How to Survive “Tell Me About Yourself”

During a job interview, the one topic that we most stumble over is, “Tell me about yourself,”. The panic sets in.  Most of us have no idea how to answer it. Where do you start? At your childhood? Your first job? The winning spike at the volleyball tournament of 1983?

That same panic sets in when you are building your profile on a dating site or meeting new people. We’ve known ourselves our whole lives, but if another human asks us to describe ourselves, we freeze. Our brains can’t remember what our favorite food is, our first dog’s name or even our own name.

Performance anxiety can be experienced in new social settings. The first day of school or a dance recital. I say new, however, American actor Peter Fonda whose career expanded over six decades, once said in an interview that he would still throw up before walking out onto a stage. Anxiety itself is brought on by what we imagine is expected of us based on what we think others feel. If you have had a lifetime of criticizing yourself, telling yourself you aren’t good enough, or hating the way you look, it makes it that much harder to think that others don’t feel the same way.

We have the tendency to suffer from imposter syndrome and dread that someone is going to find us out. Think about how many selfies you take before you finally get to the perfect one. Think about how many were deleted. All praises go to the inventor of the filter, right? It’s not just looks. We tell ourselves we are boring, and no one is going to be interested in anything we have to say. We don’t feel smart enough. Or just don’t feel like we fit.

Truth is, we want to be perfect and seen as perfect. Bad news is, we aren’t. Good news, nor is anyone else. We are all hiding the flaws hoping to be liked. That makes me ask, who are you, truly? What do you want someone to know about you? And how do you answer, tell me about yourself?

  1. Focus on the one thing you love about yourself. For me, it’s my smile. I know my smile will win people over. In new situations, I try to smile and make eye contact. It is usually a full-on, ear-to-ear smile. Then of course I tone it down, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. If I focus on feeling like I have a winning smile that makes others want to smile too, then I will be ok.
  2. Know that the others in the situation are nervous too. The interviewer know that you are uncomfortable. They also know this of the candidates that came before you and the ones that will come after. Own your anxiety. Accept it is what it is and even make a joke about it. My first time on stage in front of an audience I had one line, nine words and then I had to jump off the stage and lay on the floor. When the scene was over and we were backstage, we all laughed with a sigh of relief. For most of us, it was our first performance.
  3. Don’t forget to breathe. When we are scared, we tend to hold our breath. Our body tenses up and our brains are trying to decide if this moment requires us to fight or run. Can you imagine being on a first date and you either punch them or run out of the restaurant? Neither scenario would go well. Instead, take a couple of deep breaths. Count to eight on your inhale, hold for four and then exhale. Now your body is relaxed, and you are present in the moment.
  4. Practice what you are going to say. If it is a job interview, you are already doing this. (I hope) Even if it is a first date, a networking event, or a dinner party, practice introducing yourself. Think of the one story you like to tell. What is your best joke? Whatever crowd you will be in, come up with what is appropriate for the situation. Is this a good time to talk about the winning spike at the volleyball tournament of 1983? If so, practice it beforehand.
  5. Through it all, be confident. Your heart is feeling like it is about to explode and you are supposed to look like you are holding it together. Hear me out. If you take the above four suggestions and truly practice, that is where your confidence comes from. Tell me about yourself does not end up sounding like a slew of um’s and stutters. When I look back on my previous job interviews, I often wonder how I got hired. It was like an out of body experience. It wasn’t until going to networking events as a writer that I learned to prepare and put these steps into action. Instead of self-coaching myself during the event or even trying to wing it, being prepared makes me feel confident. It’s easier to recall a short-term memory than trying to remember what I did at a job five years ago.

Most importantly, have fun. I’m still not thrilled about being in new social situations with people I don’t know but I don’t allow it to stop me. As us Gen X’ers would ask, but did you die? I must answer, no. No, I did not.

Love and light, friends,

Portia Leivette

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