Have you ever been at a party, networking event, or even sitting in an airplane and were asked the question, “Tell me about yourself?”
I HATE this question!
I never know what to say:
- Should I spill my life story?
- Should I tell them something vague?
- What about telling them something vulnerable?
Is that too much!?
Luckily, I solved this problem after countless “tell me about you” fails. In this guide, you will learn my ultimate framework:
- How NOT to respond to this question (that many people actually do!)
- How to respond without being overly vague or too specific
- The best way to respond to answer “Tell me about you” to ace any interview or connect with anyone at a social event.
How NOT to Respond to “Tell Me About You”
#1: DON’T be a deer in the headlights
Have you ever been asked this question and it went something like this:
- Oh, umm…
- Yeah… *looks away*
- “Oh gosh, what should I say?”
Basically, your deer-in-the-headlights mode gets activated.
Don’t make the same mistake I did! But don’t go overboard, either, as you might fall victim to the next big mistake…
#2: DON’T spill your life story
After have one too many deer-in-the-headlight moments, I decided to go in the opposite direction.
The next time someone asked me, “Hey Vanessa, tell me about yourself.” Guess what I did?
“Oh, I was born in Los Angeles, California and I’m a Taurus. I like to take long walks on the beach and back in college I took this really cool trip to Shanghai where I—”
Bzzzt! This is all TMI.
What I learned by spilling my guts out is that people will sloooowly walk away. They may act polite, but it’s just an act. Next!
#3: DON’T be oddly vague
Since the above 2 didn’t work, I tried skirting the question:
- “Oh, I’ve been a little here, a little there.”
- “I work a lot on all kinds of stuff.”
- “You know, I do a lot of things. I try to keep busy.”
But this didn’t work at all. The problem with this answer is it didn’t satisfy anyone, and it made me seem less competent.
So if you shouldn’t do these things, what SHOULD you do? Here’s how to nail the question, “Tell me about yourself” in 3 easy steps.
Step #1: Add a Positive Qualifier
The best way to start off is to set yourself up for success. Reel them in with something like:
- “Oh, where to begin, so many exciting things!”
- “Let’s see, I’ll skip to the good parts.”
Starting with a positive qualifier lets you give them JUST the juiciest highlights. Also, you avoid the trap of spilling your life story! And of course, now that you’ve primed yourself to give a great story, now you’ve got to deliver.
Here’s exactly how:
Step #2: Give Yourself a Label
Instead of diving straight into, “I teach English,” you might want to start with “I’m a teacher.”
Because we love labels. Even at an early age, we begin to label things ourselves, starting with big categories downwards.
- We first learn that some sweet foods are called fruits.
- Then we learn that red fruits are called apples.
- Later, we learn individual parts of an apple, like the stem and seeds.
And just like how we learn from top to bottom, we also make sense of things in a hierarchy.
What is the label that makes you feel most proud?
It can be something from your profession, like:
Or, it could be something more personal, like:
- Church leader
What do you personally think about these labels? These labels will help others have an, “Aha!” moment and be able to associate you with them.
My favorite 2 labels are writer and mother. I absolutely love to write every day AND I am super proud of being a mother!
What are your favorite labels?
But your answer won’t work if you jump straight into the details. You need a story…
Step #3: Tell a Story With a Hook
The reason “Tell me about yourself” doesn’t always work is because a lot of people don’t engage with stories. Instead, they start listing out facts. They’ll say:
- “Well, I’m a mom…”
- “I live in Texas…”
- “I love vegetables, and…”
Most people just end up listing a bunch of facts.
And NOBODY loves listening to facts, unless you’re at a business meeting and have skyrocketing sales numbers.
But everyone loves a good story. Typically, your story will be some kind of origin story or what got you started.
Now, using a story, I might say something like…
“I’m an introvert and a recovering awkward person. Growing up, I didn’t understand how people work. And so, in my twenties and thirties, I began to discover some really interesting behavior hacks. I started writing about them, and then I gave a TED talk that went viral. Now, here I am and I write and make YouTube videos on behavior, psychology, and emotional intelligence.”
Telling a short story serves 2 main purposes:
- You’re saving time. No more drawn-out convos that require an exit strategy. My story only takes less than a minute—aim to do the same!
- You’re offering hooks. There’s nothing worse than answering this question but only getting an “oh,” in return. A good story has hooks, or interesting tidbits that invite more questions. With good hooks in place, your conversation partner will bite and keep the conversation juices flowing.
Special Note: Hooks are short for a reason. For example, one of the hooks in my story above is, “I gave a TED talk that went viral.” That’s literally it. I don’t explain what the TED talk is about, how I felt, or what lead me up to that point. Keeping it short and simple invites your partner to ask more if they want without going into information overload.
And if you’re interested in my TED talk, feel free to check it out here!
Bonus: End on a Question
If you want to avoid an awkward silence, try tossing them the ball:
- “How about you?”
- “Are you introverted?”
- “What do you like to write about?”
Typically, I try to end on a question if I can. But if you’ve already told a really good story, most of the time they’ll already be asking you a question!
Set Your Frameworks
My biggest takeaway I have for you is…
If someone asks you a question that makes you feel uncomfortable, come up with a framework for it.
- “Where are you from?”
- “What do you do?”
- “What do you like to do for fun?”
Will ALWAYS pop up in our lives.
The most important thing here is to be purposeful.
We are constantly bombarded with questions we don’t like ALL the time, so spending the time to come answer these questions will showcase your best self and avoid awkward or dull answers… no matter what situation you’re in.