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.

But first…

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…

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#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!

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#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.

3 Steps to Answer: "Tell Me About Yourself" Infographic

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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:

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Step #2: Give Yourself a Label

Instead of diving straight into, “I teach English,” you might want to start with “I’m a teacher.”

Why?

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:

  • Teacher
  • Writer
  • Nurse

Or, it could be something more personal, like:

  • Wife
  • Mother
  • 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…

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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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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!

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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!

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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.

Questions like:

  • “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.

18 replies on “How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in 3 Simple Steps”

  1. Ekene Moses

    These tips are really helpful. I discovered that I am doing them already but without following a sequence. So now I will simply ice up and up my game.

    Thank you, Vanessa!

  2. James Gillet

    Great tips Vanessa! What I share about myself depends on my audience; what facts about me are they likely to be interested in? Why share I’m a violinist if I’m at an ice hockey game, and vice versa, if I’m at a classical music concert, and during interval I’m talking to someone, I’m not likely to bring up ice hockey.

  3. Elodie

    Thank you for those tips Vanessa, very helpful.
    I remember that in the first video of you that I watched, you were telling us a story with this lesson : ‘people are only boring because you fail making them interesting’. I still have it in mind and I guess that when we have that kind of question, we have to answer in a way to say what’s interesting about ourselves !

  4. Noble

    Great tips over there. I bumped into this site as I was search some information on ‘people skills’. I have enjoyed reading and will continue. Thank you.

  5. Emmanuel

    I’m that very shy dude that can’t express himself, but me listening to your video will gonna help me improve my ways of expression. Thanks for the experience

  6. Trish

    I sure wish I had the benefit of this information a few years ago when I was in a group situation and the leader asked each of us to introduce ourself and give a little tidbit about ourself. I was called on first. I was totally unprepared and botched the whole thing, actually giving too little info, rushing, as if I knew the others didn’t want to hear about me. By the time everyone else finished, I wanted a do-over. I’ve thought about that moment a lot and now I have the framework to give a great response next time!

  7. LUTZ LEONARDO

    Thanks very much for the post! If I understood that correctly, the answer to this question is like writing a very short paragraph. I think it’s a great tip! Have a nice day!

  8. Fara

    Really good pointers. It is like you are writing a story, but actually you are formulating your words in a way that your listener won’t be bored and want to poke her eyes out or maybe yours for that matter. Thank you!!

  9. Kristy Hudson

    I love this lesson, Vanessa! I have been practicing all of your valuble tips and they do work. I could not thank you enough!!

  10. Billy

    “I’m a lifelong learner, differential thinker and problem solver with a healthy competitive streak.” This is my identity statement… then I use a pattern interrupt something like “I had a pretty normal childhood we went without gas or power multiple months out of every year because we couldn’t afford it. We even celebrated Christmas in February when my mom would get her tax return.” Because they were expecting normal and my life hasn’t been. Then depending on who I’m talking to I frame that in a positive for my situation, “but I wouldn’t trade that for anything. It taught me how to push myself. I was California state all stars in baseball every year, played on a traveling competitive soccer team on scholarship, even played in the men’s National dart tournament when I was 13 and placed in the money. Then someone told my I couldn’t play basketball because I am short and white… I said “f*ck you, watch me.” I played at UNLV…” so that reframes that sad or negative pattern interrupt as a good thing that shows my drive, ability, and effort.

  11. Shelly Kice

    This is wonderful, I never thought about it, but I hate that question too. I have been with my company for 14 years and I have worked in all departments and 4 different towns. “what do you do” is a loaded question and I want to give my guests some information about me without giving the 14 year history.

  12. Julio Gabriel Izquierdo Lalama

    Awesome practical tips to succeed in this kind of trap question. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  13. Denis Switzer

    Love the frame work approach to the question. gonna write a response that I will use. Thanks again for the great education.

  14. Janice Marsh

    I love your videos. My worst question is when did you graduate? In South Africa we say matriculate and I didn’t matriculate I left school after Grade 10 and did a year at secretarial college. It is very frowned upon here not to have completed matric and I have a successful job now and feel embarrassed about the fact that I didn’t matriculate. Could you help me with a good response to this question that would help me with it? Thank you Janice

  15. Toby Brown

    I am a covid refugee and dog enthusiast. I was a firefighter that started a business to save a small island community and saved my pennies to fall in love in Australia. Now due to covid, I am happily stuck down under working towards helping save the planet.

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