From military personnel to civilian professional

How to navigate the interview

2 min read

October 2021

Man wearing hands-free headset, sitting in a home office looking at open laptop

You’ve defended our country and are ready to put your military skills to use in corporate America’s civilian workforce. The transition from active military to civilian employee can be challenging. And with an average of 200,000 veterans transitioning out of active service each year, the job market is incredibly competitive. Arming yourself with some insider information can help give you an edge when it comes time to interview. Having worked as a corporate manager turned recruiter for the past 20+ years, I’ve got the scoop on some common interview questions you might hear and tips on how to translate your military skills to nail the answers.

Be prepared to…

Define your “customers” and tell how you meet their unique needs: Regardless of your position in the military, you had customers. They may have been internal or external, military or civilian. Before your interview, think about the people who were dependent on you to do your job as your customers. Be able to provide a few specific examples of exemplary service you provided or ways in which you met their needs. For example, the shop supervisor next door could have been your customer if they were dependent on you or your crew to complete a task. Likewise, the civilian DOD employee could have been your customer in some manner. If you happened to work in M.W.R., your customer could have been military family members.

Share an example that demonstrates your ability to provide meaningful feedback to others: This request might seem difficult because men and women in the military are generally expected to follow orders and commands with little to no discussion. To be able to thoughtfully answer this question, consider any instances when you were ever asked by a commanding officer to provide feedback on another person in your squadron or platoon, or if you provided your opinion as to whether a piece of equipment was in proper working order for use. Thinking about “providing feedback” in a broad sense should help you identify some personal examples that easily address questions like this.

Share an example where you questioned someone’s authority: Explain how you approached that conversation. There is a very clear chain of command in the military; questions or discussion when an order is given are not entertained. So coming up with an example for this type of question may be difficult. Was there a time when an aircraft was unfit to fly and you provided that feedback? Or perhaps there was an occasion when your commanding officer asked your opinion about a situation and it differed from theirs. Your best responses here will provide insight into your overall work ethic as well as your ability to work under the direction of others and handle tough or uncomfortable situations. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you can proactively identify and correct potentially damaging situations.

Share examples of your ability to work within a team: In most positions in the civilian workforce, you’ll be expected to work as part of a team. This question provides a great opportunity for you to highlight your willingness to work with others and explain anything you specifically did to help your group achieve its goals. Examples here could come from helping a fellow recruit in boot camp understand the training better, working out with a friend to help them pass their physical readiness test, or working as a team to accomplish a mission. Your potential employer needs to know that you can contribute meaningfully in a team setting, and that you can communicate effectively with others to accomplish team goals and directives.

Finally, a quick tip about your resume: It’s what’s going to help you get an interview in the first place. When developing it, remember that many of those hiring for their companies will be unfamiliar with military “lingo” and acronyms. State your rank, job title, and duties in layman’s terms. Your goal is to ensure that someone with no military experience will have no difficulty understanding what you did while in the military…and easily see how that experience can translate to a corporate job.

Julie Magruder has 20 plus years of recruiting experience at Progressive. During that time, she’s experienced first-hand the many opportunities for personal and professional development.

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