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Military Background: Preparing for Interviews

You have an interview coming up for a “civilian job”. If you’re a past or present service member facing transition out of the military and you’re about to have an interview for a civilian position, there are a few things you can do to prepare that are particular to your military experience:

Practice ‘translating’ your experience

The unfortunate reality is that many civilians do not understand much of what the military does, let alone what various roles entail. They can be intimidated by your military experience. They may not be able to extract what character traits, skills, or training you had to have to succeed in your former role as well as they could predict the same things for a candidate coming from a more familiar civilian role.

As mentioned above, your background may even be a little intimidating to hiring managers or recruiters who review your resumé or look into your LinkedIn.  You need to overcome this on both your resume and LinkedIn profiles.

One of the best ways to work through this issue is to translate your experience into terms civilians will understand well. You should have already done some ‘translating’ work when you wrote out your resumé. The interview is a great time to explain your prior experience even more in terms that are relatable to a civilian recruiter.  You need to share what YOU did, not what your team accomplished.  It’s time to be a bit selfish. Remember, they aren’t hiring your team.

Try using stories or examples from your time serving in the military that show what you did and that also display character traits, skills, and training that would apply to the new role you’re applying for.

Ultimately, practice makes perfect. Attempting to explain your military history in civilian terms can feel awkward, clunky, and frustrating at times. Going from a team of people who intimately understand the details of your sacrifice and service for our country, to trying to explain it to someone with virtually no frame of reference for that part of your life is not easy to say the least.

Practice talking about your military experience in civilian terms with a veteran, with a civilian who has a good understanding of the military (perhaps your spouse, a family member, or a close friend), and with a civilian who doesn’t know as much about the military. Make sure your answers make sense to them. Setting aside the time to practice beforehand (even if it feels awkward) will help you to sound confident, smooth, and knowledgeable when it comes to the real interview.

Get comfortable

Getting comfortable in general is key to knocking an interview out of the park. Practice answering potential interview questions in front of a mirror or with a friend. Interviews are social situations most of us don’t normally encounter in everyday life, so it makes sense that they can feel a little strange. 

There’s really no way around this except to actually practice. Get some of that nervous energy out with a friend, family member, or mentor ahead of time by participating in a mock interview. Better yet, track down someone in your hometown that may have a business that you could reach out to. Try asking them, “I’m getting ready to interview for the first time in a long time and I know you run a successful business and hire people. Would you mind spending a few minutes on the phone or Zoom with me to ask me some good and tough interview questions to help me get prepared?” The vast majority will say yes and they may even introduce you to one of their HR folks.

We share a long list of common and uncommon interview questions during our ADU Live classes.  Here are a few question ideas to get started:

  • Tell me a little of what you know about our company. What makes you want to work in this position?
  • Walk me through your resumé.
  • What was your first job? What did you learn from it that you carry with you through today?
  • Tell me a few of your strengths and weaknesses.

If you want more practice opportunities, support, or advice on how to interview or other aspects of transitioning into the civilian sector, sign up for our free 21-day sprint course, ADU LIVE!


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