CivilianJobNews.com - The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

“I...Um...Well...”- The 5 most difficult interview questions for military - and how to answer them
by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

Share |

Article Sponsored by: CSX

Each year, Glassdoor.com publishes a list of the “Top 25 oddball interview questions,” questions shared with them by job seekers. You probably won’t find yourself put on the spot with questions like, “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” or “How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?” There are, however, simple questions that can be just as challenging that you are very likely to be asked. Providing a confident, clear, and concise answer will go a long way to keeping your cool during the interview.

To help Civilian Job News’ readers prepare for their own interviews, we asked the experts this question: What are the five most difficult interview questions job candidates are likely to be asked? Here’s what they had to say:

difficult interview questions for military“Tell me about yourself.” While this first one is not really a question, it can stump anyone who isn’t properly prepared. This requires candidates to have in mind their own elevator pitch’ - a 30- to 60-second summary of their past experience, the skills they have acquired, and how they apply to the employer’s organization. “They want to know about your career, your goals and your mission,” says Jon C. Sosa, career coach and founder of Aries Career Systems. “They want to know what makes you a good fit for that position.”

“Why should we hire you?” This question demands not only that you are knowledgeable about the company - including a bit of background on its founding, its mission and its values - but how the available position resonates with your skills as well. “If you are prepared, you can match your skills and ability to all of the requirements of the position,” Sosa says. “I would say, ‘The position requires X. As you can see on my resume, I have not only fulfilled those needs, but I also have accomplished this.’”

“What do you want to do?” Matt DeLuca, senior consultant at Management Resource Group, Inc. in New York, and co-author (with Nanette DeLuca) of ‘Best Answers to the 201 Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions’, underlines that for this one, candidates must focus on why they are a good fit for the company. “You are there to convince the employer that you have three things they are looking for: the skill to do the job, the motivation to do the job, and the chemistry that is going to work in the organization,” he says. “If you did your research and you know about the organization, you say, ‘I’m a hard worker. I really want to work for an organization that has unlimited potential.’” Then, he adds, “you close by connecting these statements to the specific company: ‘This organization is one that I would really like to work for, because I could quickly add value with the skill set that I have and the position that I see you have open.’ This draws a link between what you have and what they need.”

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Sosa reminds candidates to be confident about their strengths and, where you can, to make references to numbers: “How many people did you manage? How many promotions, commendations, honors or awards did you receive over a certain period of time? Did you increase profits? Did you decrease loss? Everything should be measurable.”

But what about your weaknesses? John DiPiero, Colonel, USAF, Ret., a specialist in military recruiting at the insurance and financial firm USAA, notes that candidates can portray their weaknesses as strengths. “Your objective isn’t to discuss your weaknesses as much as it is to discuss how and why even your shortcomings make you an ideal candidate,” he says. “For example, you may be a detail-oriented workaholic that neglects family and friends. You can turn these weaknesses around by saying that you’re very meticulous and remain involved in projects until you’ve ironed out all the problems, even if it means working overtime. Most interviewers aren’t expecting you to be perfect - and they’re unlikely to believe that you will reveal your true weaknesses. They’re just probing for soft spots.”

“What are your salary expectations?” Money is a touchy subject, but candidates should be prepared to know what they are willing to accept from a salary perspective. Many times, a candidate has already had to consider this prior to applying for a job as a salary range is advertised as part of the position description. Be cautious about proceeding with the interview unless you are willing to accept a salary within the advertised range. Companies will rarely publicly post a position unless it has been budgeted for and approved. Don’t think that you will “wow” them and achieve a salary higher than the advertised range.

With that said, what if you have to answer the “salary expectation” question? Sosa counsels candidates to research what a comparable position pays in the city and region where you are interviewing. Salary.com is one online resource. While you shouldn’t take publicly available salary information as gospel, this research enables candidates to have some type of reasonable expectation for what the position could potentially pay.

“Have two numbers ready,” says Jason Cook, executive consultant with military placement firm Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI). “The first number is your no-brainer number. This is the salary you would be willing to accept on the spot,” Cook explains. “Phrase it as ‘Based on research that I have done on area salary ranges for this position and the experience and skills I bring to your company, my preferred salary would be $X. I would be excited and honored to accept an offer for that amount.’” Cook advises to follow this up with your minimum number. “Giving a fall-back number is advisable to keep yourself in the hunt, just in case you’ve priced yourself out of the salary range for the position. “You can say this follow-up phrase ‘However, I would be willing to strongly consider $Y. This salary would enable my family’s living standard to remain relatively stable.’ This shows you have put some thought into your salary requirements.”

Although any question can stump even the best candidate, projecting confidence is the key to a successful interview. Companies need great employees. Take your time, listen and project the qualities of a high-value employee.

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

Return to January/February 2012 Issue