You've landed the interview, congratulations! You've been given the opportunity to sit down and have a chat, formal or informal, with the veteran recruiter who was piqued by your application and your commitment to want to be a part of the company's team.
The veteran recruiter probably looked over your resumé and your cover letter, and was interested in finding out more about you. Maybe someone internally referred you to the veteran recruiter. Whatever the case may be, now you have to show him/her and the company what you have to offer.
The interview process may seem a bit daunting, especially if it's your first time going in for an interview for a civilian job.
We'll review some general information and specific tips for transitioning veterans and go over some strategies in preparing for the interview.
1. What is the Interview About?
First, understand that landing interview is an exciting indicator of your work so far. The fact that the veteran recruiter reached out to you means that your resumé validated the qualifications for the position you applied to, and that your cover letter communicated your experiences in such a way that the recruiter wanted to find out more. (Remember not to forget to record which type of resumé and cover letters received the most callbacks and interview opportunities!)
The interview, aside from being a validation of your credibility, is an opportunity not only for you but for the recruiter to find out whether you are a good fit for the company.
The veteran recruiters want to find out four main things throughout the course of the interview: your presentation/personality, your drive, your technical expertise, and your experiences.
- Presentation and Personality.
- Remember that your interview begins way before you enter the room! Punctuality is key -- make sure you arrive at least 15 minutes early. Thankfully, the military tradition and emphasis on punctuality should make this habit a non-issue. Employers appreciate that you've come early for the interview, and while they may not notice that you've arrived earlier if they're in a room interviewing someone before you, they will definitely notice if you've come later than when you were supposed to.
- An important part of your interview is leaving a good impression, which is, in large part, determined by how you present yourself. So dress appropriately -- wear suits with matching shoes if the interview is formal, or wear business casual attire if the interview setting is less formal. If you're unsure as to how you're supposed to dress, kindly e-mail the recruiter who reached out to you and ask for clarification on what the dress code is. Be mindful of your personal hygiene, the type of bag/briefcase/purse you carry, and inappropriate jewelry you might be wearing. Give eye contact and communicate confidence with a firm hand shake and a pleasant attitude. Speak clearly and be mindful of your body language. All these contribute to your veteran recruiters' impression of the type of person you are, so make sure he/she doesn't get the wrong image!
- You have to answer the subtle (and sometimes direct) question: Why do you want this job, and how badly do you want it? Companies spend a tremendous amount of resources and time in order to hire the best fit for the team. They want an employee who believes in the company and that the type of work that will be done. Some companies spend more than $10,000 in costs for hiring and training new hires, so making sure that they have chosen the right candidate is of paramount importance to them. You want to express your drive and motivation for working with them.
- Speak about why you believe you can do well for the company outside of your expertise. Will you make a great environment? Will you contribute to the company culture? Which one of the company's core values (which can often be found on the company's home page) do you believe resonates with you strongly, and, more importantly, how will you take it a step further? Be genuine and sincere, and the recruiter will know that you are a committed candidate.
- Technical Expertise
- Are you aware of the type of work that the company needs you to get done? Are you familiar with what the job position asks of you? You need to be ready to answer how, specifically, your military experience or your civilian experience can help the company.
- Tech companies often give you practice problems that require you to program in front of the interviewer to see how you think and how you would solve the problem. Some business companies may give you a case study and ask you to show them how you would think through a hypothetical problem and solve it. Be ready to show your skills, in whatever capacity. Look up some sample questions for the technical portion of the interview online, you might be able to find previous forums that discuss the interview process.
- Your level of education, your past employment history, and your references are important to your recruiter. They might ask you to explain about what you've learned in school or what you did in your past jobs. Your veteran recruiter might contact your references (if you have them) to find out more about you from an outside perspective.
2. What Things Should I Say?
- Be specific about the work you did and experiences you have. Just like in our previous post on writing resumés and cover letters, you have to demilitarize your language so that your recruiter (especially if he or she is not a veteran) can follow along.
- Avoid military jargon
- Avoid mentioning your MOS and assuming that your interviewer knows what you're talking about
- Avoid referring to your team with military terms like battalion or squadron. Use specific numbers and adjectives to describe the size and nature of your team.
- For example, "a large and interspersed team/organization with X personnel in X geographically separated areas"
- Use "Mr. X" or "Ms. Y" (unless the recruiter introduces him or herself by first name) and avoid the overly formal "Ma'am" and "Sir."
- Avoid the alphabet soup of military acronyms and spell them out, or take time to explain what you are referring to
- Avoid using military time if you are unsure whether your recruiter is a veteran himself/herself.
3. What Things Should I Take?
- Bring a notepad to take some notes when necessary
- Be sparing. Only take notes on things that would help you advance the conversation or if you want to follow up later in the interview or after the interview.
- Bring extra copies of your resumés. Your interviewer may not have printed it out, and may want to look at it during the interview.
- Bring a reference list if you have one.
- Create a list of references including your names and contact information. Write a short note on who the reference is. E.g. "Mr. Johnson was my business supervisor from during my time in Company X from 2003-2005."
- (Make sure your references have given you permission to use their names).
4. How Should I Practice?
You can prepare for some of the general questions that you might encounter during the interview.
Many interviewers and veteran recruiters want to get a feel for your personality and whether you'd be a good cultural fit for the company. They might ask you some general or personal questions to get to know you. Practice the responses you would give to these questions so you know what to expect in a typical interview.
You should also consider rehearsing how you would respond to a typical question out loud. Even better, get a close friend or family member that can take some time to help you or coach you while you respond. Practicing with someone (in a "mock interview") who listens to how you respond to some of the questions can give you a perspective on how you are communicating. The other person can give you feedback on what tones are communicating what emotions and whether you are being clear when describing your skills and experiences.
Some of the typical questions that you might run into during an interview and that you can practice include:
- Why are you interested in working for this company?
- Tell me about your education.
- Why have you chosen this particular field?
- In a job, what interests you most/least?
- Give an example of how you solved a problem in the past.
- What are your strengths?
- How do others describe you?
- Where do you see yourself in three years?
- How do you think you will fit into this operation?
- If you were hired, what ideas/talents could you contribute to the position or our company?
- Give an example where you showed leadership and initiative.
Some tougher questions may include:
- Tell me a bit about yourself
- One way to answer this is given by Lily Zhang from themuse: "A formula I really like to use is called the Present-Past-Future formula. So, first you start with the present—where you are right now. Then, segue into the past—a little bit about the experiences you’ve had and the skills you gained at the previous position. Finally, finish with the future—why you are really excited for this particular opportunity.
- What are some of your major weaknesses?
- This is not the time to confess all the problems you've faced or claim your invincibility. The best way to answer this question is by mentioning some personal out-of-office weakness or something you have already improved. For example, "I've never been good with detailed accounting, but I'm glad this position wouldn't involve too much number crunching." Or "I had a tendency of biting more than I can chew, and I've been working on this by delegating responsibilities more effectively."
- Do you have any questions for me
- Always have some questions you want to ask your interviewer. Maybe something you dug in your research that you wanted to know, or maybe something about the interviewer himself/herself.
Some online Googling can help you dig up some strategies that others have used when preparing for the interview. Look for online resources for some of the tougher questions that you don't know how to prepare for.
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