4 job interview tips for veterans

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  • Know your own military story cold.  Be self-aware.
  • Show how your military experience/story addresses the needs of the employer
  • Use compelling, easily understood language that resonates with the hiring manager
  • Get your selling points across quickly using phrases the interviewer can write down

This solid advice and several other good points come from Peter A. Gudmundsson in U.S. News and World Report yesterday:

Veterans: Learn to Tell Your Story in a Job Interview

Knowing how to describe your best traits is critical to a successful meeting with a potential employer.

Have you ever wondered what the hiring manager across the table is thinking during your job interview? The chances are good that they are asking themselves two questions: “Who is this person, really?” and “Can they fix my problem or solve my need?”

As the discussion continues, the interviewer’s inner dialog will perhaps expand to: “Can I see myself working with this person?” and “Will this candidate cause me any difficulties?”

In order to successfully navigate the interview, the veteran candidate needs to show that they can do the job, will do the job and that they will fit in the team and company cultures. The candidate must know their own story cold and show how that narrative addresses the interviewer’s questions.

For military veterans, telling your story is an especially critical task. Coming from an often misunderstood, underappreciated or plain incomprehensible series of experiences, it is up to the veteran job seeker to tell their story in a way that resonates with the interviewer.

As with any story, a job seeker must address the who, what, when, where and why of their veteran service. This does not have to be exhaustive, just logically consistent and compelling. Focus on the facts and feelings that match the job and career for which you are applying.

For example, a veteran applying for a technology role might say: “I joined the Navy for three reasons: the satisfaction of national service, to travel the world and to get first class technical training and experience. I realized all of those goals and more during three deployments to the Pacific and Indian oceans on a cruiser, working as a radar technician. I rose three rank levels by passing examinations and receiving stellar reviews from my seniors. I learned how to keep complex machinery working but also how teamwork and creative thinking are critical to performance. I can honestly say that the Navy provided me with the best possible preparation for the role you seek to fill.”

Remember, the key is explaining your story in a way that is compelling and appropriate to the company need. You don’t need translator software and you must avoid the use of too much military jargon and acronyms.

Each personal narrative needs the following subjects addressed:

Who: Who are you? What is important to you? Are you self-aware and comfortable in your own skin?

What: What are you good at doing? How can you prove that to the interviewer?

When/Where: What are the basic facts of your relevant experience?

Why: Why did you do the things you did and why should the interviewer care?

Use non-cliched headlines and soundbites that the interviewer can write down and digest. For example, goal-oriented, team-oriented, competitive and great attention to detail are all phrases that connote certain desirable traits (if accurate). Think like a campaigning politician who has only a few sentences to get an idea across. Don’t waste time or words when you can get right to the point…

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How to sell your military skills to a civilian employer

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Job Search

The book Job Search by Lt. Col. (Ret.) David G. Henderson provides good tips on the transition from the military to civilian employment. In Chapter 1, Henderson encourages readers to think about–and actually write down–what skills they have, what job preferences they have, and what goals they have. It may sound hokey, but it is a useful exercise that will prompt you to learn something about yourself.

The subtitle, “Marketing Your Military Experience,” refers to translating your military skills to a civilian hiring manager. This includes how to describe your experience and strengths on resumes. The book also includes smaller, practical tips; for example, avoid using military acronyms and don’t wear military dress shoes in civilian interviews.

The book is also helpful as a general employment guide with thoughtful suggestions on how to search for jobs and how to improve your resume. Henderson’s guidance is relevant to anybody seeking a second career or making a mid-life jump from one field to a very different field, because that’s essentially what military retirees are doing.

I read the 5th edition which was published in 2009. Even though the Internet had already been around for a long time then, the descriptions of online job searches in this book are quite dated. There are good resources listed for job searching, career assistance, and veteran support services, but some of the resources seem dated as well. The appendices are a bit too long and redundant bordering on fluff, but those pages can be skipped or skimmed.

This book is written from the point of view of a personnel officer attempting to help a servicemember who is within six months from retirement. However, I think it would be useful to veterans even several years after they have separated or retired from the military. Spend a few bucks to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward during a career transition!