You’ve likely heard that when in any networking event or interview, you need to have your “elevator pitch.” The concept is if you only had 20-30 seconds on an elevator with a hiring manager, what would you say to them to sell yourself? While that is definitely something you need to have prepared, you also need to be able to answer the question you will invariably get in an interview of “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume.” This is an extremely important question or proposition for you to be prepared to answer, because the odds are the individual asking that question does not have any military experience, and your tendency will be to use terms and jargon that they aren’t familiar with. Making that mistake could alienate them and prevent them from getting to know you.
In order to answer that question, you need to be prepared with a three to five minute response that adequately answers key questions such as: “Where are you from originally?” “What is your family like?” “What activities were you involved in growing up?” “Why did you join the military?” “What did you learn in the military that can be add value in my organization?” and most importantly “Why are you leaving the military?” You not only need the long version (three to five minutes), but you also need the elevator pitch version, 20-30 seconds. It will be up to you to determine when a short version is appropriate versus the long version. Typically, the long version is appropriate in a sit down interview (30-45 minutes) and the short version is appropriate when you are trying to get that long form interview. You may find yourself at a job fair with hundreds of booths of potential employers where the short elevator pitch is how they evaluate whether you are someone with the right type of background worth setting up a longer form interview.
First we’ll start with the long form answer as that will take some work and preparation. The elevator pitch is easy once you’ve done the work to prepare the long answer. Every day at work, you likely go by your rank or even just your last name. In corporate America, it is largely first names only. In some organizations, senior executives are addressed as Mr., Miss, etc., but in an interview use first names unless otherwise told so. If you’ve already got to a point where the interviewer is asking you to introduce yourself to them, they already know your name so don’t reiterate that to them. Start off with thanking them for their time and you’re looking forward to the conversation. Then move into your background, what kind of family you come from, and what makes you who you are. People are naturally drawn to personal stories, and starting of personal will humanize you to the interviewer right off the bat. It’s the quickest and easiest way to build a personal connection which gives you better odds of them liking you; often times, winning an interview all comes down to whether or not your likable. While you should start off personal, don’t dwell on it. You aren’t there to grab a beer with the interviewer, you’re there to tell them why you’re the right person for the job.
Next, if you went to college, talk about why you went to college and why you chose your major (if relevant). Discuss how that lead to your decision to join the military. The majority of this pitch should be discussing your successes, without sounding arrogant. There’s a lot of pride in the military, but you need to come off humble during your interview. Practice this pitch with anyone from your spouse to a friend, to make sure you don’t come off like an asshat.
Lastly, close up with why you are separating or retiring. The key with the close, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is being positive. It is very likely that you were tired of the deployments, tired of the hours, or tired of being yelled at. What the employer wants to hear is why you want to work for them and what you are looking forward to outside the military. You don’t want to give them any indication that you’re ready to “take it easy” and work a 9-5 job. Your job likely will be less hours than the military and they know that, but it’s not something you want to stress in the interview. The best way to answer this question is to talk about how corporate America is a meritocracy where the military promotion system is somewhat bureaucratic and seniority based. Remember, you’re a hard charger ready for a system that rewards results oriented individuals.
- 1.2.High School
- 1.3.Activities Growing Up
- College (if applicable)
- Why did you join the military?
- Big picture successes in the military.
- 4.1.How did you set yourself apart from your peers?
- 4.2.Don’t be arrogant.
- Why are you getting out?
- 5.1.BE POSITIVE.
I highly recommend you write out this answer in at least note form, so you have an idea of how to answer it. Don’t turn it into a script, because then you’ll come off as fake or too polished. You want it to be natural, but you may be nervous in the interview and a few rehearsals of generally what you are going to say will help you gain confidence as you continue the interview and it will also ensure your timing is appropriate.
Next, we need to condense this down to a 30 second answer for short form moments. With an elevator pitch, you’re likely in a forum where the other individual does not know you yet, so you’ll need to introduce yourself. You don’t have time to talk about your background so leave that out. You’ll leave out college as well, other than maybe mentioning where you graduated from. You really want to hit on your professional experience broadly, what you’re looking to do professionally, and how you will add value to the organization your speaking to. Lastly, ask for the interview! Let them know you are serious and you want to talk in more detail about the specific role your interested in or why you interested in the organization as a whole.
- Introduce yourself
- Where you graduated from college (optional)
- Professional experience (1-2 sentences)
- What you are looking to do professionally (1-2 sentences)
- How you would add value to the organization you are speaking to (1-2 sentences)
- Ask for an interview
The key to both versions of this introduction is to allow the interviewer to get to know you as a person. What makes you you and what makes you tick. If you can get them to connect with you, you’ll be likeable and memorable and improve your chances over the person that has no personality and only talks about work, work, and more work. Remember, while it is a professional interview, the person you are speaking with is a person too. And they too have a life outside of work.
Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you can stay up to date with all of our content. If you subscribe you get our FREE Transition Checklist to help you with your resume, interviews, LinkedIn, networking, and more!