So, tell me a little bit about yourself…
Well, uh, I like playing video games, drinking beer, and lifting weights. Not necessarily in that order [Buzzer Sound].
One of the first questions you’ll have to answer in your admissions interviews will sound something like “tell me about yourself” or “walk me through your resume.” They both mean the same thing – give the interviewer a rundown of the past 5 years or so in, oh, a couple minutes. This might seem a little overwhelming, but with a some organization you can condense your college and working life into an attention grabbing (and short) speech.
Break up the past 20-odd years into distinct periods of time. I segmented my time mostly by position, so it was West Point, 1st Deployment/Platoon Leader Time, 2nd Deployment/Executive Officer time, and Squadron Chief of Operations. Choose segments that are meaningful to you and that make sense in terms of your personal timeline.
For each of your segments, describe them in a sentence that a middle schooler could understand. For an executive officer in an infantry company, the description could sound something like “As an Executive Officer, I was responsible for three things: 1) Making sure $160mm in equipment was ready to go to war, 2) Making sure 160 soldiers were ready to go to war, and 3) Be personally prepared to act as second in command of an infantry company”.
Next, think about the most important thing you learned in that position. As a Platoon Leader, for example, you probably learned about the importance of communication. Of course, you probably learned a lot of things, but try to pick 2-3 key takeaways. Use these key takeaways to highlight important and transferrable skills that you have. Make the takeaways applicable to the program you are applying to. Leadership and communication are great, but so are problem solving, analytical ability, and management.
Link each of your segments with a transition statement. For example, if you have a Platoon Leader segment and an Executive Officer segment, the transition statement would be something like “After my strong performance as a Platoon Leader, I was selected to become second in command of a company and took a position as an Executive Officer .”
You should explain the transition, but also portray the move in as positive a light as you can. Remember, 90% of people will have ZERO experience with the military. You need to explain that you are being promoted to positions of increasing responsibility. While we do not necessarily call the move from Platoon Leader to Executive Officer a “promotion” in the military, it is one.
We now have all the elements of the masterpiece: distinct segments, descriptions, key lessons, and transitions. Can you guess the next step? Pull all the pieces together and start painting. Start with the first segment, briefly describe your role and what key lessons you learned, then transition to the next segment and repeat.
For example: “As a platoon leader I was responsible for accomplishing our infantry mission while looking out for the health and welfare of 40 soldiers. From my time in this position, both in Iraq and back home, I learned the importance of taking care of people who work for you. By making sure my soldiers were healthy and motivated, I ensured the success of my platoon as we conducted hundreds of patrols and decreased insurgent attacks in our area. After my strong performance as a platoon leader, I was selected to become second in command of a company and took a position as an executive officer.”
Finally, we still need a conclusion. A strong conclusion will help set you apart from other candidates and put an exclamation point on the interview. One of the best ways to conclude your resume overview is with a value
statement. That is, what unique value are you bringing to your target school. For example, to highlight leadership you could say “After 5 years in the Army, I’ve had intense experiences, at home and in combat, that have helped me understand how to mobilize people from diverse backgrounds towards a common goal. I feel I can bring this perspective of leadership to XYZ university and build strong relationships with my classmates and future employers.”
Lastly, practice, practice, practice. Practice out loud, not just in your head (everything sounds good in there). A good rule of thumb is to have a couple versions of your resume overview (one minute and two minute), that way you can read your interviewer and cut the overview short if they appear disinterested. Remember, the most important part of any interview is to try and establish a genuine connection with your interviewer. Good luck and when you hear “tell me about yourself” in your next interview, know what it really means.