Congratulations! You made it to the interview. Now what? The interview is a critical step in the hiring process. How you manage yourself, your responses, and the questions you have for the interviewer often determine what happens next.
Before you get to the interview, you've likely prepared a resume which identifies your skills, experience, and passion for your next career move. That resume piqued the interest of the employer who will interview you to see:
- Are your in-person responses consistent with what you represented on your resume and application?
- Can you articulate your offer of value to the company?
- Will you fit in to the company culture?
- Whatever else they can learn about you to help them make a hiring decision.
Preparing for the Interview
Taking control of the interview requires that you be knowledgeable about the company, industry, and business environment the company operates in, the company culture, hiring manager, and the company's competitors.
- Be clear on your offer. What do you offer to the company you're meeting with? What is your personal brand, and how do you align with the values of the company? How has your military career prepared you for the experience you are pursuing? This work needs to happen before you even apply for the job, but you should certainly refine your thinking as the interview nears.
- Research the company online. Look carefully through their website (what the company says about themselves), but also look outside of their content. In Google, put the company name in the search bar and look through all the options – Web, Images, and News – to see what else you can find about them. You might then put words such as "ABC Company competitors" or "ABC Company reviews" to see what else you can find about the company you are interviewing with.
- Research the hiring manager. Look at their LinkedIn profile – what common interests or experiences do you share? What someone puts on LinkedIn is public information. It's not creepy to look through their profile to find synergies.
- Know your resume. Be well versed on your background: dates, responsibilities, and positions you've held. If you have recently separated or retired from service, be sure to make it easy for the hiring manager to understand your military experience. If the company is not familiar with military candidates, spend the time "civilianizing" your experience to show how it relates to the position you are applying for.
- Decide how you will show up. How do people at that company dress? Image is your first impression in an interview, and you need to understand how to present yourself to show you will fit in, but dress one notch above that. Hiring managers want to see that you are like them, but they look for you to dress in a way that shows respectfulness for the interview.
Taking control of the interview means you are clear about why this company is the right place for you. You understand how your values align with the company's mission; you have researched the opportunities they offer; and you are focused on how your value and experience can benefit them. You feel empowered with information, confidence, and a clear game-plan to get onboard.
Of course, the interviewer has a great deal of power in this situation. They can decide they don't like you, feel you are a good fit, or understand how you will assimilate in their company. We can only control ourselves and certain aspects of situations; we cannot control other people.
- Be prepared for small talk. Some interviewers like to chat before the interview starts to calm the candidate down. Use this as a focused time to build rapport and set the tone for the interview. Think about what you will and won't talk about before you arrive at the interview so you don't misunderstand the casualness and say something inappropriate. Consider current events as good icebreakers provided they are not controversial (political and religious). For instance, you might talk about the upcoming holiday season but not the latest incident of gun violence in schools.
- Focus on what AND why. Don't ignore that the interviewer not only needs to understand your background and how it's relevant to the open position, but they also need to feel something about you. We call this their "emotional need," and it drives purchasing decisions. If the hiring manager feels you are too pushy, standoffish, or rigid, they might not feel you are a good fit. Focus on what this person needs to feel about you in order to see you as a fit for the company and the position. Make your case for why you are the right candidate.
- Relate your experience as value-add. For each question asked, relate your military experience to show how you are trained and skilled for the position you're applying to. You need to bridge what you have done in the past with what you can do in the future. The interviewer won't have time to make this connection themselves. You can take control by showing patterns of success and results and direct their attention to forward-looking goals.
- Ask focused questions. Interviewers expect you to ask questions. Take control of the interview by having these questions developed before you even arrive at the meeting. Be prepared to change the questions up if they are answered during the interview. You should have at least five questions prepared around the company's vision and business goals, culture and work environment, veteran hiring initiatives, on-boarding process, and employee successes. This shows you are focused on finding the right fit for yourself, not just fitting your offer into any company that will have you.
- Pay attention to your body language. During the in-person interview, keep your hands relaxed and in front of you. If you are seated in a chair and facing a desk, hold your notepad or portfolio on your lap. At a conference table? It's permissible to lean on the table and take notes. Relax your shoulders, but remain professional in posture. Make good eye contact. This validates the interviewer by paying attention to their questions and comments. When you get up to leave, extend a confident and assuring handshake. Watch the interviewer. If they are relaxed and casual, then don't sit "at attention." You also can't be too relaxed or it can appear disrespectful. Take your cues from the interviewer, but realize they work there, so they can act how they want. You want to work there; show you will fit in but also be mindful of the formality of the interview process.
After the Interview
After the interview, if there are things you need to follow up on (e.g. a list of references), send that email as soon as possible. Be sure to thank the interviewer for the meeting and confirm your interest in the position. Don't hesitate to include a bullet point list of highlights from the interview that reinforce you are the right candidate for the job.
Then send a handwritten thank-you note to everyone you interviewed with. Be specific about points in the discussion, and reinforce how you are a great fit for the company.
Interviews are only one step in the hiring process, but they are critical. You might have a series of interviews with multiple people at the company before an offer is made. Be prepared to show up consistently and authentically in each case to prove you are the person they believe you to be!