Researching Your Background

As mentioned in Introduction to Interviewing, to begin your interview preparation you must research yourself. In this section, we will help you prepare for some common interview questions, cover the STAR format, and will provide space to begin writing down your best examples from your military career. We will only be jotting down the key words to remind you of these stories and will associate them to common interview topics. We strongly recommend that you write out your interview answers in order to think through them fully. This should be done in addition to the format provided here.

The purpose behind having specific examples prepared is that it allows you to be able to effectively communicate your best selling points and career achievements, regardless of the question that is asked. Having a repertoire of solid stories is one of the greatest resources that you can have as you prepare for interviews, because instead of just giving your theory behind a topic, you can show how you have put those thoughts into practice in real world experiences. Good examples will also help differentiate you and your potential competition.

"Tell Me About Yourself"

One of the more predictable yet important questions you should prepare for is "Tell me about yourself." It is important because it will set the tone for your interview; and predictable because most employers will ask this question, or a similarly phrased question, in an effort to assess your ability to effectively communicate your background and experience. Because this is one of the first questions asked in an interview, you should develop an impactful answer. An effective answer will highlight your skills and strengths and give an employer an insight into your decision making processes. The best answer to this question will also be tailored for that employer and touch upon specific strengths and experiences which are particularly relevant to the position you are seeking. You'll want to have a transitional statement to close your answer, letting them know why you are transitioning from the service or your current role (always be positive) and what you are looking for in your next career. You must be enthusiastic and confident in your answer.

The best answers for this question are well rehearsed. Spend some time to build a good outline of the key points and practice your answer. Saying an answer out loud is particularly effective. Done well, this question can really get an interview off to a great start! The manager should be excited that what you just told them really demonstrates you could be a great fit for the job.

The below worksheets will help you expand organize your, "tell me about yourself," response. Pay special attention to the items that you choose to highlight by ensuring that each item is relevant to your career. Highlighting key accomplishments and achievements will help to guide the interview in a positive direction.

Tell Me About Yourself

  • 2 - 3 minute overview of your skills
  • Key Selling Points
  • Solid Transitions
  • Why are you here today?

Use the format below to develop your answer.

Starting Point:

Highlight 1:

Highlight 2:

Highlight 3:

Highlight 4:

Current Situation:

Why are you looking?:

The STAR Format

When developing examples from your career that will highlight the skills, traits and experiences that are commonly explored in interviews, you must utilize the STAR format to help you frame your answer effectively.

STAR Format:

Situation. The situation is the background story to the example that you are about to provide. Where were you? Who were you with? At what point in your career did this example occur? Paint a solid picture for the interviewer so they can relate to the rest of your story.

Task. The task can be referred to in several ways. The mission you were assigned. The problem that you had to solve. The challenge that you were facing. You need to make it clear to the interviewer what task you were working to complete.

Actions. The Actions are the steps that you took to accomplish the task, or solve the problem that you described above. Be specific! Make it clear to the interviewer what YOU did. You cannot speak in generalities here, because the interviewer will not understand the depth of your experience and thus will not be able to evaluate you effectively.

Results. You seal a solid STAR format interview response with quantifiable results. Were your actions successful in accomplishing the Task? How successful? Can you provide numbers that prove the level of your success? These are key steps to consider.

The STAR format is an extremely useful tool intended to insure that you can communicate your background clearly for the interviewer. We are not looking to provide the content of your interview answer, but rather to ensure that the experiences that you have are articulated clearly, allowing the interviewer to effectively evaluate your experience and skill sets against the position.

Keys to Success
When considering what examples that you want to use as you start laying out your experiences, consider the following pointers:

  • Start by taking an inventory of your most marketable and relevant traits and strengths. Things like Technical Skills (electronics, electrical, mechanical), Quality Assurance, Supervision, Leadership, Process Improvement, Innovation, Goal Oriented, Overcoming Obstacles, Ability to learn quickly and adapt, Ability to lead and motivate a team to accomplish great things are just a few examples.
  • Once you have taken inventory of yourself and your experience, focus on developing your best STAR format examples, regardless of interview question / topic. Your best examples will be impactful, and typically will relate to several common interview topics. Develop your best examples first, and then see what interview topics they match up with.
  • Avoid examples that do not translate well to civilian careers, such as targeting or eliminating insurgents. While you can be proud of your military accomplishments and there is no doubt that the planning and leadership that you used to achieve these tasks is relevant, the shock value of such statements may concern the interviewer. Soften the terminology and translate the experience to fit for the general population.
  • Focus on what you specifically did in your career. As Veterans, we often push recognition down to our team. That is a quality that translates into the private sector, but the employer in the interview is looking to hire you, not your team. They want to know what you specifically did to accomplish your tasks and achieve results.

Identify Your Examples

Many candidates prepare for interviews by focusing on a list of interview questions and working to develop an answer for each of them. This can be helpful, and we will provide dozens of sample questions to work on, but we strongly suggest that you focus on your background first. What are your best stories? If you know your background well and focus on what interview topics your best experiences associate to, you can put yourself in a position to answer any question.

The Orion Team suggests that you use your resume, evaluations, awards, certifications and any other background documentation to assist you in identifying your key experiences and selling points.

Download and complete the background worksheet, and then use the STAR format to develop your examples.

Develop Your Examples

The following downloadable worksheet will help you expand your experiences developed earlier in this section utilizing the STAR format. Pay special attention to the Actions that you took to accomplish your Results. These are key areas to an effective interview. Note that we have only included one form for each topic. Utilize your own worksheets for additional examples.

The idea is to come up with a number of stories under each of the major headings on the worksheet. Brainstorm and then build out your examples/stories on separate sheets of paper and put the name of the example in the worksheet. If you work on it, you can develop a "library" of stories that you'll be able to use in the interview process.

Once you have sketched out your STAR format for these key examples, write out these stories in a narrative format, and then practice out loud. Verbalizing your answers will ensure a well-rounded, detailed story that can be adjusted to fit the question asked. Once you have a solid understanding of what makes a good interview response, write out your answers in detail and then practice them out loud!

Interview Example Development Worksheet