As our job search narrowed to a handful of candidates, we began the process of in-person interviews. On paper and in their initial presentations, one candidate stood out to me more than the others: more confidence, more poise, and a veteran resume that put him head and shoulders above the crowd. We had also recently served in the same organization—although in different brigades—and likely shared some common connections. These were the interviews I relished because they allowed for a more relaxed conversation rather than a by-the-numbers back-and-forth.
Interview Battle Rhythm
After exchanging introduction and a few perfunctory questions, we settled into my preferred interview battle rhythm. “I saw on your resume that you were on 3rd Brigade staff during the initial invasion. Do you stay in touch with any of the rest of the team?” I asked. “No, not really,” he answered. “We kind of drifted apart.” Fair enough, I thought. It happens. The others on the search panel followed with a couple of innocuous questions before it was my turn again. “Tell me about the writing award you won in the Command and General Staff College. What did you write about?” To me, this seemed like a good question to get him comfortable and talking. “It wasn’t a big deal,” he replied. When it was clear he wasn’t going to elaborate, I added, “What was your subject?” “Leadership,” he answered curtly while shifting a bit uncomfortably. This was going nowhere.
Follow up questions were asked and answered in brief bursts with little or no elaboration. Either he’s really uncomfortable or something’s not right, I remember thinking. “I want to ask you about your last job,” I said to him. “How would you describe your interactions with your supervisor?” His former boss was an old friend and one of the most well-liked leaders I know. “We got along okay, I guess.” That’s it? Just okay? He had nothing else to add. The interview continued that way until we finished. Short answers. Curt responses. No real engagement with the committee members.
After he departed the conference room where we staged the interview, I looked at the others and said, “Was it just me or was something off about that interview?” We all agreed that this wasn’t just a case of nerves. The candidate we’d seen on paper and presenting to us in a group setting was not the same person who arrived for the in-person interview. For him, it would have been a dream job. But it didn’t happen. Our unease was enough to scratch him from the list. It was a gut call, but one of the smartest ones we made that day.
5 Reasons You’re the Ideal Candidate Who Can’t Land the Dream Job
Unfortunately, this experience is not at all unique. The situation itself might change from person to person, but I’ve heard more than my share of similar stories where someone walked into an interview as the ideal candidate and left without a job offer. It happens for different reasons, but it happens. And it’s often our own fault. It’s not particularly complicated, either.
1. Your resume is too perfect (and too long).
The longer you remain in uniform, the more experience you build. It’s a safe bet that you have more leadership experience and have managed larger budgets than the company considering your application. Don’t rub their noses in it. Keep your resume short and focused, emphasizing what you bring to the table as a TEAM member. Hint: Have someone proofread your resume; there’s nothing worse than resume riddled with mistakes.
2. You exaggerated lied on your resume.
Stick to the facts. While you might think you are strengthening your resume with a bit of creative imagination, it’s not all that difficult for someone to fact check your resume. And when the facts don’t line up, neither do the job offers. Hint: Despite the size of your office, a company commander is not a strategic-level leader.
3. You’re struggling with starting over.
Face it, no matter what you do or where you go, it’s very likely you’ll be the FNG. You might even (shudder) end up working for someone who is the age of your children. Get over it. Starting over is a humbling experience and interviewers can tell when you’re lacking in that department. Hint: Avoid offering combatives lessons to those who annoy you; it might be entertaining but can lead to complaints.
4. You’re special.
You are. So are the 500 servicemembers who transitioned from the military yesterday. And the 500 leaving tomorrow. Don’t let that attitude bleed into an interview. You want a potential employee to like—not loathe—you. We’re all unique in our own special ways; that doesn’t mean everyone else lives on a lower plane than you. Hint: Be genuine. As long as your “genuine” doesn’t make the people around you sick.
5. Social media is for “got-dam millennials.”
You don’t have a career focused online profile (or you have a crappy one). You think Twitter is a liberal conspiracy. You quit Facebook because they locked your profile for posting disinformation. Fun fact: 70% of employers screen candidates through social media. As a result, the absence of a social media presence (or a really bad one) is a pretty fast way to self-select out of a job interview. Hint: Find a millennial to help you with social media.
That dream job is waiting for you. Just be sure that your future employer sees you as the dream candidate for that job.