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Preparing for the Interview

The interview process has three phases: preparing for the interview, during the interview, and after the interview. Each phase is important; however, preparing for the interview can make a big impact on how well you do during the interview. You will be less anxious the better prepared you are, which will give you a greater chance to have a positive interview.

Preparing for the Interview

1.  Do Your Homework

Thoroughly research the organization and consult your job description. What exactly does this mean, you ask? Your prospective employer's website is a great place to start learning about the organization. While you're at the organization's site, look for a Press Room or Organization News page that links to recent news releases. These press releases will tell you about the most recent achievements of the organization. Make sure you research information about your interviewers. If the organization site has a search tool, use it to search for their names. You may find a section containing employee biographies or press releases that give you insight into their most visible activities at the organization. Then do a general Web search to get some more background information about them.

Now that you've found out everything you can about the organization and the people who will be interviewing you, Google yourself – you can be sure the interviewers will be doing the same. First, make sure that everything a Web search reveals about you presents you in a good light.

2. Anticipate Interview Questions

Anticipate some common questions for a job interview, and prepare impressive, believable answers. To make sure your answers are succinct and cover what you want it to cover, you should write out

your answer before the interview, practice it, time it and rehearse it until it sounds natural. The goal is to tell enough to keep the interviewer's interest, not so much that he or she wonders if you will ever stop talking.

The following are some common interview questions for which you should prepare answers:

•  Tell me something about yourself.

Most people start saying things like, “Well, I was born in Brooklyn, and when I was eighteen I enlisted in the army…” or “What do you want to know…?” These are the wrong ways to respond to this question. This tells the interviewer you have not prepared properly for the interview and are likely to be equally unprepared on the job.

The interviewer wants to know that you can do the job, fit into the team, what you have accomplished in your prior civilian positions, that your military experience has prepared you for this job and how can you help the organization.

In addition, you should highlight your most important accomplishments through a story. For example, if you tell an interviewer that people describe you as persistent, provide a brief story that shows how you have been persistent in achieving your goals. Interviewers tend to remember stories. Just be sure it is a brief, succinct story, not a novel.

•  How has your military experience, skills and training prepared you for the job?

Retired and transitioning Veterans often downplay their accomplishments, but your military experiences should showcase your dedication, leadership, teamwork, positive work ethic and cross-functional skills — all things that would interest a future boss. Make sure you tout your accomplishments

so an average civilian understands the importance of your achievements. Most employers may not be familiar with military ranks, acronyms, terms, awards and branches of service. Therefore, it is important to describe your military experience in civilian terms. The following is an example of a demilitarized accomplishment statement:

Increased employee retention rate by 16 percent by focusing on training, team building and recognition programs. Earned reputation as one of the most progressive and innovative IT

organizations in the Army's communications and IT community.

The following is an example of incorporating a military award so employers understand its value:

Received the Army Achievement Medal for completing 400+ medical evaluations and developing patient database using

MS Access. The database improved reporting functions and tracked patient demographics, records, medication, appointments and status 2 To assist you, it is generally a good idea to start by looking at the citation or narrative summary for your award. This will list what you accomplished; what skills, traits, and qualities that it took to reach that achievement; and how that achievement benefited the team, unit, command or branch of service.

Just remember to translate military terms into civilian terms, e.g., “NCO of the Quarter” would translate to “recognized as the Manager of the Quarter for achieving. . . .”

If you were in active combat, leave out the details. Defending your country and its interests is among the most admirable of pursuits, but the sad truth is actual references to the horrors of combat leave many employers squeamish. While you might have worked in a short-range air defense engagement zone, this experience might not relate to your future goal. Tone down or remove references to the battlefield.3

As mentioned above, however, if you can “civilianize” the terms and focus on the achievement and what it took, you can relate these experiences and achievements to an interviewer. For example: “Platoon Sgt. or Platoon

Commander that led his team on patrols through the streets of Fallujah (Iraq) searching for and disarming IEDs.

Successfully identified and defused 35 IEDs during this period.” That could be translated to civilians as “Supervisor or Team Leader that lead, trained, motivated and directed a team of 35 members successfully, under intense pressure, to achieve a 92-percent (35 out of 38) success rate of every task.”

  • How has any prior civilian work experience helped prepare you for the job?


You should present your civilian work experience in a way that emphasizes how it will specifically and significantly benefit the hiring organization.

  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

Answers such as “my weakness is that I work too hard” or “my strength is that I have no weaknesses” are the wrong way to answer this question. You need to assess your strengths and weaknesses in order to answer this question.

Assessing Your Strengths

Assess your skills and you will identify your strengths. This is an exercise worth doing before any interview. Make a list of your skills, dividing them into three categories:

  • Knowledge-Based Skills: Acquired from education and experience, e.g., computer skills, languages, degrees, training and technical ability.
  • Transferable Skills: Your portable skills that you take from job to job, e.g., communication and people skills, analytical problem solving and planning skills.
  • Personal Traits: Your unique qualities, e.g., dependable, flexible, friendly, hard working, expressive, formal, punctual and being a team player.

When you complete this list, choose three to five of those strengths that match what the employer is seeking in the job posting. Make sure you can give specific examples to demonstrate why that is your strength if probed further.

Assessing Your Weaknesses

This is probably the most dreaded part of the question. Everyone has weaknesses, but who wants to admit to them, especially in an interview?

The best way to handle this question is to minimize the trait and emphasize the positive. Select a trait and come up with a solution to overcome your weakness. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate more on professional traits. For example: “I pride myself on being a ‘big picture' guy. I have to admit I sometimes miss small details, but I always make sure I have someone who is detail-oriented on my team.”

  • What are your long-term goals? What do you see yourself doing five years from now?


Saying “I do not plan that far along, my goals are short-term only” or “I don't have any” are not the best responses to this question. When answering this question, keep in mind that your long-term goals are not your personal goals but your career goals , which should relate to or somewhat match those of the organization's open position or mission.

  • Are you willing to travel?


Be honest or you may have a job where you travel too much or not enough.

    Do you have any questions you would like to ask?

Answering “no” is the wrong answer, and it's also a missed opportunity to find out information about the organization. It is important for you to ask questions – not just any questions but those relating to the job, the organization and the industry.

Depending on who is interviewing you, your questions should vary.

    • If you are interviewing with the hiring manager, ask questions about the job, the desired qualities and the challenges.

    • If you are interviewing with the human resources manager, ask about the organization and the department.

    • If you are interviewing with management, ask about the organization.

  • Practice Your Responses

Prepare and practice answers to typical interview questions. Find someone to role-play the interview

with you. This person should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and with whom you can discuss your weaknesses freely. The person should be objective and knowledgeable, perhaps a business associate. If you are practicing alone, it is a good idea to use a mirror or to record your answers using a video camera or a voice recorder. This will help you assess your body language and the kind of image you project. Then, work on correcting your weaknesses such as speaking rapidly, talking too loudly or softly and nervous habits such as fidgeting with your hands or inappropriate facial expressions.

4.  Assess Your Overall Appearance

If you ask job recruiters, they will give examples of job candidates wearing jeans, purple sweat suits and spike heels or sneakers. Other applicants weren't afraid to show pierced body parts and body tattoos. Still others chewed gum or showed up in rumpled clothes or with their pants falling down. Quite simply, if you make the wrong first impression, it doesn't really matter if you are the top candidate. You are going to be initially judged solely by your appearance. Since you are assumed to be looking your best, if your best isn't up to par with the organization's standards, you'll have a hard time convincing the hiring manager you are right for the job.

Dressing for success does not necessarily mean that you must go out and buy a $1,000 suit. Your interview attire should be appropriate for the job, the organization and the industry. Each organization has its own dress code, and it is essential that you know what the guidelines are before starting a new job.

For the interview, your clothes should be clean and pressed, and your shoes polished. You must look like you belong in the position, take your job seriously and are committed to the organization.

During your military career you had to prepare your uniform for an inspection as matter of demonstrating your discipline, attention to detail, personal and service pride. Take the same approach to your appearance in preparing your attire for an interview. See Attachment E, Job Interview Dress Code, for a list of what you should or should not wear.

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