“Tell me about yourself”
A more intuitive way to answer and ask the guaranteed first question to any behavioral interview, but in a social setting.
Personally, before I even walk into any interview, I already know my answer to the first question, the same 523, sometimes 524 words that takes me approximately 2 minutes and 18 seconds to eloquently present, so it sounds like a natural response. I mean, I’m not cheating the system, I’m just “well-prepared”.
But that’s for a professional setting. So what happens when you get asked that question in a social environment? What do you say, and why do you choose to tell a stranger what you share?
To put into perspective, this summer I’m living in Austin, Texas, a beautiful city which I’ve never been to before until this year, for an internship with Facebook. Inevitably, I’m constantly meeting new people and what I’ve noticed is that every time I meet someone new, almost always, it begins with this exact awkward small talk.
“Hey, I’m Daren… *handshake* nice to meet you…how’s it going?”
And once you get passed that small talk, you’ll eventually get hit with the first behavioral interview question, or a similar version of it…
“So Daren, tell me about yourself”
Through experience, I’ve naturally developed this general framework for my answer in social settings:
I’m Daren and I am a [current grade] at Rutgers University. I’m in the business school at Rutgers studying Supply Chain Management and Economics. I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY but moved to NJ when I was 8 and I’ve lived there ever since. At Rutgers, I’m involved with student government and Greek life. I’m the current student-body President of the Rutgers Business School and I’m also a part of Alpha Kappa Psi, the co-ed professional business fraternity. In my free time, I love visiting art museums, playing tennis, travelling, thrifting, and I like fashion.
My “Light-bulb” Moment!
As I was biking home from work one day during my first week in Austin, I reflected upon my day and right away I thought about all the new people I met. Everyone was awesome, just great vibes in general.
I’m going to be honest and admit that I didn’t remember half of those people’s names. However, I remembered exactly how I introduced myself to others and the way others introduced themselves to me because it was essentially that framework I use! Both parties tell each other their name,where they’re from, where they went to school/what they studied, what they do on the job, and it usually ends with hopefully one or two memorable interests.
This is when the epiphany happened! I began to question why I always share the same facts about myself in an introductory conversation. I thought about it more and more, and then began to wonder, “was I taught this?”, “is there an optimal way to introduce yourself?” and if so, “what is it?!”
Note: Yes, I understand that there are many factors that one considers when choosing what to share when meeting someone for the first time, which I won’t go into in much detail. For example, you choose to say certain things based on your mood at the time, the people you’re with (if any), how comfortable you are in your current environment, or how much liquor is in your body (which doesn’t apply to me [of course!]), because I’m not 21 yet. You get the point.
My guess is that we share common facts about ourselves in an intro conversation because it’s a safe answer, super basic information that anyone can find in this day and age on the internet simply by looking someone up on Facebook and/or Instagram. It’s generic but usually these facts alone are enough to spark more conversations and everyone is happy.
But it doesn’t make sense to me because I believe that we should introduce ourselves in a way that truly define who we are as a person and not just through common information that can easily be found. Because, if that’s the case, then why do we even have to meet in person? There has to be something else. Something different.
Let’s take a step back like James Harden, and put our thinking caps on.
What if you answered that intro question in another way?
A way that tells a stranger what you’re really passionate about, what your purpose in life is, your “story”. What if you shared what your motivation in life is, your ultimate goal, or what you’re struggling with?
It’s very rare that you’ll ever encounter someone that will openly share that with you period, let alone in an intro conversation. And surprisingly, it’s something not many people have really thought about before either.
I get it, it’s personal.
It’s a risky answer. You’re not sure how someone will react, and you’re worried that they’ll judge you for being lame because you aren’t sharing the “basic” information like everyone else. And I know what you’re thinking, you barely remember that person’s name, and now they’re going to learn about your life story?! It may seem strange at first but hear me out…
Here’s how the conversation would go with this new approach…
“So Daren, tell me about yourself”
“ I’m a first generation college student and an only child. When I think about my purpose in life, it really revolves around my ultimate goal, which is to retire my parents and make sure they live a life as stress-less as possible. Reason being, I grew up watching them work tirelessly to provide me with so many opportunities throughout my life. I want to give back to them in any way I can. To reach that goal, in the meantime, I’m hoping to live a happy, healthy, and useful life doing what I’m passionate about which is connecting people because I truly believe that everyone has something new to teach and the world will be better if we simply learn from each other. I chose to tell you this because you’ll get a better understanding about the decisions I make in life and how I prioritize. I don’t expect you to tell me about your life purpose or goals because I know we just met, but I would love to know.”
Okay… I know what you’re still thinking. Daren, why in the world would I ever introduce myself like that?! Well, here are 3 reasons why you should:
- You show vulnerability. Vulnerability is something I honestly still don’t understand about the human race. “Collectively, we look for it in others, but hide from it in ourselves. We don’t want it, but we need it.” Brene Brown, a researcher on vulnerability has said, “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you.”
- Chances are, they’ll actually tell you their “story” and you’ll learn more about the person you’re talking to. You’ll connect with someone on a deeper level, more than just sharing an interest. Think about it, there’s only so much you can connect on about a hobby or pastime. Let’s go beyond that. Why does that person like that interest? How does it relate to their goals?
- Research show that it can change negative first impressions. In a psychological phenomenon known as the “fundamental attribution error,” we know that humans are quick to “essentialize” the behaviors of others. As soon as a stranger sees you, their brains will undergo thousands of computations and within seconds, conclude if you are trustworthy, smart, competent, and will even go as far as predicting your sexual orientation. But what a lot of people don’t know is that there are ways to reverse first impressions and incorrect judgments. One of which is simply to get to know the person better, and get “closer to them”. Explained in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “force yourself out of your comfort zone and find ways to get to know them better.”
This is where telling someone your “story” comes into play. Someone who knows your goals, purpose, and intentions realistically will know you better as a person.
In theory, if we can all practice this skill, I truly believe that our world will be more connected, more understanding, and ultimately, more peaceful.
Still have concerns?
It seems like a common concern about answering the question “So tell me about yourself” with your life story is that most people don’t feel comfortable sharing something that 1) isn’t asked for and 2) they feel isn’t necessary to divulge.
These concerns are definitely valid, and shouldn’t be ignored. So how do we overcome this?
Answer: If we can’t change the concerns, let’s change the way this notorious question is asked.
The common intro question shouldn’t be “Tell me about yourself” anymore.
Instead, it should be along the lines of “What’s your story?”, “What is your ultimate goal?”, or “What is your purpose?”. This way, there’s no concerns about sharing your own “story” if the question is asked and vice versa.
To summarize (Thank you for reading up to this point btw!), I encourage everyone when meeting someone new, given that you are in a comfortable situation, to ask about their story instead. And if you’re the one who is asked “Tell me about yourself”, answer with your own purpose, story, goals, etc. and preface why you’re doing it so we can all redefine the status quo.
It’s challenging, no doubt, but I genuinely believe that if we are going to make the world a better place for everyone, we need to first understand each other’s stories, each other’s purposes, and each other’s goals.
Let’s be honest, you probably won’t do what I ask of you because it’s too challenging. And it’s true, I’m still working on adopting this myself! But if I sparked any new thoughts into your head at all as you were reading this, I consider that a success. Maybe you now know exactly how you’re going to answer that interview question in a professional setting, or maybe you’re now thinking about your own purpose in life, or hopefully you’ll put these thoughts into action. But whatever you walk away with, I hope it was worthwhile.
So go out there and really connect with people and learn more!
Start with your story.
End with a purpose.
Thanks for reading,
Writing is something new to me. I think it’s great for expressing thoughts. I write simply to share my experiences and thoughts on topics in life that interest me. Hopefully in the meantime, it can be helpful to others.
Feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn and/or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Always happy to help.