Service Has Its Privileges
Transitioning from a military to a civilian career can be challenging for veterans, and like other job seekers, many are concerned about proper interviewing techniques. It is common to feel nervous, anxious, and excited before an interview. Like military training, interview preparation is essential. Most job descriptions include character traits that a veteran already has years of experience with: integrity, leadership skills, discipline, and the ability to work under stress. It’s your job to convince the hiring manager just how you’ll integrate these skills at work. No matter the specifics of the interview, Hire Our Heroes will provide you with the right resources to help you prepare for and ace your next job interview. The recruiting experts at HOH offer some tips to consider when preparing for your interview.
- Dress to impress. This does not include military attire.
- Avoid using ranks, military acronyms, and practice translating military language before your interview. Using a military occupational classification, veteran scan identify similar job within the civilian workforce. Also, review the job description and match your military experience with the required skills and discuss those attributes thoroughly.
- Highlight your military skills and projects. Describing you specific certification, training, and other specialized experience will give you an edge over other applicants.
- Emphasize you dedication to the job. You’ve already participated in and completed an incredible accomplishment that most people will never realize. Help your prospective employers to recognize your dedication and loyalty to your country will in turn make for a dedicated and loyal employee.
- Describe situation in the military in which you were successful in achieving your goals. Employers will commonly ask job seekers about past job experience to assess how candidates will conduct themselves in new positions. Completing a job or task with discipline and preparedness is a key trait of people in the military, and one that no employer can overlook.
- Highlight your references. Most likely, the majority of your references from your time in service will be impressive. Be sure not to leave those out.
For a more in depth look at Hire Our Heroes’ comprehensive preparation, please click the individual links below.
Before the Interview: Prepare
Use the tips below to prepare for your interview to reduce anxiety and set yourself up for success. There may be multiple rounds of interviews that are conducted in-person, with a group or virtually over a phone or computer. Employers may require you to take a test, provide writing samples or present a portfolio of your work. No matter the interview format, the interviewing process is an important opportunity for the employer to learn more about you in addition to what is on your resume. The interview is also an opportunity for you to learn more about the company and the position for which you are interviewing. Use the best practices below to organize your thoughts before an interview and gather essential information to share during the interview:
- Research the company and job responsibilities. Visiting the company’s website can provide a great overview of the company as well as the job for which you’re applying. There are also a number of publications on the Internet, as well as the company’s annual report, that can help you learn more about the organization.
- Review your resume. You may need to de-militarize your resume a bit by taking inventory of the skills you used during your service. There are marketable skills you developed in your career that apply to the civilian workplace. Think beyond the specific function you carried out and identify the core value, skill or expertise you brought to the table. Be prepared to talk about accomplishments that appear on your resume as well as ones that do not. Think back on your previous positions and be prepared to highlight your successes.
- Give the full picture of your experience. Be sure to include the following types of skills:
- Technical Skills: The technical skills you developed in your military career should be included in your resume.
- Interpersonal Skills: Working in the military requires working with a variety of personalities, from high-ranking officers to unit commanders, teammates, and subordinates. Service members must master the art of interaction to complete a task. Interpersonal skills are valued in the civilian workplace and should be detailed in your resume to reflect your ability to work with many different kinds of colleagues.
- Leadership Skills: Any leadership experience or training that you’ve acquired in the military is very much valued by civilian employers.
- Anticipate questions that the employer will ask you and practice being interviewed beforehand by a mentor or coach from Hire Our Heroes. This will help you frame your answers and rehearse your responses to difficult questions, as well as ensure that you have included all the significant points you wish to make in your response.
- Contact potential references. Reach out to your professional and personal network and make a list of contacts that would be willing to be a reference for you. Bring a list of confirmed references and their contact information to the interview. Also, if you have letters of reference from previous employers, bring copies for your interviewer.
During the Interview
During the interview, your goal is to demonstrate that your abilities and personality are a good fit for the company. Your success will largely depend on how you present and conduct yourself during the interview. Follow these tips to demonstrate your skill set:
- Arrive on time. If you are unavoidably detained, contact the interviewer and re-schedule if necessary.
- Turn off your cell phone.
- Greet the interviewer. A firm handshake and a self-introduction speak volumes.
- Get comfortable. Maintain good body posture, but be sure to avoid looking stiff and uncomfortable.
- It’s your time to shine. Be confident, and make eye contact.
- Listen carefully to the questions and make sure you understand what is being asked. Be sure to ask for clarification if you don’t understand.
- Translate your military experience to civilian employment. You’ve worked in environments specific to the military culture. You have lived on bases, ships, and subs; you ate MREs and shopped in commissaries; you deployed to unique locations; you’ve enjoyed a tight-knit sense of community. The skills you developed as a service member are truly valuable and in high demand, and you must be able to describe those skills to a prospective employer, as difficult as it may be. It is essential to bridge the culture gap that exists between military and civilian workplaces.
- Avoid annoying distractions and fillers. Try to minimize distracting habits and filler words such as “umm” and “like”.
- Be positive about your past jobs and experience. Never speak negatively about a former supervisor or co-worker.
- Have enough resumes to go around. Prepare at least 2-3 resumes as there may be an unexpected amount of interviewers.
- Thank you! At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer, restate your interest in the job and ask when you can expect a follow up.
After the Interview: Follow Up
Following up after the interview is an essential step of the interview process. It expresses to the employer that you are proactive and interested in the position. This will help to make a positive statement to the company and could give you an edge. Follow these tips to maximize your impact after an interview:
- Follow up verbally. If your interviewer was open to a follow-up call, make the follow-up call on the day the interviewer suggests – not earlier.
- Jot down a thank-you. The thank-you may be an email, typed business letter or a simple, handwritten note. In the note, restate your interest in the position, thank the interviewer for his or her time and provide any additional information you may have forgotten to mention at the interview. This should be corresponded within 24 hours of completion of your interview.
Before you make the decision on whether or not to accept the job, consider the work environment, location, growth potential, job security, salary and benefits. If you don’t get a job offer, don’t be discouraged. There could be any number of reasons why you didn’t get the job, including reasons not necessarily related to your performance at the interview. Look at the interview as a learning experience. Analyze what went right and what could be improved. This experience will be valuable as you continue searching for employment.
Excel in the Civilian Workplace
After you’ve translated your military experience and secured a job in the civilian workplace, it is up to you to do the best job you can in your new career. It’s important to remember that the military system is based on seniority and rank, but career advancement in the civilian workplace is a matter of excelling in areas that propel the success of the organization. To ensure your success, it is important for you as a former service member to pay attention to three key differences that exist between civilian and military environments:
- Communication style: Former military personnel can be formal, direct and to the point while civilian communication styles are slightly different and may be more informal or conversational. Try to be sensitive to the communication styles of your civilian coworkers and remember to be patient, accept challenges with a positive mindset and always be willing to adjust.
- Efficiency: The U.S. military has a top-down system for making decisions, while many private and public companies have organizational processes that involve more people and may take more time. Understand that although taking direct orders from the top works well in the military, civilian organizations often benefit from having multiple stakeholders contribute to the decision-making process.
- Flexibility: Many companies today offer flexible hours, schedules and work locations. While the military benefits from having a rigid structure for service members to operate within, the corporate workplace can benefit by allowing its employees to have a flexible work-life balance.
- Additional Resources:
- Department of Veterans Affairs’ Performance Based Interviewing
- Department of Veterans Affairs’ Interviewing Techniques Guide [PDF 912KB]
- White House Joining Forces Resources