Keys to a successful interview
By knowing the answers to these questions, you’ll be prepared to stand out to a civilian employer
1. What should I wear?
It’s a tricky question, because the answer is different depending on where you are interviewing. The best rule is to dress like the boss, which means a bit overdressed for the position you’re seeking. In traditional offices, that means a suit. At an ad agency, it could mean pressed jeans, a tie and a jacket. Do some research online. You can often see pictures of employees at work on a company’s website.
2. What should I bring?
Several hard copies of your resume, of course, but also materials related to major projects you’ve worked on, like training plans or budgets—anything that can reinforce your quality of work. Use the materials when appropriate. Even if you don’t use them, just having them will show you’ve done your homework, and showing them to the interviewer will help that person better understand your military background. Last, be ready to ask the interviewer at least three questions.
3. Should I approach a civilian interview as I would a military board?
There are important differences. In a civilian interview, employers want to listen to you talk about your experiences, and from that, they will learn important things about how you approach your work and how you interact with others. You want to smile and engage with your interviewer. Being rigid and too brief with your answers will not help your cause. There are some similarities in the experience—you want to look people in the eye, answer honestly and stay “on” until you are well away from the room.
4. What should I avoid doing?
Try to talk in civilian terms, avoiding military speak. Avoid being too modest. Your military training may say otherwise, but in a civilian interview, you need to be ready to speak up for yourself. Talk about accomplishments, problems you solved, etc. An interview is a two-way exchange, so be engaging and enthusiastic, and ask questions. Don’t be overconfident and make the mistake of not preparing. Show them you have done your research and that you are taking the opportunity seriously.
5. What are good ways to talk about my military service?
What you know as military training, civilians recognize as professional certifications. Talk about specific skills you’ve developed, be they in information technology, logistics or engineering. All these translate into civilian needs. More battle-related experiences are better discussed as dealing with difficult circumstances, without going into too much detail. Speak in terms of being a problem-solver and be ready with some good examples. Discuss attributes such as leadership, teamwork and working with diverse groups of people, because these are all qualities that you’ve honed in your service, and they are valued in the civilian world.
Even if you’re not a high-ranking officer, your service has given you management-type leadership skills and experience. You’ve been responsible for other personnel or equipment. You’ve influenced or improved processes. You’ve led projects. You’ve also already undergone training on performance reviews, counseling or corrective actions. You’ve been tested and found a way to use limited resources to achieve a goal. Emphasize all this.
6. What’s the best way to handle questions about combat?
Civilian interviewers can be very curious about a topic like this. It’s best that you don’t answer with too many specifics. Instead, turn it into a positive. For example, if asked about combat, say, “It taught me a lot about how well I can respond to challenging circumstances. I’m looking forward to putting that skill to work here.”
7. Are there any other questions I should be prepared for?
Many interviewers like to ask what you think your weakness is—or some variation of that. So come ready with an answer. If you’re candid and explain what you have done to improve in that area, that will impress the interviewer. Also, have a story ready that illustrates that you’ve demonstrated leadership in a situation, or how you solved a problem.
8. I’m in the National Guard. What if they ask about missing work or future deployments?
It’s a good idea to convey that you’ll go above and beyond what is required in the position and that you understand you’ll have to juggle your responsibilities with Guard duties. Assure the employer that you will provide your training schedule for the entire year ahead of time and will notify them of any changes to the schedule or an upcoming deployment as soon as you know, so they can plan accordingly. Then, explain to the interviewer that subordinates who will fill in for you will have career advantages others don’t: Those colleagues will be trained by you to take on more responsibility, which helps create a deep reserve of talent for a company.
9. How can I tell if the company will be supportive?
You can ask how many service members the company hired last year and how many veterans work there overall. Does it have a page on its website devoted to hiring veterans? Those answers could give you insight into how experienced a firm it is in understanding vets. Also, read reviews about the company. Websites such as glassdoor.com provide anonymous ways for employees to describe a company’s culture.
10. How else should I prepare?
Once you’ve done the necessary intel and you have your resume and other materials ready to go, then practice, practice, practice. Have someone you trust observe your mock interview and tell you how to improve. Then practice some more. Like any skill, interviewing is something you can learn and employ.
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