A Veterans' Guide for a Great Job Interview


Getting an Interview is a significant step forward in the the hiring process.  Congratulations!  You have made it through the first competitive challenge.   You are a survivor of the first ruthless cut from perhaps hundreds of applicants to the "best qualified."   Now the "real fun" begins as you prepare for and successfully negiotate  the interview process.   Here is some down-to-earth, practical advice.

Interview Preparations

Do not go into an interview without having done your homework!  You would think that is common sense advice, but we hear from employers all the time that people show up at their door without knowing anything about the company, its products and/or services, customers, financial posture, competition, press coverage (both good and bad), etc.  With today’s Internet and Google, there is no excuse for not gathering and using business intelligence to give you the competitive edge (and getting a good job is highly competitive).  Note:  if you do not have access to the Internet, Still Serving Veterans has computers available for client use in all of our offices.

As the interview day approaches, make a reconnaissance trip to the interview location.  Note how long it takes to get from your home to location and allow time for extra traffic on your interview day which is likely to be a work day.  Be absolutely sure that you know exactly where you are to go and how to get there.  Lost and late is not a good way to start an interview.  When in doubt contact the recruiter or individual with whom you have been working.

Another planning factor is deciding what to wear. There is so much “dress for success” hype out there it is easy to be confused.  While there are no hard and fast rules, there are some proven good practices.  These include:

  • Clean, neat, and fresh.   Any Veteran knows what being “ready for inspection” means and, while no one is inspecting you, they are observing you.  There is a lot at stake, don’t let dirty fingernails and unkempt hair be a stumbling block.
  • Dress “one-step-up” from the company/organization’s standard dress.  For example, if going to interview for a warehouse job where jeans and a tee-shirt are the norm, then wear nice jeans with a buttoned shirt or nice sweater.   If the normal dress is khakis and a polo shirt, consider adding a jacket.  If the standard dress is a business suit, wear a suit.  This may seem like a trivial point, but the goal is to show that you fit in with the organization, while at the same time the showing respect and courtesy of a being an invited guest. 
  • Take off the uniform.  Be cautious about giving the impression that you are simply trading one uniform for another.  There is a stereo-type that military men and woman are rigid and humorless.  Relax and wear comfortable clothes that make you feel like a well-dressed civilian (which you are!).
  • Avoid strong perfumes, colognes and aftershaves.  Often interview spaces are relatively confined and the interviewers may have been there for hours.  Be considerate.
  • Dress modestly and moderately.  Revealing necklines, short skirts, overly tight clothing can send the wrong message.  Likewise, keep jewelry professional and leave the jangling bracelets at home. Solid or small prints are preferred.  If you have tattoos and can cover them, do so for the interview.  You want the interviewer’s attention firmly on your qualifications, experience, and personality so avoid anything that would be distracting.  

The final steps in the interview prep is to review the job description, your company research, and the resume you submitted.  Now, place yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and consider what kinds of questions they are likely to ask.  Practice your responses, especially your responses to questions about why you left a previous job or anything that might be negative in your background.  Get your story straight and consistent and of course, no matter how bad the previous job or boss, do not bad mouth either the company or the person.  Take the moral high ground. 

There are questions regarding things such as age, marital status, childcare which interviewers cannot ask, but would like to know.  You may choose to share this information as you tell your story in order to answer these relevant, but unaskable questions.  For example, older Veterans may weave into their story-line that he/she is in great health and planning on working for another five years before finally retiring.  Make it easy on the interviewers as long as it is in your best interests.

 Interview Day

The best advice for the actual day of the interview is not to change your schedule dramatically. Try and get a good night’s sleep and eat before the interview.  The following are some interview-specifics that can set you apart in a positive way:

  • Bring at least three clean copies of your resume, as well as a notebook/pad and pen
  • Be gracious to everyone, including (especially!) the receptionist
  • Be confident, with good eye contact and a firm, but not vicelike, handshake
  • Get the name of each person in the room and their position – write them down
  • Relax and be yourself; display good posture, but don’t sit “at attention” – this is not a promotion board

Most interviews are dialogues.  The employer wants to evaluate you as a potential member of their team and you want to validate that this is the kind of company for which you want to work.  Ask thoughtful questions, demonstrate that you have prepared for the interview, take notes.  Engage, respectfully.

Almost always you will be asked at the end of the interview if you have any questions.  It is OK to ask, but avoid any questions regarding salary and the details of the benefit package (that is an HR discussion and many interviewers won’t know the answer).  The final question should be, if it has not already been addressed, about the next steps in the process.  What is their decision timeline?  It is nice to know that they are interviewing 10 candidates and will not make a decision for at least two weeks. 

 Interview Follow Up

This is extremely important, consider that if you were the hiring manager and had two viable candidates who had interviewed equally well, which one would you hire - the candidate who followed up or the candidate that did not?

  • Send a prompt, unique thank you letter(s) or email(s) within 24 hours to all of those that you interviewed with.  Reiterate that you want the job (assuming that you do).  Keep it short and respectful (and error free).
  • Follow up one week later with an email.
  • Do not call them, let them call you.
  • Be prepared for a second interview.  For senior positions, there may be 3 or more interviews, perhaps with increasingly senior leaders or technical staff. 

Finally, keep up your job search!  No matter how well the interview went or what the recruiter tells you, do not discontinue looking.  Too often contracts change or are delayed; money becomes scarce; or strategies change.  Celebrate when the signed offer letter or employment contract is in your hands, not before.

If you are a Veteran and would like assistance with your job search, please contact Still Serving Veterans.  We are Veterans helping Veterans.

Reflections by Paulette Risher (MG, US Army, retired), Chief Programs Officer, prisher@ssv.org