7 Tips for Nailing the Job Interview

An Army service member practices a one-on-one mock interview during a workshop hosted by Hire Heroes, USO. (Noriko Kudo/U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs)

No one understands and can handle stress quite like you. While in uniform, you've survived and excelled in countless situations that would make those having less of a constitution crumble right on the spot. That's why the pre-interview jitters seem so unnerving and foreign to you now.

Unlike a military review board, the job interview is a totally different animal. And you need to nail it if you want the conversation about your future career to continue.

Here are seven must-embrace tips for making that happen.

1. Be Serious About Getting the Job

Dress the part. Show up fashionably early for the interview. Convey a confident, not arrogant, attitude and be willing to put yourself out there for closer inspection. In other words, be serious about expanding your potential opportunities.

One way to do that is to use your available resources.

"Go to the Transition Assistance Program [TAP] job-search classes and stay for the mock interviews," said Karen Wright, an Army military intelligence analyst who recently interviewed for and landed a position as a technology researcher with a defense contractor.

"The program lasts a couple of days, and by the time the interview practice comes around, suddenly everybody in the class has something else to do."

According to her, that is a big mistake.

"You can't be good at what you don't practice," Wright said.

2. Make a Personal Connection with the Employer

You've accomplished the basics. You said hello. You shook hands. Now you are easing into make-or-break territory. Your goal at this point, Job Seeker, is to become memorable. Use your charming personality to make that happen by taking it to the next level and understanding the basic premise at hand.

"Employers want to surround themselves with a group of like-minded individuals and not someone who is going to be a slacker or try to take over the company overnight," Wright said.

Take a closer inspection of the setting and put your analytical skills to work. If you are interviewing in the employer's actual office and not in some nondescript conference room, then you have a good chance of making that connection easily.

Based on what you see, what appears to be important to this person, and how can you show that it is important to you, too?

Is his desk organized or not? Are there pictures of his family nearby? Does he have a love-me wall full of awards, an exhibit of personal travel photos or a shrine to some famous sports figure?

Notice it. Find your connection with it and share it if the moment allows it. You may create a memorable personal link.

3. Walk the Talk

Your resume is awesome. Your friend gave you a glowing recommendation. Now it's up to you to back up the buildup. You can do this by studying your resume carefully prior to the interview. Yes, you may have written it, but now you need to look at it from an employer's perspective.

What looks interesting and what doesn't? Where can you add in examples of how you accomplished a particularly daunting task?

Inquiring minds (and potential bosses) want to know whether you can truly do all the things your resume and well-meaning friends say you can do.

"When you interview with a defense contractor, they understand the world you came from. If you are interviewing outside of that world, you may run into employers who say that they want to hire veterans, but they don't understand them and they may even be afraid of them," Wright said.

"You have to get them to see you as a person and not as a stereotype."

4. Listen

During the interview, chances are good that you will be slightly on edge. That's a good thing. It's your body chemically preparing you for the fight rather than the flight. In that process, however, listening to what the employer says is crucial.

Active listening prevents you from asking stupid questions and saying stupid things. It facilitates the conversation in a positive sense.

It also allows you to figure out what is important to the employer and gives you the opportunity to address it, whether the issue is verbally mentioned or not.

"Sometimes, you have to volunteer information that you sense is of importance to the employer. In one interview I had, the employer knew I was a single mother, and I had the feeling that he was concerned about my missing work because of that fact. In that case, I was OK with volunteering that my mother lives with me and serves as backup child support," Wright said.

5. Ask Intelligent Questions

Listening plays a big part in your interview success or lack thereof. Asking intelligent questions and answering them thoughtfully play equal roles.

To make the best impression, come prepared with a short list of real questions that can help you make a good decision about the job if it comes to that. Avoid the kind of amateur questions you could find the answers easily to on the company's homepage.

Before you go to the interview, prepare for it. Review a list of commonly asked questions and brainstorm ways to answer them.

"Employers will ask you questions like, 'What is your five-year plan'? You have to be able to hit those answers out of the ballpark, so to speak," Wright said.

6. Keep Your Nerves in Check

Despite your glowing credentials and charming personality, sweat happens. Nerves do that to you. Do your best to keep yourself physically relaxed and odor free during your stage time in order to minimize distractions of the bodily kind.

Get plenty of rest the night before. Give yourself ample time to get dressed and mentally prepared for the day's interview. Don't forget your deodorant and forgo your signature scent-marking cologne or perfume for the day.

Don't forget to breathe. Breathing is good and greatly enhances your employment opportunities.

7. Follow Through After the Interview

For better or worse, you survived the interview. Don't make the mistake now of sitting by your laptop or phone waiting for that life-changing email or call. It's over. You either nailed it, or you didn't. Lucky for you, however, you can still make a good impression by following through after the interview.

"After my interviews, I always tried to find a way to run across the employer again and offer my thanks," Wright said.

Incidental meetings aside, you can also do the following to ensure follow-through and closure:

  • Immediately send a short but sweet thank-you note to the employer. Reiterate your desire to become a part of the team.
  • Immediately type up a longer thank-you note and remind the employer of all of your good points and reiterate your desire to become a part of the team.
  • Give it a week, and if you haven't heard from the employer, call to find out how the selection process is progressing. Reiterate your desire to become a part of the team.

Janet Farley is a career and transition specialist and the author most recently of "Mission Transition: Managing Your Career and Your Retirement." Farley manages the MilSpouse Career Program at the Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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