UMUC professionals help veterans with interview skills.

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Here's how veterans can absolutely crush that next interview

April 03, 2019 - 1:39 pm

You’re out of the military, you identify that dream job, polish that resume, apply, and just like that, you have an interview.

The feeling of initial excitement can be fleeting as questions of how best to prepare and nail an interview comes with perhaps a bit of panic. 

The military prepares an all-volunteer force to fight and win the nation’s wars, but when it comes to blowing an interview entirely out of the water, proverbially speaking, of course, we checked with some experts at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) to get their take. 

“Translating skills is tougher for veterans because what you do in the military is pretty specific, but the process is the same as it would be for anyone changing careers or changing jobs,” says Francine Blume, assistant vice president for career development at UMUC. 
“It’s basically thinking about how the employer is viewing that job and what they need in their company or organization.” 

The best way to do that is to think about the ways your specific skills fit into a position. Generally, they fall into two categories. 

There are hard skills, like those learned in a classroom. If you were an aircraft mechanic or network administrator, it’s easy to cite how what you learned in the military can translate to a similar job as a civilian. 
Then there are the soft skills that can be more difficult to identify and quantify.

Blume says she recently talked to a veteran on the job market who said he “blew stuff up” when asked what he did in the military. And, while accurate, that may not be the best way to land that dream job.  

“He’d also done some intelligence work,” says Blume. “He said he was good at reading people and what they need, and he was able to give us examples.” 

That’s a winning formula. 

Then there’s an issue of “not bragging.” Far too often as veterans we tend to downplay what we did or our experiences. We often tie it to a sense of duty, that we were simply “doing our jobs.” But that can be a huge barrier when it comes to an interview.

“Don’t think about it as bragging,” says Nikki Sandoval, associate vice president of alumni relations & career services with UMUC. 

“It’s not bragging, you're helpful. This employer needs help, and that’s why they have an open position.” 

It’s best to figure out how you can help a company. Sandoval also says to go through the job descriptions with a fine-tooth comb and see if there’s leadership, initiative, or management required. 

“You might be applying for a job as a ticket booth administrator with Entertainment Cruises, and you’ve never been on a cruise in your life, but you can talk about how you were a platoon leader and had to make sure your guys had to this, that, and, the other thing,” adds Sandoval. 

Beyond that, here are some dos and don’ts before and when you’re in the room:

  1. Don’t go negative. It’s best not to speak ill of a former job, coworker, or boss. “You might have been deployed in the worst possible conditions, but rather than saying ‘it sucked’ you talk about how challenging it was and how you rose to the challenge,” says Blume. 
  2. Don’t be too general. Instead, try to quantify your experience. Blume says figuring out “how many, how much, how often” is the best way to do that. 
  3. Do try to address each role in the job description (again using specific examples). But if there’s something you can’t speak to…
  4. Don’t get “wishy-washy.” It’s best not to do down the route of “well, I work hard, I come to work on time, I learn fast.” Anyone can say those things, but fewer people can give a specific example. Blume says it’s best to keep it down to 1 or 2 minutes. 
  5. Do give context while understanding your audience. War stories can be great examples or at least funny, but getting too into the weeds about an operation using military jargon can turn potential employers off. That’s not to say you don’t tell it, but think about the best way to get the most important points across in an efficient way. 
  6. Do research the company and position. Nobody should ever go into an interview cold. Sandoval says it’s always necessary to “look beyond the job description, check out the employer on social media, see about other people who are working there, ask them about it, especially if they’ve already made a military transition.” Doing so not only prepares you for success in the interview, but it also gives you some insight into if it’s a company you want to be a part of.
  7. Do always tie answers back to the job. You may not be rappelling down a ridge with a tech company anytime soon, but there will be times those organizations need someone to take the initiative. Already having a track record of that goes a long way.  

After the interview, Blume says it is essential to send a thank you email that same day. Make sure you thank them for the opportunity and say you’re looking forward to it. Being succinct, usually, a line or two is enough to tell them why you think you’re the best for the job, and to thank interviewers for their time. 

It also shows initiative. 

“It’s amazing, we’ve been talking to recruiters, and little things make such a big difference,” says Blume. “Handwritten notes can be nice, but an email is usually the best way to make sure they see it.” 

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