“So, tell me about yourself…”
Is there a more dreaded question out there?
Other than your grandparents repeatedly asking if you’ve met anyone nice, that is!
It can be really hard to talk about yourself without accidentally sounding pretentious or arrogant, but you also don’t want to do yourself down.
Whether you’re in a job interview, on a first date, or meeting new people at a party, we’ve got some tips on how to master the ‘humble brag’…
1. Keep it short and snappy.
Interesting as you probably are, nobody expects an essay as a response.
While people are genuinely keen to find out more about you, they want to know the concise version of your personality… to start with, at least.
In an interview, for example, your answers should be snappy and to the point – most potential employers want to know that you can condense information down to the most important bits.
If you’re meeting new people, conversations tend to follow a certain pattern. Although there is so much more going on in your life, people generally want to know what your job is within three seconds of meeting you.
We know, we know – our jobs don’t define us, but they do help others make snap judgements, and that’s what a lot of introductory conversations are about.
By responding relatively speedily in this kind of situation, you’ll be able to identify a potential bond early on.
You can ask questions too, of course, meaning you’ve got a fast-track ticket to finding out a lot about each other in a short space of time.
After a few minutes of back-and-forth, you’ll both know if you want to carry on the conversation and get into more detail.
Think of it like speed-dating – you give lots of short, punchy titbits early on to interest and engage each other, and then decide whether to get a second drink and divulge more information.
Example – on a first date, mention where you live, what your job is, and one of your hobbies. These three punchy statements will probably answer the next few questions the other person had, and you’ll be on the way to establishing some common ground.
2. Be honest – you’ll appreciate this later, trust us!
There is no point lying or embellishing your interests or achievements.
Take our word for it.
From personal experience, there is nothing more excruciatingly painful than having your brand new boss ask about something you pretended to be really interested it…
…the results of last night’s game? Not a clue, but they’ll assume you know as you were so passionate about it in your interview.
Equally, saying that you can speak a foreign language when you can’t may look impressive on a CV, but will look pretty silly in a meeting when you struggle to remember your GCSE Spanish. Not a great move!
Remember that episode of Friends where Joey says he can speak French and tap dance? Didn’t work out so well. If you can down a gallon of milk in under a minute, though, go for it…
This works with friendships and relationships, too. It might feel good to agree with someone on a certain hobby or job role, but, by pretending, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
You’ll become so worried about slipping up and revealing that you told a white lie that you’ll stop enjoying any interactions with that person.
Try to remember that you’re great as you are and that you can be honest about what you do, as well as what you don’t do.
There’s nothing wrong with not agreeing with someone, and not every hobby is going to be shared. If you’re not interested in the same initial thing, keep going and find a different, common ground. There’ll be one in there somewhere!
Example – reveal a secret, interesting fact about yourself or just go for something genuine, like being able to speak a foreign language or touch-type. It might not seem thrilling to you, but it might just spark a great conversation.
3. Engage and respond (appropriately!)
If someone has mentioned that they enjoy something you also enjoy, this is a really easy way to talk about yourself without bragging.
It will help you engage the person you’re speaking with, they’ll be able to relate to you more, and the conversation will feel much more natural.
On a first date, for example, finding common ground can be a huge relief compared to those stretches of awkward silence.
By sharing your passion for something, you’ll appear way more ‘human’ and are likely to have a genuine connection.
If you’re in an interview, it’s always great for the employer to feel like they’d actually get on with you on a day-to-day basis.
We’re all capable of being professional when we need to, so the human touch is really important and shows that you’re an authentic, interesting person that they’ll actually talk to.
By responding and interacting more, you open yourself up as a person and come across as genuine, which can only ever be a good thing.
Make sure you’re appropriate in an interview, of course. Going out and drinking every weekend may be a hobby of yours, and of theirs(!), but you don’t need to bring that up.
Focus on your love of the French language, passion for rock-climbing, or weekly trip to the local library. Much safer.
Example – tell them that you also love going to farmers’ markets at the weekend and start a conversation about one you’ve been to locally. Who knows, you might even end up going to one together some day…
4. Be confident – or pretend to be!
You know yourself better than anyone, and you’re in a great position to present yourself in the best possible light.
Whether it’s an interview or a date, you’re starting with a blank slate, which means that all anyone will know about you is what you tell them and how you tell it.
Being confident is a challenge for a lot of people. Try to remind yourself that whoever you’re talking to doesn’t know you, so they won’t know that you’re actually shy and hate speaking to strangers.
If you pretend to be confident, they’ll just assume that you are. We know it’s not quite that easy, which is why we’d suggest that practice makes perfect.
Your loved ones will always be there to offer support, so why not run through a few mock interviews with them? The more you become used to talking about yourself in this way, the more genuine confidence will build up. It feels quite silly at first, but it’ll really pay off.
This whole article is about helping you feel comfortable and confident in talking about yourself. The fact that we’ve written it shows just how much of an issue it can be for a lot of us, so try to take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
Like we said – fake it till you make it. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ll settle into your new role as an outgoing individual and while it may not become second nature, you’ll be able to pull it off when required.
Example – don’t hold back, be bold with what you’re saying. Your loved ones are interested when you talk because they know you – those who don’t are interested because they want to know you, so try to remember that.
5. Accept potential judgement.
We’d love to tell you that nobody is judging you, but it may not be true. What we will tell you, however, is that it doesn’t matter.
Sure, people will make snap judgements, but there is no point in worrying what they might be. You just need to accept that this will happen and remind yourself that it’s not always a negative thing.
A snap judgement could be, “Wow, firm handshake!” or, “Oh okay, I love playing tennis as well, that’s great” – it doesn’t always need to be what the voice in your head is suggesting.
If you focus too much on what people may or may not be thinking, you’ll completely lose yourself and you’ll forget how to just be you.
Remember that whoever you’re talking to wants to find out more about you, whether it’s for a job or as a new friend. If they judge and they don’t like you, it’s just not the right match.
Remember that whatever happens, you’ll be fine – if you don’t get a job offer from that boss you felt was judging you, it’s for the best. Would you really want to work for someone who you felt was constantly looking down on you?
The guy you had a date with might have thought your hobbies were lame, so you’ve had a lucky escape by avoiding a second date. Things would never really work out if you have such differing opinions on things that matter so much to you.
If you try to start new interactions with this mindset, you’ll worry so much less about the outcome and be able to focus on just being your wonderful self. Odds are, everything will work out much better in the end anyway.
Example – say what you want and ignore your own anxiety around what others might think.
6. Prepare something in advance.
If you’re feeling nervous about any new interactions, planning is one of the best ways to eradicate those anxieties.
Write down a list of things of things you do at the moment – run through your daily routine and your weekend activities over the past few months. Think about the things you do and the things that you enjoy, and remember that these can be very different!
If you’re struggling, ask your loved ones what they think of when they think of you. This might help trigger some memories of what you’ve been up to. It can be really hard to remember our hobbies when we’re put on the spot, and recalling what we had for breakfast is hard enough some days!
Make another list of things you’d like to be doing with your life. This is probably quite different to what most of us actually do.
Talking about yourself doesn’t just need to be arbitrary facts about your everyday life. Someone’s future plans and interests can be really engaging, and it’s always nice to hear about the direction people are trying to steer their lives in.
Mentioning that you want to up and travel the world isn’t the best thing to say in a job interview, but it’ll spark off a great conversation with a date or new friend.
Talk about your wishes to join a dance club or start swimming again. These kinds of things might not be that interesting to you because you’re not actually doing them yet, but they’ll help give people more of an impression of your personality.
Someone who introduces themselves as a banker might not seem instantly fascinating, but their future goal to skydive across Australia? Pretty cool and definitely conversation-worthy.
By preparing yourself for this type of question, you’ll go into social situations feeling much more confident.
Example – mention what you did a few weekends ago – they don’t need to know that you’ve been planning your answer since then! You can talk about future plans, too, and run through a list you’ve already made of your life goals.
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7. Reverse the question.
If you feel like you need a few minutes to regroup after this kind of question, give a little bit of information and then put the question back to them.
It won’t come across as ‘weak’ and they won’t know that you’re partially doing it to deflect attention. You’ll come across as invested and genuinely interested in whatever the situation is.
If you’re on a date or meeting someone new, the other person will feel flattered that you’re paying them attention and seem to really care. You’ll also find out some new information about that person, which is always exciting.
In an interview, you’re allowed to ask questions! Just because you’re the one in the hot seat, doesn’t mean you can’t reverse the system and ask a few questions.
Make sure they’re relevant and appropriate (don’t ask about the salary!), but try to feel comfortable exploring a bit more. You’re more than entitled to ask more about the role, or about whoever your departmental manager will be.
Show that you’ve done your research by asking what the interviewer’s reaction to X or Y was – they’ll be impressed that you’re aware of what’s going on in their work-world and will appreciate the opportunity to bond.
It also shows that you’re interesting, switched on and want to be engaged in the business.
Example – ask them what they’re expecting from you as an employee or how they find working in the team.
8. Don’t be scared of talking yourself up…
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of yourself and your achievements.
Be careful with how you’re wording this kind of thing (we’ll go into that next!), but don’t feel as though you can’t celebrate yourself and your achievements.
In an interview, it’s good to talk about positive impacts you’ve had on businesses in the past. You’ll probably have written your achievements on your CV anyway; this is just giving you the opportunity to go into more detail and add a personality to the words.
If you’re meeting a new friend or potential date, it’s always good to be confident. Don’t be arrogant, of course, but feel free to talk positively about yourself. Stories are always so much more interesting when the person telling them is genuinely interested in what they’re saying!
Talk about the things you enjoy with passion – it will say a lot about you. Speak with pride about the things you’ve accomplished, as this shows that you have respect for yourself and understand your worth.
That’s such an important quality in many ways. People who shy away from celebrating their own successes may appear very insecure or unsure – this is obviously fine, but it may not be an accurate representation of your personality.
Try to work on speaking openly about the things you’re good at – you can practice on your loved ones as you know that they’ll be supportive of you and join in with talking you up!
Example – don’t hold back from opening up about some interesting and exciting things you’ve done. Interviews are a space for you to talk about your accomplishments so don’t shy away from talking about your successful moments!
9. …But don’t talk yourself up too much!
Making yourself sound like a great person (which you obviously are!) is absolutely fine. Going overboard and coming across as a bit brash? Not so great.
There’s a fine line between pride and arrogance, and we’ve got some tips on how to stay on the right side of that line.
If you’re in an interview, talking about your accomplishments is key. It’s really important to talk about times you’ve worked and performed really well, but make sure you’re telling the full story.
One of your biggest achievements may have been when you were working as part of a team. Don’t discredit this as an example just because it doesn’t reference you doing something alone! Doing things incredibly well while working alongside others is still doing things incredibly well.
Reference your co-workers where needed – taking solo credit for a group effort could very easily blow up in your face later on if it’s discovered that the work you did involved other people.
Being able to recognize your own efforts as well as your ability to work with others is great and employers really like hearing that people are versatile.
This may actually make you feel more comfortable in talking about yourself as well – you can reference your contributions within a team, so there’s less pressure to just talk solidly about yourself.
If you’re on a date or meeting new people, staying a little bit humble is probably a good idea, at least to start with.
Imagine how you’d feel if you met someone new and all they spoke about was how brilliant they are, how good at their job they are, and the expensive car they just bought themselves.
By all means, as we’ve suggested, be confident when sharing things about yourself, but remember that conversations go both ways.
Keep the other person involved by inviting opinion and asking questions back, not just talking yourself up the whole time!
You’ll find this kind of thing much easier the more you talk to new people, don’t worry – it’s not as tricky as it sounds.
Example – mention the team you’ve been working within when talking about work successes. This shows that you’re not selfish when it comes to taking credit for hard work, but that you also have self-respect and understand the importance of your contributions.
10. Keep it casual.
Even if you’ve planned out what you’re going to say to the nth degree, try to act casual.
It’s great that you’re prepared, but people may find it a bit strange if you seem to be reading from a mental script.
Going over what you want to say is great, as we’ve mentioned, but try to keep things loose and casual when you speak.
By the time your interaction (interview, date, party etc.) comes up, you’ll have been over your ideas so many times that they’ll feel like second nature. This means that you’ll know your ‘topic’ inside and out and the words will just flow.
Trust that this will happen and try to relax. If you’re already a naturally nervous person, this can be really tricky. Remind yourself that you’ve rehearsed, as it were, and you’re now ready to ad-lib based on your knowledge.
People will understand if you take a few moments to respond to a question, especially a big meaty one like this!
Interviewers will actually be expecting you to take a pause here. They’ll want you to be prepared but they won’t want it to feel thoroughly choreographed. Take it slowly, breathe and try and be as natural as you can.
Example – write yourself a script if you need to, then convert it to flashcards. That way, you’ll learn the key points rather than the order of words in a sentence. This will help you talk naturally and you’ll remember the prompts rather than reciting what you planned word for word!
11. Back yourself up.
If you’re going to an interview, some props can really work in your favor. Portfolios can be fantastic for a lot of jobs and statistics are a great way to back up what you’re saying about yourself.
If you’re talking about the clients you converted to sponsors, or the extra sales you achieved by working with another company, bring the figures to explain it.
Talking about yourself in this kind of sense can be quite tricky – no matter how convincing you are, a lot of people want to see some evidence to back it up. Saying that you’ve done things is a good start, but being able to prove it on paper (or laptop!) really packs a punch.
Make sure you’re fully prepared going into this kind of thing. You don’t want to give a presentation, but you do want to ensure you’ve got the right documents with you and that you’re on the right track.
Think of the best way to present your data and tailor that to the company you’re interviewing with. If you’re applying for a creative role, reflect that aspect of the job in your documents. If it’s more of a straight-laced company, go old-fashioned and show off a pie chart or graph.
Go over things with someone you trust before you go into the interview. They’ll be able to sense-check what you’re doing and point out any glaring errors you’re making.
They’ll give you a confidence boost and help you figure out the order you should present things in. The rest is down to you.
Example – your involvement in a company’s marketing campaign increased sales by X%, so show that off with a pie chart or, if it’s appropriate, creative infographic.
12. Be consistent.
This mainly applies to job interviews – keep what you’re saying relevant to your CV.
If you randomly remember something in your interview that you didn’t put on your CV, bringing it up is fine! But try to stick to what you’ve already submitted.
The interviewer was impressed enough with your CV to take you to interview, so they’ll want to hear more about what they’ve read there.
Run through your CV again a few times before any interview. This will remind you of the things that are on there and can help you remember why you included them.
Recalling dates can be tricky at times, especially when you’re feeling stressed or nervous. Being inconsistent with this type of thing will really stand out, however, and the panic you’ll then feel will be horrible.
If someone questions something on your CV, try to stay calm and run back through your mental notes. If you’re really stuck, try to make a joke about it or ask a question in return, like “Sorry, what do you mean by that?” or something to buy you time and help you clarify what it is you should be saying!
This really links in to everything we’ve been saying above and ties it all together. Be honest and you’ll be able to stick to the same story – because it’s true!
By planning beforehand, you’ll know exactly what you want to talk about and you’ll be talking the interviewer through your CV, essentially.
If the interaction is more casual, with a date or new friend, this still applies…
…you’ll instantly appear trustworthy if you’re consistent. People who are all over the place can come across as flaky or slightly suspicious.
We’re not saying that you have to stick to just one topic of conversation, however. Talk about yourself and the various things you’ve done with your life, but stay consistent to yourself.
Example – if you’ve written that you worked at your last job from 2013 – 2017, make sure this is what you’re saying. As soon as you deviate from something you previously wrote/ said, you give the interviewer a chance to doubt you.
So, now that we’ve run through these easy ways to talk about yourself, there’s just one thing left to do – practice!
You can read about it as much as humanly possible, but the steps aren’t going to make real sense unless you start putting them into motion.
Talking about yourself can feel very intimidating at first, even though you know yourself better than anyone else. The more you’re exposed to these types of interactions, the sooner you’ll find a way that works best for you so that can feel truly comfortable and confident.