Looking for a candidate who is not only educated but someone who possesses natural leadership abilities, real world work experience, flexibility and decision making skills? And is already having an active federal security clearance not just a perk, but a requirement?

Your perfect candidate may very likely be within the transitioning ranks of our nation’s military service members.

But before you can pop the cork on the champagne and celebrate yet another successful placement, you’ll need to do a few interviews first.

Not Your Average Candidate

Let’s be honest here. Regardless of which side of the table you sit on, interviews are stressful, blind date like experiences. Job seekers aren’t the only ones who experience sweaty palms. Recruiters do too and with good reason.  In your role, you have to ask the right questions, or more importantly, avoid asking the wrong ones.

This isn’t just a question of political correctness. It is the law.

When professional unfamiliarity enters the equation, you have to be particularly mindful.

Unless you are a veteran yourself or you have an intimate understanding of what it is like to serve in uniform, making the military to civilian skill set connection can be challenging both for you and for the job-seeking veteran.

Those who have served in armed forces bring a whole new world of acronyms and often confusing job titles to their resumes. They don’t always clearly explain what they did as they executed actions in faraway places under duress. They know what they did but putting it into the right words so that you, dear civilian, can relate to it is a different story.

Also, the levels of responsibility they have held are phenomenal and can be intimidating to say the least. After all, the stakes in their end game involved life and limb, literally.

Finally, there is the negative and oft ill-informed press concerning PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and the general disconnect between the military and civilian cultures.

With all these unknowns, stereotypes, and disconnects, you can understand the importance of finding the right words and asking the appropriate questions.

What You Can and Can’t Ask a Veteran in a Job Interview

On Type of Discharge

Don’t ask:        What type of discharge did you receive from the military?

Instead ask:     Nothing about the type of discharge unless you work for Uncle Sam and are trying to determine candidates eligibility for federal employment based on various veteran’s preferences. Federal contractors and sub-contractors can also ask discharge status, but the question must pertain to records-keeping related to veterans preference or disabled worker hiring requirements. If a non-federal job (i.e. a contractor position) requires a security clearance and the candidate doesn’t already have one to begin with, asking about the type of discharge in the pre-employment phase is acceptable.

On Current Military Status

Don’t ask:        Will you be deployed anytime soon?

Instead ask:     Nothing. Even if you can read on the resume that a candidate is in the Reserves or the National Guard, you are not permitted to ask them if they     are going to be deployed. It is against the law to discriminate against someone who holds membership in the Reserves or the National Guard.

On Potential Disabilities

Don’t ask:

  • Are you physically or mentally disabled?
  • Do you have PTSD?
  • Do you have any brain injuries?
  • Do you see a psychiatrist?
  • Did you get hurt in combat?

Instead ask:

  • Did you read the job description?
  • Can you tell me about your training and education?
  • What did you do in the military?
  • Can you do the minimum requirements for this job?
  • With or without reasonable accommodation, can you do the job?

Asking veteran applicants questions about their disability is illegal according to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

CYA:  Best Practices

  • Prepare your questions for the job interview in advance.
  • Read over the candidate’s resume carefully before the interview.
  • Ask the same questions of every candidate, regardless of whether they have served in the military or not.
  • Keep the questions you ask legal and ethical.
  • Stay up-to-date on the laws.
  • Don’t discriminate against anyone in theory or in practice. The Equal Employment Opportunity laws and regulations prohibit discrimination against applicants on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, marital status or sexual orientation.
  • Hire a vet and enjoy the champagne. 

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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.