Why ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Can Trip Up Some of the Best Job Candidates

Why ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Can Trip Up Some of the Best Job Candidates
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The most common interview question faced by job candidates seems simple, but it can derail even the most qualified candidate – especially those who’ve served or been part of a military family.


Job-seekers can expect to hear “Tell Me About Yourself” many times during their interview journey, even multiple times when seeking the same job – during a screening phone call, to lead off the one-on-one interview with your future boss, as part of a panel interview, and ultimately from a hiring manager immediately prior to a formal job offer.


So, if candidates know “Tell Me About Yourself” likely will lead off many critical interview sessions, why do so many stumble out of the gate?


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Singular Statement

Those who serve or have served, and their spouses, are used to downplaying ourselves and elevating the team around us. When receiving credit for a job well done, the tendency is to redirect that praise to co-workers, subordinates, or family members.


As a career consultant engaging with transitioning servicemembers, I remind them that we were hardwired at our commissioning source or basic training that there is no “I” in “Team.” From that moment on, we are more comfortable talking about the achievements and accomplishments of the broader collective rather than ourselves.


This noble gesture may be part of an effective leadership strategy, but it won’t do much good when asked to tell a job interview about yourself. A strong answer requires the interviewee to get “I” back into the lexicon. By articulating how your actions contributed to the results and outcomes, you can better demonstrate your value proposition to the employer.


[RELATED: More Transition and Career Resources From MOAA]


Lacking Interview Reps  

When servicemembers move to a new assignment, they don’t sit for a job interview with their new boss. For some veterans, their last real “job interview” may have been for a part-time position during high school.


Spouses are no strangers to the private sector, but interviews aren’t part of the professional process for spouse entrepreneurs, or for spouses who’ve been out of the workforce while their servicemember remained in uniform, or those fortunate enough to find a portable career.


This lack of interviewing experience means the candidate may be unfamiliar with the primary purpose of “Tell Me About Yourself”:

  • Do they want your life story in summarized form? “I was born in Ohio, graduated from college, got commissioned, served a full military career, and have three children.”
  • Do they want your entire professional history in great detail? Is it the time to walk through your two-page résumé, line by line?
  • Do they want to hear about hobbies, home life, or other outside-the-office pursuits?


These aren’t the correct answers, unless the candidate’s goal is to make the interviewer’s eyes roll into the back of their head.  


So, what’s the secret to tackling “Tell Me About Yourself”? Check back in the weeks ahead for a template.


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About the Author

Col. Brian D. Anderson, USAF (Ret)
Col. Brian D. Anderson, USAF (Ret)

Anderson joined the staff of MOAA's Career Transition Services Department in August 2011. He served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force in a wide range of command and staff assignments. Connect with him on LinkedIn.