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Interview like a civilian


It’s never a good idea to take a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to a job interview, but for those transitioning from military to civilian careers, it’s even more important to be prepared. Taking the time to think through the process will boost your chances of success. Here are some simple ways to ensure that you nail your next interview.


Do your homework

Just as you’d prepare for your next military assignment, you should prepare for every job interview. This means thoroughly researching the company or organization before the big day. “Know who they are and what their products and services are,” says Laura DeCarlo, president of Career Directors International and author of Interviewing: The Gold Standard. Review the company or organization’s website and conduct an Internet search to find out what other people are saying about them. “You want to be knowledgeable and educated so you can talk about why you’re a good fit [for the position] rather than waiting for them to ask you the right questions and figure it out for themselves.”


Be on time

There’s a saying that if you’re 15 minutes early, you’re on time, and if you’re on time, you’re already late. In the military, punctuality shows respect, and it’s the same in the civilian workforce. “Be on time, which means being at least 10 minutes early,” says DeCarlo, who has taught transition assistance classes at Patrick Air Force Base. Be sure to be polite to everyone you encounter, from the security guard to the receptionist and everybody else along the way. “The gatekeepers can hold just as much weight as the interviewer,” she adds.


Act the part

While you may be used to standing at attention and saluting when a superior enters the room, being too formal in a civilian setting can be off-putting to some people who aren’t used to it. It’s a good idea to play it a little cooler in an interview. “Don’t be stiff. It’s a first meeting and people are trying to get to know you,” notes DeCarlo. “It’s amazing how smiling and relaxing puts people at ease.”

Though you certainly want to look polished and professional, wearing a suit isn’t always the right answer. DeCarlo suggests driving by the building where you’ll be interviewing to see how employees dress on a typical work day. “Find out what the culture of the company is, and dress one or two levels above that,” she advises. This means if jeans are standard Monday-through-Friday attire at the company, wear dress slacks and a freshly ironed shirt to the interview.


Speak civilian

You may have led thousands of soldiers on a mission or been responsible for multimillion dollar budgets in the military, but if you can’t communicate that clearly in a job interview, it won’t matter. Many potential employers in the civilian world won’t be able to connect the dots between your experience and their needs if you don’t spell it out for them.

DeCarlo recommends anticipating what questions your interviewer will ask—based on the job description and your research—and planning what your responses will be. She likes to use flash cards. “Then practice on somebody who has no military background, and get them to help you tweak [your answers] so they are understandable to a civilian,” she says.


Ask good questions

In addition to being ready to answer questions during an interview, it’s just as important to prepare questions of your own. While you may have some general questions about the department’s upcoming goals or how various divisions collaborate, this is an ideal time to make sure you provided all the information your interviewer needs. She suggests saying, “I want to make sure I touched on [everything] you need to know.”

Then she advises asking if the interviewer has any concerns about how your skills match their needs so you can fill in any blanks before you conclude the interview. Remember to say thank you Chances are your interviewer met with several candidates for your target job. By sending a personalized thank you letter, you stand out from the crowd. “Use the letter as more than a thank you—use it to reiterate your strengths,” encourages DeCarlo. “[This] gives you a major edge.”

In the end, with proper planning you can use every step of the interview to sell yourself for the job. “It’s your one chance to make an impression,” says DeCarlo.


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Phone interviews can lead to the next step.

You’ve updated your resume and sent it out. But instead of an in-person interview, you may be asked for a phone interview at a moment’s notice. What do you do? Here are a few tips for that all-important call.

• Phone interviews are mainly screening interviews, so have your resume in front of you to be prepared to answer questions about your employment background, career goals and what you can bring to the new position.

• If an interviewer calls without notice and reaches you at a bad time, ask to reschedule for a specific day and time.

• Create a quiet space for the interview— remove the kids and pets, and turn off any background noise, such as the stereo or television.

• Turn off call-waiting, if possible.

• Be sure to take notes.

• Wait until the interviewer has finished speaking before you answer —don’t interrupt.

• Keep a glass of water handy in case you need a sip.

• Don’t chew gum or food or smoke.

• Keep a positive, upbeat tone in your voice.

• You’ve done your research on the job and organization, so have a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer.

• After thanking the interviewer for their time, ask if it’s possible to schedule an in-person interview.

• Follow up with a written thank you.

• Dress as if it were an in-person interview to get into a professional mindset.

• Use Phoenix Career Services Job Market Research Tool to research jobs and your best fit.