly

“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them” (another example of the rule of 3).

In addition to using the rule of three to give overall structure to your presentation, you can also use it to refine and structure your content.

Where most people fall down with presentations (particularly during selection processes) is trying to cram too much into what is usually a very short amount of time (10 minutes is common).

You may feel that you have a lot more to say than 3 points, but these can be grouped, or broken down at different levels (do this in 3s!).

For example, if you’re asked to discuss the pros and cons of a particular idea, begin by brainstorming as many as you can think of for each, then try to group these into 3 broad pros (part 1) and 3 broad cons (part 2). Each of these could be further broken down into 3 sub-points. That’s the first two parts of your presentation. Then your third part can be conclusions or recommendations. Yes, I would again suggest 3 of these!

In an introduction, as an “elevator pitch”

You may have heard the term “elevator pitch”. The idea originated in business, particularly to pitch new ideas, products, services, or the business itself in a short, succinct way.

A good elevator pitch should provide a clear and simple overview (of said idea, product, service, business etc.) all in the time it would take to share an elevator ride with someone. The idea being that a well-crafted elevator pitch should leave the person listening wanting to know more, and thus continue the conversation.  These days it is also widely used in networking and personal branding.  All it really means in this context is an introduction to you and what you have to offer.

There are many ways you could use an elevator pitch, but perhaps the most immediately relevant for students and graduates would be at a careers fair or networking event. Imagine you are at a careers fair and there is an organisation there you are interested in talking to.  How are you going to introduce yourself? A good way to structure such an introduction in 3 parts:

  1. The quick facts
  2. Your key selling points – hook their interest
  3. Tell them what you want – finish with a question

1). Hello. My name is Jess.  I’m a 2nd year Psychology student and was really interested to read about your internship opportunities in marketing.

[factual information about you, ideally which shows that you have already done some research into their organisation]

2). I feel that my creativity, communication and leadership skills that I have developed during my academic, extra-curricular activities and previous work experience would be really valuable in this internship.

[key selling points to hook their interest – what relevant skills you have; yes, I’d suggest highlighting the 3 most relevant, mention other activities and previous experience – all this will leave them curious to know more about you, what you’ve done and what you could potentially bring to their organisation. This does not have to be directly related experience and can come from any area of your life]

3). Could you tell me a bit more about the typical day of an intern in your marketing team?

[posing a question again demonstrates that you are interested in them and their opportunities. They may well come straight back to you with “What would you like to know?” or similar, but the key point is that you’ve started a conversation.]


The rule of three is a powerful communication tool which will make your communications clear, memorable and impactful.  So next time you’re preparing for an interview, presentation or an introduction to yourself, remember, 3 is the magic number!

What other ways could you use the rule of three in career terms? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Remember, we are here to support you with all things careers, whether that be ideas, applications, further study, job search, networking, or anything else! Talk to us to find out how we can help you.


1 Comment

Filed under Autumn career essentials, Career fairs & events, CVs & Applications, Interviews, Networking

One response to “Use the rule of 3 to give your career an Olympic boost

  1. Pingback: How to impress at the Graduate Jobs & Internships Fair | University of Leeds Careers Centre Blog

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