Your Objective: A Successful Job Interview
If your experience is like most, your job search has placed formidable hurdles in your path. For example, you should have:
- Spent considerable time researching job opportunities, salary ranges and benefit options
- Energized your personal and professional contacts to have that network supporting you
- Pulled together every skill you possess, capturing relevant experiences and shaping them into a powerful resume
Only by putting these building blocks into place will you have a chance at reaching your true objective: a face-to-face job interview.
Let's assume that a potential employer has asked you to come in for an interview. How can you maximize the ultimate outcome of this opportunity? It might surprise you to know that as a military professional, you already have the training and experience to successfully "navigate" this challenge.
While this seems obvious, approach your interview with the same clarity and precision as you did for any military operation. In particular, know yourself and what you are "selling" to the potential employer. Preparing your own resume offers a tremendous advantage, in that it forces you to confront your past in agonizing detail and capture essential elements on paper. Carefully review your resume and any supporting notes. You want to be able to discuss your strengths and skills in terms that expand your resume.
Research the Firm
The Internet affords ample opportunity to learn more about the company for which you are interviewing. Don't expect to become an overnight expert, but a little digging should help you frame some tough or enlightening questions to help you assess the firm.
Dress the Part
Don't wear your uniform! For most job interview sessions, the classic suit and tie for men or suit and blouse for women are both appropriate and advantageous. First impressions may or may not count, but they certainly stick in one's mind. For more tips on dress code, see How to Dress for Your Civilian Job Interview.
Reconnaissance and Dry Run
Know where you are going and, if necessary, check it out beforehand so you will arrive on time. You might even find it helpful to go inside a day or two early, find your interview area and strike up a conversation with the receptionist or someone similarly knowledgeable of the company. This intelligence mission might garner valuable information to use during your interview.
Listen Carefully to the Introductions
The military culture has instilled the need to put "Sir" or "Ma'am" at the end (and sometimes beginning) of almost all sentences. That courtesy simply is not a convention in the private sector. For example, if introduced to "John" or "Mary," that is your cue to use first names. If introduced to "Ms. Jones," then more formality has been added, so respond accordingly.
Handling the Interview
This is simply terrifying for many people. Try to relax and listen carefully to the questions being asked; pause to gather your thoughts, and then comment as if your future depended on your answers (it does). In many cases, the interviewer does most of the talking. In fact, a few well-placed questions or comments from you (based on your intelligence gathering) can keep an interviewer almost fully occupied. Since the interview is about you, the subject matter should be comfortable for you. As you listen carefully to the series of questions, you should soon be able to anticipate what comes next so you can begin formulating your responses. By the end of the interview, you should have conveyed that you:
- Are the best person for the job
- Are knowledgeable and well-spoken
- Are at ease with people and can relate well
- Would be an asset to this company
Handling Tough Questions
A wide variety of questions cannot legally be asked (lifestyle, marriage status, religion, etc.). If you are ever asked questions that make you uncomfortable, say so. Still, many job counselors try to prepare clients for "box canyon" questions (you're cornered and can't get out) or questions the answers to which could make you look foolish. You just might get questions like, "What's your greatest failure?" or "What aspect of your behavior do you dislike?" Try to take such negative probes and turn them into something positive.
If you are a hit in the first interview, follow-up sessions usually move you toward the hiring manager. Take a few moments to send thank-you notes to all who had a role in the interview (even the receptionist). If you hear nothing after a week, call and follow up ("I'm continuing my job hunt but I really think I'm a good fit at XYZ Company. Have you made a hiring decision for that position yet?").
We all know some folks who have the gift of gab; others simply don't. While the job interview may appear somewhat unfair to some, it offers employers a relatively inexpensive screening tool to find someone with both the technical and social fit for the company. It is probably fair to say that some job seekers will have to work harder than others, but all should engage in an "after action report" following each interview session. Candidly assess what you did right, what you did wrong, and how you can improve the next time out.