Question: I’m a hiring manager with a small manufacturing company. We are interested in recruiting military veterans, who we believe bring many of the technical skills and work ethic qualities we seek. Our biggest challenge is what to ask during the interview: What are some good questions to ask of a veteran job candidate?
Answer: First, I’m happy to hear that your company recognizes the value former military service members bring to the private sector. Particularly in an industry such as manufacturing, the experience, talents and skills our men and women develop during their military career are helpful to transitioning.
Next, when developing interview questions for your veteran job candidates, it is important to remind yourself that the applicant in front of you is a human being with a family, a career history, and goals, as any civilian would have. They spent years of their life serving a purpose and mission that is (often times) of more significance than what we produce in the commercial sector, and are now seeking a career that also has meaning and impact, and one that utilizes their skills and talents.
Sample questions you might consider asking former service members includes:
- Tell me about yourself. This question opens the door to a narrative that may not be reflected on the resume. When answering this question, the candidate will hopefully share insight into their past career choices, their job progression through the military, and those aspects of their work they value highest. If they do not answer in this way, consider following up with this question, “Can you relate your military career to what you want to do next?”
- Tell me about an accomplishment you weren’t sure you could achieve, but you did. In this question, you uncover humility. What are they most proud of? How do they acknowledge their accomplishments? A veteran will typically shy away from taking credit for success if others were involved. Be careful assuming this means they are insecure. The military teaches them to focus on the value of the collective over their own needs.
- What would others say about your work ethic? Listen for words like, “integrity, dedicated, reliable, hard-working, etc.” Veterans are taught a very strong work ethic in the military.
- What is your most significant career accomplishment so far? This question may solicit a military-specific response. If the context of the response is not clear to you (because you weren’t in the military) ask them to clarify. Listen for qualities of leadership, problem-solving, resilience and adaptability.
- Describe your ideal work environment. Likely your candidate has researched your company and will relate his or her answer to the environment they believe you have. Listen for whether they prefer to work alone or in teams, how comfortable they are using technology, and other aspects of the job that are important to your company and industry.
- How do you spend your spare time? Remind your veteran job candidate that you view them as a person with a life outside of work. Asking about their hobbies and outside interests shows genuine interest.
- What are three words you would use to describe yourself at work. Similar to #2, it may feel awkward to your veteran job applicant to talk about themselves, particularly in favorable ways (which they will assume you want to hear.) Listen for patterns throughout the interview which can be amplified with the words they describe themselves with. This can offer insight into what they believe to be their most important qualities, talents and skills.
Interviewing a veteran job applicant is no different from a civilian one, with the exception that their career transpired in another context and a different culture. Brush up on the legal questions to avoid, and embrace your candidate for the passion, experience, and value they can offer your company.