If you’ve ever panicked when it’s your turn to share a “fun fact about yourself” at work, you’re not alone.
“A lot of early career employees I’ve met freeze up when asked for their fun fact, seeing it as a test — which it is, but only partially,” said Gorick Ng, a career adviser at Harvard and a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches the unspoken rules of career navigation.
It’s tricky to decide what’s both work-appropriate and engaging. You don’t want to be too boring, but you also don’t want to be the cause of an HR complaint.
Take it from Ng and five other career experts who each have a go-to fun fact about themselves that they share for company icebreakers. Each person revealed a different strategy for picking what to reveal in getting-to-know-you exercises, and each one is worth learning from.
“I used to do magic tricks.”
“My go-tos are that I used to do magic tricks or that I’m a big movie soundtracks and country music nerd. The key to a good fun fact is to share something about yourself that isn’t about work, that isn’t incriminating, and that leaves people thinking either ‘Cool! Tell me more,’ or ‘No way, me too!’ which can hopefully spark a follow-up conversation — a conversation with someone who shares the same interest or with someone who doesn’t but who is now armed with more information about you to spark a conversation.
“Remember: people are evaluating you based on your Three C’s of competence, commitment, and compatibility. They’re asking themselves, ‘Can you do this job well?’ ‘Are you competent?’ ‘Are you excited to be here?’ ‘Are you committed?’ and ‘Do we get along?’ ‘Are we compatible?’
″‘Tell us a fun fact’ is really an invitation for you to build your compatibility.” — Ng
“I’ve done improv and I’m from Turkey.”
“I like to share that I’ve done improv and like to bring lessons learned into work — things like ‘yes and-ing’ ideas from others, to always have other people’s backs, etc. I’ll also share that I’m from Turkey and spent a lot of childhood going back and forth between the U.S. and Turkey. I think both of these are things that help people understand more about me, and often invite more questions [and] conversation.
″....When answering these questions, remember that your goal isn’t to come up with a ‘great’ answer. It’s to help everyone see each other as whole people and get people comfortable with everyone speaking, contributing and taking turns talking. So don’t put pressure on yourself to win people over with a great response — no one will remember what you said an hour from now, but they’ll remember that you were a great person to collaborate with during that meeting.” — Bonnie Dilber, a Zapier recruiter
“Your goal isn’t to come up with a ‘great’ answer. It’s to help everyone see each other as whole people and get people comfortable with everyone speaking, contributing and taking turns talking.”
“My mom was a mail-order bride from the Philippines.”
“I typically share that my mom was a mail-order bride from the Philippines and I grew up splitting my time between a small cattle farm in East Texas (dad’s side) and a women’s shelter (mom).
“My strategy for sharing these facts is partly to share something specific to me that most people wouldn’t guess when they first meet me, but more importantly, I share something personal and authentic so we start creating an environment of trust, vulnerability, and psychological safety.
“I believe the best workplaces are where we can be our full selves without shame or insecurity and have relationships built on trust and integrity. Sharing something personal about my upbringing helps set the tone for others to also share something real about themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with answering these icebreaker-type questions with your favorite color or favorite animal, but authentic connections are built on deeper ways of really getting to know each other.” — Gianna Driver, chief human resources officer at Exabeam
“I’m a certified EMT.”
“My strategy is to pick something that will at least slightly relate to the type of leader I’m working towards being in my role or in the context of the group. I’m constantly working on improving skills like giving strong direction, responding quickly, and communicating succinctly, so I tend to pick ‘I was certified as an EMT’ as a fun fact.” — Lara Hogan, author of “Resilient Management”
“I’m 6’ 3” and I do not play basketball.”
“I usually share about my height when in person — I’m 6 foot, 3 [inches] — and that I did not play basketball. When online, I share that I’m one of six children because most people feel like that’s a big family, and then those who come from big families are excited to share ‘Me, too!’ Most people are curious about my height and the thing that makes it fun or interesting is that I didn’t do what people expect people of my height to do: play basketball.
“The panic people feel from icebreakers is the fact that ‘fun facts’ is a broad category. Anything can be a fun fact and having too many options is overwhelming. The first thing to do when picking a fun fact is to take the unsaid pressures off — you do not have to be funny, you do not have to be clever, you do not have to be the most interesting. It’s best to define success simply as I shared something about myself that others didn’t know.” — Lawrese Brown, founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company
“I have a background in astrophysics.”
“When I go to professional icebreakers I usually tell people two things: one, that I have a background in astrophysics, partially because it ... lets people know something that I’m passionate about that doesn’t usually come [up] in the course of my career — writing and journalism, not to mention productivity and lifestyle tips. And if I think that might come off a little too conceited for the people I’m with, I like to tell people I used to be a DJ. Everyone loves music, and I certainly do, so it’s a great opportunity to talk to people about the music they love, which musicians they’ve seen live, who they’re listening to right now, and spark a conversation about something personal and fun.” — Alan Henry, service editor at Wired magazine and author of the book “Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized”
And if you’re in charge of deciding to use an icebreaker, aim to have it be a stress-free experience for employees.
If you’re designing an icebreaker for your next work meeting, here are some of the best practices to follow.
Give people a heads-up. Ng said that giving employees advance notice that there will be an icebreaker in a meeting can level the playing field. Otherwise, meetings can “favor the confident, well-spoken improvisers,” he noted. “It can make a real difference to simply say, ‘Hey, just so you know, I like to ask everyone to introduce themselves and to share a fun fact at our kickoff meetings. Personally, I’ll say something like...’”
Be upfront about why you’re doing the icebreaker. “Some facilitators choose to do an icebreaker to get folks talking right away, or begin to build relationships between strangers, or bring humor to an otherwise boring or quiet meeting,” Hogan said. “Don’t be afraid to state the goal as an introduction to your icebreaker question!“
Keep it light. “Things like ‘What was your best Halloween costume?’ or ‘What superpower would you like to have?’ are generally easy and comfortable for people to answer, even with new colleagues,” Dilber said. “Deeply personal questions or questions that put pressure on people to be witty or creative can cause a lot more anxiety.”
Some answers were edited for clarity and length.