How to Prepare for a Civilian Job Interview

Preparing for the First Civilian Interview

On your journey of transitioning from military to civilian life, your new normal is starting the day with opening your laptop or phone and reviewing job sites to continue your job search. You’re scrolling along on your computer or phone when suddenly you receive a message. The message is a request for an interview to meet the hiring manager to discuss your application for a job at your favorite company. Congratulations!

You’re beginning to see that the efforts you put forth to translate your military skills onto your civilian resume is well worth it. Your military to civilian resume is serving its purpose – gaining the attention of hiring managers to get you and your skills noticed.

After scheduling the interview, the pre-interview jitters begin to kick in. You realize you don’t know what steps to take next. Don’t panic. You do not have to handle the uncertainty about the interview alone. We’ve gathered some tips to help put you on the path to success as you prepare for your civilian job interview.

Combat Interview Anxiety with Preparation

Preparing for the First Civilian Interview

Anyone who undergoes the job interview process experiences some level of anxiety. According to the Job Interview Anxiety Survey conducted by Everest College and the Harris Collective, 92% of people are anxious about the interview process.

In the civilian world, you will constantly hear that preparation is the key to nailing your interview. As a military veteran, you should think of preparation as military training or even military resilience training. After all, training is the first step everyone takes after joining the military. And, let’s not forget, training involves practice. Practice is a part of training because there are steps that are repeated over and over until those steps are ingrained in your life and become second nature.

Training along with practice teaches discipline and provides mental, physical and emotional skills to be ready for the big day, whether the big day is the first day of an operation or the first day of a mission. When you look at interview preparation from this viewpoint, you’ll see that preparing for an interview is similar to military training. So, let’s get started.

What to Bring

Because the recruitment and selection process is online and civilian resumes are also submitted online, many veterans overlook the items that should be brought along to an interview. Being prepared for the interview means printing and bringing copies of your resume. Keep in mind that the hiring manager may not have his or her computer readily available. Or, the internet or copy machine at the hiring manager’s office can always be out of order.

Carry at least three (3) hard copies of your resume to the interview in a portfolio, folder or binder. If necessary, use a clear report or presentation cover to hold the resume in place and keep it from bending at the corners. We also recommend that you to bring a pen and a notepad; in case you want to take some notes.

This level of preparation will allow for a professional presentation and speak volumes to your organizational skills. Bringing these items along to the interview shows that you’re ready, but it also indicates that you are a forward thinker who anticipates situations.  

Imagine receiving a copy of someone’s resume recently pulled out of their pants pocket with crumbles, creases, or even coffee stains. Imagine the same person wanting to take notes but not having the proper supplies to do so. Would you consider moving forward in an interview with that person?

Research the Company

Preparing for the First Civilian Interview

Being prepared for the interview also means performing research on the company. Review the company website for its history, mission, vision, and values. As you review these areas of the company, look for similarities and differences between your personal standards and the company’s standards. Take some time to think about your standards and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the company hold the same values that I hold?
  • Do I believe in the company’s mission?
  • Is the company’s vision and where it’s headed a fit for me?

After you’ve determined that your standards are in alignment with each other, look at the company’s locations. Check out it’s financial health and well-being to see how it performs in the industry. Read its blog, articles, and white papers for content and scour its social media accounts, especially LinkedIn.

Learn the company’s culture. Does the company value work-life balance? Can employees work remotely? Can you see yourself working there? Find out all you can prior to the interview, as it will come in handy when it’s time to meet the hiring manager.

Dress Appropriately

Your civilian resume performs well by making you presentable on paper. Now, it’s up to you to dress appropriately for the interview. This may be tough as a veteran because you’re accustomed to having standardized uniforms depending upon your duties for the day.

Understand that different industries will have different standards or codes for dressing. For example, some industries prefer business casual such as polo shirts, button down shirts, and khaki pants. Others may prefer a suit. Your best option is to play it safe and make a great impression by wearing full business attire. Colors such as dark blue, navy or grey are always acceptable.

Appropriate Interview Attire for Male Veterans

Men, you can make a great impression by wearing a full suit with a tie and dark shoes. Make sure your tie does not create a distraction with loud colors or words or logos.

Appropriate Interview Attire for Female Veterans

Ladies, you can make a great impression by also wearing a suit with a knee length skirt that’s not too form fitting. Or, wear slacks, if you prefer. Closed toe heels at no more than 3 inches are always best.

If you arrive on-site at the interview and feel overdressed, it’s better to overdress than underdress. After all, this is the time to put your best foot forward. Save the jeans or khakis for after you get the job. If you’re looking for more advice, review our article on dressing for your interview for more helpful tips on dressing appropriately.

Know How to Translate Your Military Achievements into Civilian Terms

Preparing for the First Civilian Interview

Translating your military achievements into civilian terms that the hiring manager will understand is one of the most important parts of your civilian interview. Remember, the key is to make all your achievements relatable and relevant to the position.

A portion of our 5-Step Approach to Start Translating Military Experience includes the following:

  • Review and read the job description.

Highlight any overlap in job experience.

  • Create a list.

With your highlighted experiences, start a list of your relevant job experience.

Here is an example to help jump-start your military experience translating process to prepare for your interview:

Military: Led 12-person combat team through 4 successful missions.

Civilian: Managed 12-person team in a fast-paced environment while meeting all organizational goals.

Take some time to write these translations down and practice saying them in the mirror. The more you translate terms verbally, the easier they will become second nature for you as you go through your interviews. To get more help with translating your military experience into civilian terms, use our military to civilian resume translator.

Practice Interviewing

Now, grab a friend or just stand in the mirror and practice interviewing. This is essential because you’ll get some feedback on your facial expressions and other forms of nonverbal communication cues. Not so sure what nonverbal communication looks like? Read this article in about nonverbal communications.

Practicing the interview means going over your responses to interview questions, learning to summarize your military experiences and relate the experiences to the position you’re interviewing by using civilian terms.

We’ve created a list of the most common interview questions for you to review in an article. Some of the questions you may be asked are:

  • So, tell me about yourself.
  • What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

After using majority of the time discussing your experiences and accomplishments and making attempts to get to know you better, the hiring manager may ask what salary range you’re looking for. This bring us to our next preparation tip, know the salary range.

Know the Salary Range

It’s important to know the salary range for the job you’re seeking because questions regarding the salary can be tricky. Knowing the salary range for the position can keep you from not receiving the amount of compensation you deserve for the work. And, according to CNN, asking for too much money might take you out of consideration.

Salary range includes the lowest amount of pay, the average amount of pay and a maximum amount of pay. Sometimes, the job description will list the salary range. Other times, you must search for the salary range while doing your homework on the company.

Use resources such as Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn to look up salary ranges or salary comparisons. Keep in mind that salary ranges also depend on location due to factors such as cost of living.

Preparing Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Preparing for the First Civilian Interview

When research has been performed on the company, it’s easier for you to prepare questions to ask the interviewer. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, take advantage of the opportunity because this is your time to interview the hiring manager as well to make sure the company is a fit for you. A few questions that may be asked include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Can you tell me about the day to day aspects of this job?
  • What do you expect for this position during the first 90 days?
  • Can you describe the company’s culture?
  • What type of workspace will I receive?
  • Do you anticipate any changes for this role?
  • What is the biggest challenge in this role?
  • Is training available?
  • Is it possible to move up in the company?
  • What’s the potential for travel or relocation?

Asking questions at the interview are a normal part of the process. It shows the hiring manager that you’re prepared and that you’re interested in the company. The hiring manager will know that you took the time to do your homework. Asking questions is always necessary because if you don’t advocate for yourself and be specific in your questions, you will miss out on some valuable information.

Other Helpful Tips

Outside of the above tips, other helpful tips include not being afraid to take notes during the interview. It shows the employer that you’re engaged and that you take information seriously. Be sure to jot down the name of each interviewer you meet. Remembering names will be used post-interview. Additionally:

Beware of Illegal Interview Questions

Questions concerning your mental health, whether you have PTSD, and how much money you receive for disability or retirement are off the table and should not be discussed at an interview. Asking these types of questions whether a person is a veteran or civilian is discriminatory and illegal.

Post Interview

Preparing for the First Civilian Interview

Always follow-up with a thank you letter after the interview. An email may suffice, but a sure-fire way to get the hiring manager’s attention is to go the extra mile and send a thank you note by good old-fashioned snail mail.

Let the hiring manager know you appreciate the time spent to interview you and thank him or her for their consideration. Within the note, include a portion of the interview discussion, just to refresh the interviewer’s memory.

This nifty idea will put your name in front of the hiring manager again and keep your name top of mind. It’s a great way to stand out among the other candidates. 

Preparing for a civilian job interview is an ongoing process, much like your training days in the military. The more you prepare, the better the outcome and potential for less anxiety each time.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for service-members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.  

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