Published: July 2, 2020 By

Tell me about yourself. We’ve all been asked this question at some point or another, and we’ll all be asked it again. Especially as business students, this age-old question will arise at interviews, networking events, and career fairs.

At first thought, this question may seem like it has an easy answer. We quickly draw out our identities and experiences that rise to the top of mind as important: educational background, gender, race, regionality, major, and the list goes on. We then wrap ourselves up into a 30-second elevator pitch and present it neatly with a bow to employers. That’s powerful, but what happens after those 30 seconds?

‘Tell me about yourself’ is more than one question requiring a 30-second answer, it’s the way you show up for an entire conversation, the personal narrative that you share.

Making your personal narrative more… well, personal.reflection

Since I’m asking you to get personal, I’ll model and share a story.

I’ve been to a lot of retreats and completed a lot of activities, but one stands out in particular. My colleagues and I each had to write an ‘I Am From,’ made famous by Kentucky poet laureate George Ella Lyon. I chalked the activity up to an unsophisticated reflection upon learning that high schools around the nation were completing this exercise; however, we were asked to do so much more than identify what physical location we came from. I was urged to dive into details of traditions, familial and communal influences, experiences, and identities that were like my nose, constantly present and therefore invisible unless I was intentionally setting my eyes upon it. Reflecting on the experience, I can see the similarities and differences that appeared in my colleagues’ poems, but what stands out is how deeply shaped each of us were by where, both culturally and physically, we were from and the unique way it affected the way we ‘show up’ in spaces. I realized that out of my many identities and experiences, being a queer, white woman who has been influenced by generations of Appalachian culture is the dominant lens I wear when showing up in a space. It took years of self-reflection, vulnerability, and reshaping of my mental framework to develop a narrative that felt authentic, positive, and something I felt proud to share. While I don’t have to share my identities in every conversation, getting more personal with myself has allowed me to better craft my narrative to be a powerful and helpful tool to share my mission and vision in conversations, the workplace, and in my personal life.

I share this personal experience with you to vouch for the creative process of exploring how your history, experiences, and identities are influenced by upbringing, perceptions, the community that surrounds you, and the systems you live within. So, dig in, explore, and get up in your own business.

*If you’re like me, a template may help guide you through this thought process. Take 20 minutes to check out George Ella Lyon’s poem and guide. You may have done this same activity in high school, but I urge you to take it a step further and think about how it affects your experience as a business student.

I know where I’m from. Now what?

Like me, some of us will have to grapple with realities of our stories we don’t like while others may find comfort thinking about where we’re from. I’ve crafted some questions that may help you reflect that stem from Lent, Brown and Hackett’s Social Cognitive Career Theory¹ (I’m pulling the research out on you now, folks!):

  • How does where you’re from shape your self-efficacy, or the belief that you have in your abilities?

Maybe there are identities and experiences you hold that affect your self-perception in ways that you didn’t fully realize. Are there ways you can shift your thinking to tell your story differently?

  • What are your outcome expectations, or your beliefs about what will happen if you perform a certain behavior?

People often participate in activities that they believe will result in positive outcomes, rewards, and self and external approval. Have you ever considered how your previous experiences and the identities you hold affect this? Perhaps your gender affects the major you choose or maybe your long-line of business-owning family members praise your entrepreneurship path. 

  • How do your self-efficacy and outcome expectations affect the goals you set for yourself?

Our self-efficacy and outcome expectations directly tie into the goals we set for ourselves. And as I’ve shared above, the narratives we tell others, and, more importantly, the narratives we believe about ourselves affect our self-efficacy and outcome expectations. We don’t have the power to change our history or certain identities, but we do have power in shaping our personal stories.

Let’s tie this all together.

Your elevator pitch may not have changed much from completing the exercises above, and I wasn’t expecting it to. What I do hope evolves from your reflection is self-awareness about how you show up and increased intentionality in your narrative after that 30-second introduction. When you’re sharing that random story about where you grew up or why you chose your major, remember that there is power in an authentic, chosen narrative that will affect the way you perceive the world and how the world perceives you.

I’d love to hear how where you’re from is shaping where you’re going. Tell me about yourself.


Mak Olaker

Program Manager, Women’s and Leadership Programs

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