8 Pointers to Prepare for the Veteran Job Interview

Retired Colonel John Buckley
Retired Army Col. John Buckley offers hard-earned advice for the military transition. (Courtesy photo)

Conquer the Transition: Part 5

"This job is mine!" I shouted. I'd just been offered my first interview for a civilian role, and I was ready to nail it. A few days later and one interview under my belt, that confidence turned into a reality check when a second phone call proved that the job would not be mine after all.

During my Army career, I frequently presented complex strategies and complicated plans to senior leaders. Yet here I was, realizing I had failed a silly interview with four or five situational-based questions. How could this be?

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I found myself doing an after-action review (AAR) on my personal performance. I also performed informational interviews with professionals in the career fields I was pursuing, and these individuals helped me to realize the ways in which I had not properly prepared for my interview.

I had not rehearsed. My answers were too long. I used all sorts of military terms and references. I was overly aggressive. I mentioned only my "overwhelming" successes, a know-it-all who didn't ask a single question. In essence, my performance had been a complete failure.

These informational interviews not only showed me what I'd done wrong, but how I could correct my actions. I learned to speak plainly and drop the military jargon to speak in terms a non-veteran recruiter could understand.

I became comfortable speaking about my mistakes and professional weaknesses, revealing my humility, ability to accept criticism and an aptitude for self-improvement. Most importantly, I learned what skills and experiences were important in the career fields I wished to pursue, helping me to discover the correct entry point into my post-military career.

Today, as a recruiter myself, I see veterans making the same mistakes I did in my first interview. I hope that my lessons learned and the following tips can help others to take on their interviews with renewed preparedness and confidence.

Eight Pointers to Prepare for the Interview

Get a good night's rest, review your battle plan, rehearse your actions on the objective, relax and follow these tips:

  1. For situational-based questions, the interviewer is assessing your performance in the situation. Avoid answering in the typical military, "bottom-line-upfront" method. Instead, briefly describe the situation, then address your actions, the response to your actions, your counter-action and the end result. Conclude with a positive takeaway.
  2. Don't be afraid to discuss your weaknesses, mistakes or failures. These can show humility and self-improvement.
  3. Avoid rambling responses. Instead, provide specific answers to the questions asked of you.
  4. Come prepared with several interesting, unique questions. Recruiters report that veterans often don't ask them, even when given the opportunity, feeding the perception that the veteran is unwilling to learn.
  5. Think of the interview as a conversation. Create a give-and-take with the interviewer.
  6. Know the company's general business situation. What service or product do they provide and for whom?
  7. Understand the company's culture and values. Show how your qualifications and experience contribute and add value to their business needs, and how your character aligns with their culture.
  8. Turn off your phone. Better yet, leave it in the car.

Get more tips on each of these steps in Koch Industries' Transition Guide.

John C. Buckley II, colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.) is a veteran, career coach and mentor, author and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. He currently assists Koch companies to develop and implement military recruiting and retention programs.

He teaches transition courses, gives seminar presentations, writes about the military-to-private sector career transition and continues to counsel current and former military personnel.

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