You did your homework. You took full advantage of the available transition assistance services afforded you as you transitioned out of the military. In the process, you crafted an outstanding civilianized resume targeted to a specific job within a particular company. Now the only thing standing between you and a paycheck is the job interview itself.
Pull out your vuvuzelas. It’s game time.
In uniform, you were a bold, audacious risk-taking warrior capable of leaping tall buildings with a single bound. Understanding how your military-garnered skills and experiences could benefit a civilian employer may be obvious to you but it may not be as crystal clear to someone not knowing the difference between an MRE and a SOP.
No need to panic, however. The following tips can help you communicate more effectively, verbally and non-verbally, to civilian employers during your job interview.
Mentally, don’t confuse a job interview with a promotion board.
A military promotion board may be the closest thing to an actual job interview you’ve ever experienced, but there are notable differences.
If you were sitting before a promotion board, your posture would be rigid, your feet twelve inches apart and your hands, fingers outstretched, on your knees. Your steely eyes would focus on some speck of dust visible only to you, blocking out the rest of the living world at large. You would speak when spoken to and leave when told to do so.
Most job interviews, on the other hand, are far more relaxed than that and resemble more of a friendly conversation than an inquisition. Eye contact and overall body language is important, of course. More important however, is the existence of a real give and take conversation where both you and the employer can learn about each other.
Your goal in the interview is to create a positive impression. You want to learn as much as you can about the company and the job itself. You do all this in the name of creating future career choices for yourself.
Avoid using the military jargon you’ve come to know and love.
The only job you may have ever had was as a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine in the U.S. military. It doesn’t change the fact now that you’re trying to land a different job, one that doesn’t necessarily require that you wear a uniform or speak in a unique shorthand language understood only by someone else who wears one.
Notice the subtle differences below:
- Your job interview is at two p.m. not fourteen hundred hours.
- If you agree with the employer on a given point, say “yes, I agree with that” instead of “hooah” or “roger-dat” even if the latter feels more natural to you.
- When explaining your work experiences in different regions, avoid identifying the areas as AORs or in [specific] theaters of operations. Instead indicate that you worked overseas or simply name the country/countries.
- Quantify your accomplishments and responsibilities using words that don’t resonate with past military performance appraisals. For example, explain that while you were stationed overseas, you supervised 110 network technicians (not service members) working in round the clock communications center (not a 365/24/7 NOC) supporting worldwide telecommunications operations (not the Warfighter downrange). Every industry, in or out of uniform, has its own language. Now is the time for you to learn and use the one you’ll need for your next job. Even if you are transitioning from the DoD in uniform, to the DoD in a suit, there will be differences to learn and embrace.
Omit reference to the C-word (combat).
Your job might have taken you to the front lines of combat more times than you care to remember. Like it or not, most civilian employers won’t want to hear about it.
What they want to hear about is how you can make a positive difference within their organization using your technical skills and leadership abilities. Let them get to know you and what you have to offer them sans the scary, life-threatening details you may have come to know as business as usual.
Your next job, out of uniform, can be a thrilling adventure itself. Give it a chance and in doing so, realize that you have to leave the past where it belongs.