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The ten quickest ways to ruin a military to civilian interview

by Brad Hadfield, Contributing Writer

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Article Sponsored by: Air Force Civilian Service

The room seems to be closing in around you. Beads of sweat are forming just beneath your scalp. Your thoughts are running wild. Your clothes, alternately, feel too tight, too loose or as if they are choking you. All this, and the questioning - interrogation? - has yet to begin.

This sets the stage for an interview and, for separating military personnel, the scenario can be even more intimidating. It is not the inability to handle the pressure - your experience certainly disproves that - rather, chalk it up to how different it is from the world you have occupied for many years. This slightly casual yet highly uncomfortable atmosphere is simply unfamiliar ground.

Fortunately, military training provides the tools needed to adapt and this transition can become much more relaxed by following a few guidelines. “Even the most experienced interviewee can fall victim to some of the most obvious blunders,” says Mary Hoch, a business consultant in Sarasota, Fla. “It never hurts to review some basic rules of thumb before sitting down for a military to civilian interview.”

  1. Do not arrive late. Allow for the possibility you could get lost or stuck in traffic en route. If you arrive early, use the time to check out the immediate area. Killing time making small talk in a coffee shop around corner could even help calm your nerves.
  2. Do not use slang, curse words, or tell jokes (no matter how good they are). Not only does this show a lack of maturity, but many individuals resort to these means to disguise inadequacies and insecurities.
  3. Do not fidget with items on the interviewer’s desk, or for that matter, your briefcase, pocket book, or fountain pen. This is a clear sign of nervousness.
  4. Do not disrespect anyone. The receptionist who signs you in, the secretary that leads you to the interview room, the cleaning person straightening up the waiting room - all of these people could influence the decision to hire you. Even if they cannot, someone who can may be watching to see how you treat them.
  5. Do not appear sluggish. If you want the job, you are expected to be bright-eyed and enthusiastic, even if you did not sleep at all the night before.
  6. Do not show ignorance about the company, and do not show arrogance about your own experiences. Both are unattractive to potential employers. You are expected to have researched the company and you should demonstrate your expertise without conceit.
  7. Do not discuss salary, vacations, or benefits. You will know when the time is right to do so. Bring it up too soon and you will seem presumptuous.
  8. Do not dress for a fashion show unless, of course, you are looking for a job in the fashion industry. Dress to impress, but not to excess. Dark suits and minimal jewelry are appropriate for men and women.
  9. Do not smell like a flower shop, a leather store, or a brewery. Translation: avoid too much perfume, too much cologne, or too many alcoholic beverages the night before.
  10. If it is a lunch military to civilian interview, do not order the spaghetti. It is wise to avoid those foods which might prove to be a little messy or that stay with you after the meal. “It’s also important to remember that the interviewer may be as nervous as the interviewee,” continues Mary Hoch. She advises not to talk too much and overwhelm the interviewer, but avoid speaking so little that things simply become uncomfortable. “There needs to be a balance between your verbal and listening skills. You need to be an active participant in the interview, but you also need to know when to stop. Rambling shows insecurity, so sometimes a concise answer is best.”

Often your big chance to show that you have been paying attention, that you are interested, and that you did your research, comes when you are asked, “Do you have any questions?”

Do not say no! If you do not have questions specific to the job at hand, here are some indispensable fallbacks:

  • Why did you join the company and what keeps you here?
  • Why is this job vacant and what happened to the person that had it last?
  • What do you think are the most important skills for a successful career here?
  • What kind of training will be required for this position?

There is one final do not - do not underestimate yourself! Be proud of your military service. Just as you should never disparage a previous employer, nor should you downplay or talk badly about your military experience - after all, you just left one of the noblest occupations in the United States. Many of the qualities you developed in the military are also important to employers - teamwork, resourcefulness, leadership, dedication, and honesty. You simply need to take these traits and apply them in a meaningful way to the position you seek.

“My military experience has always proven beneficial,” says Mark Eary, a former naval aviation specialist out of Pawtuxet, Md. He applied many of the traits he learned from his time in the Navy to get hired into the business of property management, and has since gone on to a successful career in real estate. “Even today, when I’m talking to clients, there can be an immediate camaraderie if they’ve served, too. I’ve closed a lot of deals this way, and I’ve made a lot of friends.”

Former military service members are well-groomed for civilian jobs; it is just a matter of avoiding the do nots and applying your experience. If you have doubts, think about Kelly Perdew, the former intelligence officer and winner of season two of “The Apprentice.” He was chosen by Donald Trump over thousands of others because he possessed the skills learned by all who serve in the military and avoided the dreaded “Interview Do Nots’.” Remember this, and the room that felt as if it was closing in around you will open up into a whole new world.

Brad Hadfield is a marketing executive and freelance writer in Sarasota, Fla.

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