Interview Questions for Veterans

When interviewing a former service member, your goal is to understand the various roles, responsibilities, skills, and experience the candidate has accumulated over the course of his or her military career. To do this, you may need to look well beyond the most recent position, going back 10 years.

Cpl. Todd Green, left, and Pfc. Kevin Adams on the South China Sea

Unlike a civilian resume that often culminates in the highest level of responsibility to date, the military resume is often a collection of seemingly unrelated experiences and must, therefore, be considered together as a whole.

Below is a list of questions (reprinted from my new book) you can select from, to assist you in understanding the candidate’s background and convey your interest in the world from which they are coming.

General opening questions can build rapport and sense where the individual is in his or her transition from military service to civilian employment. Begin with “I know leaving the military can be a big transition . . .”

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  • How is it going, separating from military service?
  • How has the adjustment been?
  • What has been the biggest surprise about the civilian workplace?
  • What opportunities are you looking forward to taking advantage of as a civilian employee?
  • What challenges do you foresee as a new civilian employee?

For each job over the past 10 years, ask:

  • How would you describe this position in layman’s terms?
  • What was your primary mission in this job?
  • What did it take to accomplish this mission?
  • What were the key activities you performed, and in what circumstances/conditions?
  • What people or resources were you responsible for in this role?
  • What were the greatest challenges in the role?
  • What is an example of a time that everything went as planned?
  1. What was your contribution?
  2. What did you learn from the experience?
  3. How did you incorporate what worked and what you learned?
  • What is an example of a time that things did not go as planned?
  1. What went wrong?
  2. What did you do, and what was your contribution?
  3. What did you learn from the experience?
  4. What did you change or do differently as a result of this experience?
  • What aspects of this role or job would you like to find in a civilian position?
  • What aspects of this role or job would you prefer not to perform in a civilian position?

General questions to ask include:

  • How would you approach a situation in which… (describe something “typical” of the job the candidate is applying for; avoid irrelevant questions that may come across as setups)?
  • What kinds of things did you coordinate and accomplish in the community (e.g., community social events, charitable projects, leadership roles)?
  • Looking across your recent military work experiences, what key knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences would you say are most valuable?
  • Setting aside the specific job you were required to do, what activities do these knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences prepare you to do?

Emily King, a nationally recognized expert on the transition from military service to civilian employment, is founder of the consulting firm Military Transitions and author of the new book Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing & Retaining Veterans (AMACOM 2011).

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2 Comments on “Interview Questions for Veterans

  1. You will come across some tricky interview questions when it comes time to interview for a job. It may seem as though some job interview questions are designed to put you “on the spot.” To a certain extent they are.Peculiar and indiscriminate interview questions may not seem politically correct, but there is always an interviewer ready to throw one at you, and they expect an answer as well.

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