Many transitioning military members worry about interviews. I have talked with those who had no idea what to answer about their experiences, those who felt common questions were somehow anti-veteran, others who were sure that they were “too intense” for civilians, and many worried about what an effective answer was. In mock interviews, many coaches find few military who can present their skills and knowledge in terms the hiring manager will understand. Recruiters and hiring managers describe this same issue even when there is a veteran hiring program in place.

Interviews are mainly designed to assess whether you

  • can do the job (i.e., skills, knowledge, education, certifications)
  • will do the job (i.e., motivation, interest, commitment), and
  • are likely to succeed there and fit into the culture.

Interviews are mainly a way to assess what you will do to solve problems the organization faces. This is true whether you are looking for a retail clerk position or one as an executive or anywhere between.

Use the Right Language

It is your job to translate your past into the future you want. As you study the work you seek to do next, look at the words that are used. Read a range of job ads that interest you and see what words are used most often across them. Do the same with the websites of your targeted companies. If there are professional or trade publications in your field, check those too.  This shows you the ‘keywords’ most are looking for and the common lingo of the specific work.  You learned military lingo when you joined your service, this is the same process for your new career field.

Then take your military experience and write out your achievements using the words you have seen used most often. If you were a trainer in the military but the employer calls their jobs ‘instructor’, then you would use instructor.  Practice answering questions using those key words you found.  Even when you are interviewing with a defense contractor or government agency to do the same job you did in the military, learn to answer questions without using most military terms or acronyms.

Learn What Your Target Organizations Value

You know the mission of your service and units you served in. Now you need to learn the mission and values of each organization you are considering working with. It is easy to just say that all companies focus on profits and charities focus on a cause. But that is quite superficial.  And too many military find that their first job is with a company whose values they do not agree with.

When you look at your target employers, their website and job postings will often provide information about the mission, goals, and values which are important to them. If you want to work there, these should be things which also matter to you. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

Your research of target employers and specifically that research you check before an interview should include more than just their online information. Ask your network.  Be sure to seek out contacts at each employer to learn more. Then match your own goals and values to the potential employer.

Once you know what an organization sees as its mission and values, you can weave these into both your response to their interview questions and into those questions you will ask them.

Suggested areas of research include

  • What are the organization goals and values, current success, new plans?
  • What is the culture?
  • What is the role of the function in relation to the organization?
  • Is the work environment more cooperative or competitive?
  • How structured is the organization?
  • Is it a high pressure or highly stressful or highly political organization?
  • What is the chain of command? How tightly adhered to is the chain concept?
  • How are junior employees treated? Senior employees?
  • How open is the organization to change?

For more senior positions, you might also check out

  • What is the strategy?
  • Current trends in revenues, market share, competitors?
  • What are the critical issues facing the organization? The function?
  • Does the compensation system support the organizational goals?
  • How are conflicts dealt with in the organization?

Your answers to interview questions would include some which reference these ideas in the context of your experience and interests. Then you might ask questions to see how these are actually demonstrated in the job and unit you are considering.

Your Questions

In any interview, you should ask questions. These should be designed to help you assess the opportunity in relation to your goals. And you want to know what the next steps and timing are, so you can follow-up as needed.

Good questions include those about:

  • goals and future plans of the organization/function
  • short-term and next year goals of the hiring manager
  • issues tied to your own specific goals and needs
  • management style of your supervisor
  • what constitutes success or high performance in the position
  • who succeeds in this unit and why

Your questions should be an outgrowth of your research. And remember that they tell the interviewer about what is important to you and your professionalism as well as getting you information you need.

Sample questions:

  • What are the ‘critical few’ objectives for this position in next 6 months? Year?
  • How will performance be measured? Timetable for performance reviews?
  • How are the key projects related to critical business issues or the operations/business plan?
  • Are there any concerns you have about my ability to do this job?

And always ask at the end of any interview:
What are the next steps in the process?
When can I expect to hear more from them?

Drop Your Fears

Are there hiring managers who are not very interested in hiring veterans? Of course there are some. But when you are selected for an interview, it means that the employer is actively interested in you for the position. No-one wastes time on interviewing people they will not consider hiring.

Yet I regularly see military members who ‘read’ bias into quite standard interview questions. Recently one even took offense because the recruiter kept asking him questions for an hour, in what had been supposed to be a 20 minute phone interview, and kept asking for more details to understand the experience being described. He thought that was an indication of an anti-military bias. Let me assure you, no civilian who could not clearly answer questions would have gotten more than 10 minutes!

And intensity, when demonstrated by your focus in answering interview questions with relevant details and interest in the target’s work and culture is a positive.

Control your fears by doing your research and networking checks while developing your targets list. Look for employers whose culture and goals match your needs. You want to ensure it is an employer who will offer you the right place to succeed before you interview!

Control fears further by understanding that you are in competition with many other people, including other veterans, for any job. It is your unique experience, clearly communicated in terms the employer understands and values, which demonstrates why you should be the one who gets the job offer.