Are You Coming Across as an 'Angry Veteran?'

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(U.S. Army/Jason Daniel Johnston)

Question: After I didn't get yet another job I interviewed for, I asked the recruiter for feedback. She said I came across like an "angry veteran." What does that mean, and what can I do to fix it?

Answer: I've actually heard this expression many times from hiring managers, recruiters and even other veterans. An "angry veteran" impression is not attractive to employers, colleagues or growing teams, and can often overshadow the tremendous skills, experience and knowledge the person brings into the workforce. The angry veteran is hard to hire.

As it's been explained to me, "angry veteran" refers to someone who:

  • Behaves aggressively and offers short responses (beyond just the "yes, ma'am" or "no, sir" answers). When asked to clarify or expand on an interview question, they might respond with a dumbfounded or frustrated look on their face, roll their eyes and reply, "I just gave you the answer. What don't YOU understand?"
  • Is very defensive in their communication. They convey a sense that they need to protect themselves, as if the interviewer is attacking them. Questions are met with curt "What do you mean by that?" or "What kind of question is that?" responses, making the interviewer feel criticized.
  • Comes across as entitled. This candidate might communicate a belief that they are owed a job, or they deserve to be promoted because of their service, their experience or their skills.
  • Avoids eye contact, sits rigidly at attention, or turns themselves away from the interviewer, creating the impression they don't want to be part of the conversation.
  • Curses often. A slip every once in a while is one thing, but the angry veteran uses expletives often. Note: Cursing is highly discouraged in the business, nonprofit and governmental sectors.

If you find yourself unwittingly showing any of these negative behaviors, you could easily be creating the impression you don't want to be interviewed, are not interested in the job and would be challenging to work with.

Instead, focus on communicating this way:

  • Remember that an interview is a dialogue. Instead of firing off short answers, share your input, personality and thoughts as well. For example, if presented with, "Do you have much experience working with virtual teams?" you could offer, "Yes, in fact while I was deployed, many of my direct reports, and supervisors were not always on site with us. We had to focus on being brief and specific, so the message got through, but also we listened for clues on how they were feeling and if they needed support."
  • If you don't understand an interview question, and need to clarify, ask, "Would you mind rephrasing the question? I want to be sure I answer correctly. Thank you."
  • Be mindful of your body language and posture. If the interviewer is sitting across the table from you, or is on video, match your body language to theirs. If they are sitting rigid and formal, do the same. If they are relaxed and smiling, mirror that. Be sure to maintain eye contact, even if on video. Avoiding eye contact sends a negative signal.

    Finally, remember that no one is owed a job. You are interviewing for the opportunity to be part of a company and a team where you'll contribute your best skills and value and will be rewarded with pay and other forms of compensation, along with career growth and professional relationships. And if the company hires you, it is rewarded by having you do a great job for it.

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