Military veterans are often, but not always, the best applicants for thousands of jobs out there every day. Many companies are working to bring more veterans on board, but transitioning military job-seekers must make the business case that they are a fit for the position they are interviewing for. At the end of the day, it is just you and the interviewer across the room, and your progress depends on how that interview turns out . . . no pressure, right?
I learn best from my mistakes, and then from the mistakes of others. Twelve years in military recruiting and consulting has taught me a few things to avoid when interviewing for the job at hand. Let’s face it – when faced with tens or even hundreds of seemingly qualified applicants, interviewers may be looking for a reason to say “no” even when they should be saying yes to a veteran. Here are some mistakes to avoid . . .
Take responsibility for your interview on your own merits. Many veterans blame their lack of success in interviews on an interviewer “not liking military” or “not understanding veterans”. I think the former reason is simply wrong and the latter does not matter, but you must stand on your own two feet and interview well, regardless of what you believe your interviewer is thinking. Do you think you are the best fit for this job? Did you make the best case for your skills and experience and relate them so they could be easily understood? Did you show how your skills and experience could be applied to the job at hand? Were you convincing, passionate, focused, and personable when you made your case? Don’t look outward to blame your failure on someone else.
Do your homework. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked a military job candidate if they reviewed the website of the company they are going to see and been told no. If you can’t tell me in two sentences the purpose and service/product of the company you are about to go see, you haven’t done your homework. Take it one step further – can you tell me how the job you are interviewing for relates to that company’s purpose and product? A few minutes of preparation can make you stand head and shoulders above your competition.
Dress the part. First impressions are usually the only impressions. Dressing well for an interview, not just dressing up, tells your interviewer you care about the job, the company, and the interviewer’s time enough do prepare for it. I won’t get into haircuts, smoking before an interview, or bolo ties in this blog entry, but you know what “interviewing attire” is and if you don’t, ask someone. Suits have to fit, be clean, and shouldn’t be the same one you wore to to graduation six years ago.
Answer the question. Listen to the question, then answer it. But there are two parts to that . . . answer the question asked (focus), and really answer it (thoroughness). I had a candidate, when asked to tell the interviewer about himself, respond for eight minutes discussing both the current major league baseball season and his just-completed divorce proceedings. Wow. Candidates who talk in generalities, respond only with emotional answers, and simply regurgitate their resumes will be shown the door – it may be in five minutes or in thirty, but they will be shown the door. Answer the question asked and answer it thoroughly and concisely.
What’s it all about? Culture, personality, “compatibility” – it all comes down to being liked. If the hiring manager across the table is going to spend eight hours a day with you for the foreseeable future, she wants to be sure 1. you meet or exceed the requirements for the position, and 2. she likes you. You will spend more time with your co-workers than with anyone else save your family, so she wants to make sure you are a good fit for the team. Don’t give her reasons in the interview not to like you – keep the conversation friendly, personable, and professional and stay away from how you feel about your congressman, the Catholic Church, or the EPA whether your thoughts are positive or negative.
The first interview is all about being screened into a position. Don’t give your interviewer a reason to do otherwise.