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When I first started telling people I was leaving the Army, I didn’t have an elevator pitch ready to trot out. I stumbled over what to say and how to say it when people asked the inevitable “So what’s next?” I knew I needed to have a succinct, snappy answer once I started interviewing for positions, but I didn’t realize how useful it would be to figure out a short personal statement before I even started job searching.

Luckily, I found help from some internet research before too much time had passed. One of the best ways to frame your answer to “tell me about yourself” comes from an article I read on The Muse by Kathryn Minshew, the career company’s founder.

The formula: present-past-future

For example, say you’re at a networking event and someone says to you, “So, tell me about yourself.” Using the formula, you could say: “Currently, I’m an intelligence section chief in San Antonio. I supervise 10 individuals and focus on terrorism threats in fifteen South American countries. Before that, I worked as a ground intelligence analyst. Now, I’m excited to find a fraud prevention position at a large bank in Dallas. I think it’s a perfect match for my analytical skills and career interests.”

How to use the formula

To break it down, first, you craft a sentence or two about what you’re currently doing. Try to make it as strong as possible. For example, highlight your leadership if you’re in charge of anyone.

Next, you need a short statement about your prior experience. Try to pick a position that makes sense for the career you’re transitioning into, if you have many past positions to choose from. For example, you may have worked in logistics early in your career before you changed MOSs. If you’re aiming for a civilian logistics job, you should highlight that experience in your “past” blurb.

Last is your future statement. This is where you explain where you want to be. In general, the more specific, the better. If you give a vague answer, such as “I’d like to work in management,” it shows that you’re desperate and unprepared. When you give a vague answer, you show you haven’t done any research to find a particular industry or company that suits you.

When to use this formula

Many people are eager to help job seekers. If you give specifics when you’re networking or even chatting with friends and family, it’s easier to help.

Take, for example, the intelligence section chief in the first example. With that statement, you get a place, a position, and an industry. The person you say that to can pull from multiple resources. Maybe he or she has a colleague in Dallas that you can meet up with. Perhaps the person has a friend who works in USAA’s financial crimes unit and you can speak with her before you leave San Antonio.

While it might take you a few days or weeks or even months to figure out what exactly you want to do post-military, once you know, craft your elevator pitch. You never know who may have connections. And you won’t find out unless you give a clear indication of where you want to go and what you want to do.

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