You know all too well the value of your military service. You’ve spent years getting high-tech training and developing leadership, problem-solving and project-management skills. You’re reliable, disciplined and mature.
The trouble is that the person who will decide whether to hire you for that coveted civilian job may not have a military clue.
The result: If you’re not prepared to win over an uninformed hiring manager, your military service could ultimately hurt — not help — your post-service career prospects.
A 2007 Department of Veterans Affairs study surveyed more than 100 experts from the private sector to find out why veterans are less likely to get hired than their civilian counterparts.
Hiring managers identified what they perceive as the positive aspects of hiring veterans — including integrity, leadership, reliability and maturity — and the negative ones, such as inflexibility, rigidity, “behavior limited to taking orders” and “risk of the effects of combat.”
The good news, however, is that the problem appears to be more about perception than outright prejudice.
Being smart about how you reply to certain “loaded” interview questions — and watching what you say in interviews in general — could help you overcome any anti-military stereotypes a civilian hiring manager may have.
“Don’t use the interview as an opportunity to talk about your combat experiences,” Robideaux said. “Don’t bring up failures or weaknesses. Keep your answers tailored specifically to the job and your ability to do it.”
And if you’re hit with loaded questions, here’s how Robideaux recommends you reply:
‘You’re used to taking orders. How confident are you in using your own initiative?’
• The angle: This question is meant to determine whether you are rigid or inflexible.
• One possible answer: “We’re trained to do our jobs and react to certain situations just the way civilian employees are. But we also have leeway to use our intelligence and awareness to respond to new situations and come up with new ways of doing things. We work in teams, so as problems come up, we solve them collectively.” Include specific examples of creative problem-solving.
‘What was it like to serve in combat? What were some of your combat experiences?’
• The angle: It’s meant to assess whether combat has affected you negatively. This question is illegal, but it’s not unheard of.
• One possible answer: “My combat experience was varied.” Then emphasize what you’d bring to the new job, for example: “I’m bringing to this position a college degree, leadership experience, extensive training in my field and the recommendations of my commanders, which I have with me.”
‘What do you believe makes a good manager? Why would you be a good manager?’
• The angle: The interviewer may be looking for rigidity or lack of business acumen.
• One possible answer: “A good manager understands the company’s mission and looks to employees for insights. In the military, we work in teams, and we have leaders just the way a private company does. So I understand the concept of working together to find solutions.” Include a specific example.
‘What kinds of books or reading materials interest you? What was the last book you read?’
• The angle: This interviewer may infer any number of qualities depending on whether you cite fantastic or down-to-earth reading materials.
• One possible answer: “I read the newspaper and try to stay up on current events. I also enjoy history books and trade magazines related to my field.” Make sure you know the most recent title.
‘Describe your weaknesses. What failures have you experienced?’
• The angle: This common interview question is designed to uncover negative traits.
• An appropriate answer: “When I was being trained in my first job in the military, I admit, there was quite a learning curve. I wasn’t as organized in the administrative duties as I needed to be. So I learned how to pay more attention to detail and become more organized with paperwork and reports — and keeping track of them. As a result, my commander described me as the most organized supervisor he’s had. I have his evaluation right here.”