Returning to civilian life after the military can often be a lot harder than expected. Veterans face many of the same issues as civilian workers, but have the added pressure of facing a host of other challenges when transitioning back to ‘real’ life.
Some employers have difficulty understanding how a military background can translate into job skills, and it’s up to you to highlight how your experience makes you a good candidate for the job. Here are some tips to help you shine during job interviews.
Do some research about the company, the job requirements, and the work environment. If possible, talk to other employees to be sure you understand the goals of the company, so you can highlight how your unique experiences and skills will help businesses meet their targets.
Also remember to review your resume, and consider your relevant skills. While you may not have any recent work experience, military training can often be translated into job skills like leadership, flexibility, ability to function in high stress situations, interpersonal skills, and communication. Don’t forget to highlight some of the values like integrity, loyalty, and dedication that underpin being a full-time military personnel. Think of examples of how you were able to employ those skills, or how those values affected your decision making. A few good stories can help you illustrate how your military past makes you the best candidate.
In the military, your wardrobe was provided to you, and your rank reflected your abilities and achievements. In the civilian world, there are no bars on your sleeves to indicate whether you’re the right fit for a job, so it’s up to you to figure out how best to present yourself. Investing in an appropriate interview outfit is essential. Make sure you’ve covered everything, including accessories like belt, shoes, jewelry, or ties if warranted. If you need to, consult with someone at a clothing store on appropriate dress for a professional or business casual look.
To ensure a successful interview, make sure you present yourself well. In addition to dressing well, you want to make sure that you arrive on time, and that you eliminate the possibility of outside distractions by turning off your cell phone. Be confident. Offer a firm handshake and introduce yourself – don’t wait for them to ask for your name. Appear comfortable and relaxed, while still maintaining a professional demeanor. Sit up straight, but don’t be stiff. Maintain good eye contact, and make sure that you understand questions before answering them. It’s okay to ask for clarification if needed, and it shows the potential employer that you will do the same if given a project.
Remember to remain positive about past experiences and don’t complain about previous leadership, either in the military or in civilian life, as they may consider it an indication of your overall attitude. Negativity is always a bad thing. Avoid using military jargon, and while stories can be effective, keep them simple and clean. While highlighting stressful situations and how you handled them can be helpful, discussing the tragedy of a roadside bomb may be off-putting, and give potential employers the impression that you may not be cut out for the business world after all. When the interview is finished, make sure to thank them for the opportunity, and inquire about when you can expect to hear something.
Make sure that you continue to show your interest in the position. A follow-up call, or an email, again thanking them for the opportunity shows that you are proactive and that you take initiative. If there was a recruiter or agency involved, follow up with them as well, indicating that you are hopeful. Often recruiters will do some follow-up calling of their own.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t get the job, especially if this is one of your first interviews. The market is tough right now, and there could be many reasons you weren’t hired that have nothing to do with you. They could have decided to hire from within, or there may have been a perfect candidate with years of experience. Neither of these situations are an indication that you would not perform. If you didn’t get it, consider it a learning experience. Each interview gets a bit easier as your experience grows.
Kelly Smith works at CourseFinder. She’s interested in new online learning tools and job market trends. She’s keen on work-life balance and healthy work environments.