How to Interview for a Job in the Civilian Sector
Interviews are a critical step in the job search process. Here’s what transitioning military members and veterans need to know to succeed.
Service members are used to taking on difficult missions and employing a methodical, step-by-step approach to overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. When it comes to securing employment in the civilian sector, military experience provides an excellent foundation on which to build.
Identify your goal, develop a strategic plan and execute
Job-seeking veterans and transitioning military service members should do their recon and prepare for a job search as they would any other mission by targeting and researching the industries that interest them, relevant companies and job openings. Register for Veterans Florida Career Services to tap into job listings in multiple industries and receive the support of Veterans Florida in connecting with employers and position suited to your background. To learn more about companies you are interested in, investigate their websites and other digital sources; corporate annual reports, for example, can provide valuable insights.
It is also essential to create an effective civilian resume and build a broad network of personal and professional contacts who work within your targeted fields, are well-connected within them and understand your prior experience. They can introduce you to hiring managers, inform you of both advertised and unadvertised job opportunities, provide useful job hunt and skill development advice, and serve as references. You will be well-positioned for your job interviews once you have gathered company and job information, established a network of mentors and compiled a list of references with contact details.
Civilian job interviews
Interviews are an important step in the hiring process and are intended to assess a job candidate’s suitability for the open position and the company culture. Interviews are also vital opportunities for candidates to discover critical details about the company’s operations, its managers, colleagues and the job.
It is not uncommon for the interview process to take place over a fairly protracted period of time and involve multiple employees asking questions and weighing in on your suitability for the role. Bear in mind this distinction between the military and a civilian organization: decision-making is often not a top-down system but rather one that incorporates the views of numerous stakeholders. Generally, corporate structure tends to be less rigid than the military.
Interviews may take place in person or virtually by phone, Skype or other computer interfaces—or they may involve a combination of approaches. Prepare for all possibilities, just as you would in the military. Never resist any form of interview that the employer requests, even if it is inconvenient. When setting up a Skype interview, make sure your user name is easy to read and professional.
Conduct mock interviews
Thorough prep will reduce any anxiety you might feel and boost your chances of success. It is a good idea to anticipate the questions that interviewers will ask and practice being interviewed by an experienced professional contact or mentor. Have the mock interviewer ask you difficult questions and rehearse answers that include all the points you want to make about your leadership, interpersonal and technical skills, as well as past projects. Be prepared to discuss achievements that are mentioned in your resume and others that are not.
In both the mock interview sessions and the actual interviews, you should avoid mentioning military ranks and acronyms. Practice speaking about your military experience in a way that matches the descriptions of the required job skills. Shine a light on your dedication to your country and military teammates and speak about how those attributes make for a committed and loyal employee. Since employers typically ask interviewees about their prior job experiences, make sure to cover tasks that required preparation and discipline.
While practicing is essential, don’t over-rehearse; you’ll want the interview to proceed more like a conversation rather than a scripted event.
Tips for the interview session
Follow this advice to make the most of your interview:
1. Look your absolute best, and dress in a way that suits the company’s environment. Do not wear military attire. Skype tip: The same holds true if you are interviewing via computer. Wear what you would wear to an in-person interview and approach your grooming in the same way. Your computer should show a clean, neutral background with good lighting. Avoid public spaces, basements and sitting in front of a window.
2. Have multiple copies of your resume on hand for in-person interviews.
3. It’s best to arrive a bit early (though no more than 10 minutes before the scheduled time). If you will be delayed, contact the interviewer as soon as possible to let them know and, if necessary, re-schedule the session. Skype tip: Always test your set-up before the session begins. Call a friend or family member and ask them how you look and sound. If a technical glitch occurs, remain calm and upbeat while you troubleshoot. If your Skype freezes, tell your interviewer that you will hang up and try again.
4. While you are waiting for the interview to begin, silence your cell phone, avoid checking emails and social media, relax by taking deep breaths and put yourself in a positive state of mind. Skype tip: Also turn off all notifications on your computer and close all programs except for Skype. Do everything you can to prevent interruptions.
5. Introduce yourself to interviewers and greet those you meet in person with a firm handshake.
6. Adopt a confident posture, make eye contact and convey positivity and enthusiasm. Do not speak ill of former supervisors, colleagues, work environments or tasks. Skype tip: Look at your webcam, not the screen. To improve the viewing angle, try setting your laptop on a stack of books (test the angle in advance of the session).
7. Describe your military skills and experiences in civilian terms, drawing from your practice sessions.
8. Avoid distracting movements and the use of filler words like “uh,” “um” and “like.”
9. Close the interview session with a heartfelt thank you, restate your interest in the position and inquire about the employer’s intended follow-up schedule.
Post-interview actions—follow ups and thank-you notes
Adhere to follow-up instructions the employer provided at the close of the interview. If the interviewer suggested that you call or email on a particular day, reach out at that exact time—no earlier or later. You want to demonstrate an ability to follow directions and show that you are appropriately proactive.
Always send a thank you note within 24 hours of completing the interview—in the form of an email, typed business letter or a simple hand-written note. In addition to expressing gratitude, the thank you gives you an opportunity to re-affirm your interest in the job and quickly summarize the ways in which you feel you are suited for it. You can also include details you may have forgotten to mention during the interview.
Interviews are learning experiences
Whether you land and accept the job or not, you should regard the interview process as a vital learning experience that will help you polish skills required for securing employment. Assess what aspects you can improve upon, form clear takeaways and implement them at your next interview.