- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Charming Your Way to a Job Offer

by Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Colorado Springs Utilities

Military members have a lot going for them in job interviews, but there is a subtle difference with civilian competitors that could hinder them: their culture of structured protocol, says Diane Gottsman. She's owner of The Protocol School of Texas, Inc., and a national dining and etiquette expert.

"When you are out into the civilian work world, there is still protocol, but recruiters and employers are interested in employees that can build relationships with their clients. In the military, you get promoted through the ranks, and you follow a chain of command. Relationships are structured," she says.

But you can demonstrate your relationship-building abilities before, during and after your interview by using a few gracious manners. Here are some simple but profoundly impacting actions and behaviors that will net you the job:

Before the Interview
Research the company, Gottsman says. Be ready to have a list of questions based on what you've read, or note some things that you like about the company and bring them up during the interview.

Speak to recruiters in civilian terms, not military acronyms and jargon. "If it's technical what you did, explain it in a way they understand it," she says. And one important thing that sets you apart for many government contractor positions is if you have a security clearance. A lot of civilian applicants probably won't have this, and it will help get you into the door for the first interview.

During the Interview

Be as nice to the receptionist as you are the employer. From the moment you walk in the door, everyone, even the receptionist, is paying attention to your manners. Give the receptionist a card to take to the boss to let them know you've arrived.

Cell phones are the "kiss of death," Gottsman says. So don't even bring one in with you, because, inevitably, if you think you've turned it off, you haven't. Don't think that you can put it on vibrate, either, because that's just as annoying as a ring, she says. And certainly, if you do decide to bring it in, don't answer it during your interview.

Always assume formality. In your first contact with interviews, address all of them with an honorific. They should be the ones to say, "Please call me by my first name."

Stand up when someone enters the room - even if you're a woman. "You always want to stand up and be the first to extend your hand, because the person that extends first has the advantage. It just shows respect and self-esteem, and not in negative or aggressive way." And offer a "firm but not overbearing" handshake.

Be a participant in the conversation. "Ask questions based on what they say. You should not be sitting there letting them drill you or sitting silently. Be involved."

Talk about how you'll benefit the job and the company. "You are proud of what you did but you also need to brush up on your skills of today," Gottsman says. So in lieu of discussing a special commendation or medal, you would say, "I was an accountant in the military, and I increased our such and such by so much percent."

Body language speaks loudly. Don't fidget; it looks like you're shaking, Gottsman says. Keep your hands above the desk as much as possible. Don't lean back in the chair.

Ask for the job before you leave. Say, "I really appreciate all the time and effort you took. I'm very interested in this job and look forward to hearing from you. When do you think you'll follow up with me?"

Then, have a thank-you card ready to write up in your car and a stamped envelope - and mail your note immediately so that the employer receives it the next morning. It should say something like, "Thank you for your time. I enjoyed learning about the company." Then mention something specific that you got out of the interview that you didn't know before. Tell them you're interested in the position and available for a follow-up interview. Sign off with, "I look forward to hearing from you soon." Make sure you proofread before sending. And by the way, an e-mail thank-you is a no-no, Gottsman says.


Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.


Return to September/October 2010 Issue