The most nerve-wracking thing about a job interview is the dreaded statement, “Tell me about yourself.”
As a veteran who has learned to let his or her record speak for itself and who is schooled in the respect and deference of military courtesy, you might find it uncomfortable to respond to such an open-ended, clear invitation to brag about yourself.
But by the interview, the employer is trying to choose someone from a small pool of what he or she considers to be equally qualified candidates. Your achievements and qualifications have already earned you the interview; now is the time to show your character and personality. Here are 10 ways to respond to “tell me about yourself” with confidence and charisma.
1. “My core values are…” This is easy for veterans because core values are central to military identity. This reminds your employer that you answered a higher call and made yourself better to earn partnership in a noble institution, and of the integrity you will bring to his or her company.
2. “The most rewarding experience I had was…” This is a war story, cleverly re-packaged to appeal to a civilian employer. Make it relatable and omit details which would confuse civilians, and use it to reference your achievements and character development. Society admiration for the military makes this a natural way for veterans to present their virtues and personality.
3. “The quotation I live by is…” The histories of all military branches are filled with legendary battle quotes. Tying yourself to one such quote shows that you are intellectually invested in your life (you took the time to reflect on the quote) and interested in further self-development. Also, as it has its own story, a quotation is particularly memorable to the interviewer.
4. “I believe in…” An unequivocal declaration of your convictions shows confidence in spades, and reinforces the (good) stereotype of service members as ethical, driven, reliable people. Of course, remember this isn’t about your political or religious views, but rather why you joined the military in the first place – serving a cause higher than yourself, being part of a great team, doing something meaningful with your life, and so on.
5. “The best thing anyone ever said about me was…” Many service members remember that moment when their leader finally judged them worthy, or when a subordinate sincerely thanked them for being a good leader. This makes a great quick (and self-complimentary!) story which demonstrates your character.
6. “Instead of telling you, let me show you.” Offering something tangible – a coin, for example, or a KIA/MIA bracelet – can be powerful and sobering, and remind the interviewer that the military is a higher form of service than most. It is also shows decisiveness. This can also work for a tattoo, if you have a meaningful and tasteful one, but only if it’s accessible and easily viewed. Don’t rip your shirt off or expose your thigh in an interview!
7. “I’ve always wanted to be…” This offers a compelling narrative that is relatable – everyone knows what it is to dream. Talking about what you wanted to accomplish, or what kind of person you wanted to be, is a great vehicle both for bringing up your personal achievements in the military, and for letting your employer know what you will offer his or her company.
8. “The most important thing for me is…” Telling the interviewer what drives you in life helps establish you as a protagonist, a person trying to achieve something worthwhile in the world. It will encourage the interviewer to “root” for you unconsciously, and shows that you intend to keep pursuing your goals in the next stage of your life.
9. “The biggest mistake I ever made was…” Another narrative opening, this immediately engages the interviewer in your story and allows you to show how you’ve overcome adversity. If you’re comfortable with humor, this can be a way to create some laughter in your response. Just don’t forget to bring it home by emphasizing how you got over that mistake, made it right, and developed the values you will potentially bring to the company.
10. “I can summarize myself in three words.” Three words which tie together your military service, your values, and your future potential is a concise, structured – and therefore memorable – way for you to answer the question.
The Bottom Line. An interviewer asks this question to find out whether your personality and character are as impressive as your resume.
Remember the following when answering:
Any hesitancy or rambling in your response will cause the interviewer to disengage, and make you look flustered under pressure. Also, you make a negative impression if you recite your answer like a schoolchild reciting a part in a play. Know your “pitch” well enough that you can deliver it with sincerity while looking into your interviewer’s eyes, and be prepared for follow-up questions like “tell me more about that.” Rehearsal is critical!
Make your answer brief
No more than one or two minutes. Nobody’s attention span is very long when listening to someone else talk about themselves, and your interviewer is no exception. Also, don’t try to speak fast to cram a five-minute presentation into two minutes. Delivering a measured answer in one minute makes you seem articulate, smart and very confident. Time your rehearsals!
Remember that the interviewer knows all about your achievements
He or she has reviewed your resume. Don’t discuss technical skills, even though it may feel more comfortable. And anyway, details like that become boring quickly. This question is about figuring out whether you’ll fit in with the company or team, so focus on your values, your aspirations and why you’re a good fit for the potential job.
A snappy, impressive and sincere response to this question makes a great impact with the interviewer, particularly if you leverage your military background.