Interviewing for a Civilian Job

Going on a job interview can be intimidating for anyone. But for transitioning military members who may never have interviewed for a job before the process can be especially challenging. As always, preparation is key! By knowing what to expect, how to field interview questions and how to follow up, you'll feel more confident as you work on landing the civilian position that's perfect for you.

Preparing for the interview

Your goal is to effectively demonstrate that your abilities and work ethic are a good fit for the company. With careful preparation, you can go to the interview feeling calm and confident. Beforehand, be sure to:

  • Research the company to learn about its history, corporate culture, sales trends and management style - Your research will help you come up with intelligent, solid questions to ask during the interview.
  • Review your resume - Be prepared to talk about accomplishments that don't appear on your resume as well as ones that do. Think back on your previous positions and successes.
  • Get your references together - If you have letters of reference from previous employers, bring copies in case the interviewer asks for them. Make a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for both your personal and professional references.
  • Prepare your portfolio or work samples, if it's appropriate in your line of work - Make copies of work samples or any items that might be relevant to the position. Review your portfolio and be ready to discuss the items in it.
  • Plan what you'll wear - First impressions can have a positive - or negative - effect on your interview. Plan to dress conservatively and appropriately for the type of organization you're interviewing with. Invest in new interview clothes if needed; do not wear your uniform or military-issue shoes. Makeup and jewelry should be simple and understated, and be sure not to overdo any perfume or cologne. Make sure your hair and nails are well groomed.

Types of interviews

Job interviews generally fall into one of these four categories:

  • One-on-one interviews - The one-on-one category of interview is frequently used by hiring managers as the conversational style lets the interviewer get to know you and you to get to know the company and the job.
  • Panel interviews - This category of interview is common for government jobs. It is more structured than a one-on-one interview and more intimidating. The panel (usually consisting of three or more interviewers) has a prearranged set of questions for each applicant.
  • Telephone interviews - Telephone interviews are sometimes conducted to screen potential applicants. You might want to use a landline to avoid the possibility of a dropped call or cell phone reception problems. No matter what phone you use, make sure you have a quiet place to talk without interruptions.
  • Stress interviews - Stress interviews are often conducted by law enforcement agencies to determine how a candidate will react in a stressful situation. If you're faced with this type of interview, staying calm, cool and confident is key.

Interview strategies

Whether you get the job offer will depend largely on how you conduct yourself in the interview. These tips can help you make a great impression and "ace" the interview:

  • When you arrive - Get there early and be polite to everyone you meet, including the receptionist. Make sure your cell phone is turned off. Shake hands with confidence and a smile.
  • In response to questions - Listen carefully to the questions and make sure you understand what's being asked. Don't hesitate to ask for clarification if you don't understand. Be positive about your past jobs and experience, and never speak negatively about former supervisors or co-workers. Take a moment to gather your thoughts before you answer a difficult question and resist the urge to fill silences with irrelevant information.
  • At the end of the interview - Offer your thanks, restate your interest in the job and ask when you can follow up.

Interview questions

You can't prepare for every question you'll face in an interview, but you'll feel more confident if you've taken the time to prepare for the most predictable questions or types of questions you'll be asked. It's important to think about these questions before the interview, but make sure your answers sound real and not over-prepared or "canned."

  • Common questions - Many interviewers have a script that includes versions of these questions: Why did you leave the military? What do you like about your current position? What do you dislike? What professional mistakes have you made? What are your strengths? Weaknesses? How do you handle deadlines or job stress? What is your greatest accomplishment? Failure? Where do you see yourself in five years (or one year, two years)? Why should I hire you?
  • Tell me about yourself - This interview question is your chance to sell yourself. Focus on your professional accomplishments and don't go into detail about your personal life. Draw from your research on the company and talk about how your skills and character make you a good fit for the job and the company.
  • Situational questions - Many interviewers ask questions that draw from your past experience such as, "Tell me about a time when you accomplished something you didn't think you could," or "Describe a time when you didn't get along with a supervisor and what you did about it." You can also expect questions about how you might handle a sticky situation, including, "What would you do if you found out a co-worker was doing something illegal at work?" Your answers will help the interviewer determine how you handle yourself in the workplace.
  • How to answer - The interviewer is trying to find the candidate who best fits the job with both technical ability and professional character. You can convince the interviewer you've got the right abilities by providing examples from your past experience. Think of times when you've gone the extra mile or worked with a team for a successful outcome.
  • What to ask - You shouldn't be the only person being interviewed at your job interview! Remember that you want to make sure your prospective employer is a good fit for you not just that you are a good fit for them. You'll want to clearly understand the job responsibilities and the organization's corporate culture. Researching the company before the interview can help you think of intelligent questions to ask about the company and the job. During the interview, you may think of additional questions. Remember that carefully researched questions also have the advantage of letting the interviewer know you've done your homework.
  • Salary questions - Your research should have given you a good idea of the salary range for similar jobs in your area. Try to avoid asking questions about salary before the interviewer brings it up or a job offer has been made. Don't commit yourself to a certain salary before you know all the details about the job. Benefits, such as tuition reimbursement, may have a bearing on your decision about the position.

After the interview

Following up after an interview is another important step in your job search. Even if you don't get a job offer, the interview experience will be valuable as you continue your job search.

  • Write a thank-you note - A thank-you note is an important part of the interview process but many applicants overlook it. The note may be a typed business letter or a simple, handwritten note. In it, restate your interest in the position, thank the interviewer for his or her time and provide any relevant information you may have forgotten to mention at the interview.
  • Follow up - At the end of your interview, ask the interviewer when a decision will be made and if you may call to follow up. Be sure to make your follow-up call on or after the day the interviewer suggests, not earlier.
  • If you get a job offer - Before you accept or decline an offer, consider the work environment, location, growth potential, job security, salary and benefits. Be sure to talk to your family, too.
  • If you don't get a job offer, don't be discouraged - There could be any number of reasons you didn't get the job, including reasons not necessarily related to your interview performance. Look on the interview as a learning experience. Take the time to analyze what you did right and what you might have done wrong as you prepare for your next interview.



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