Practice Like You Play

We’ve all heard that ubiquitous axiom, regardless of whether preparing for a sporting event, academic competition, a major presentation to a boss or important group of people or any number of important events that require a high degree of preparation to ensure flawless execution. As a transitioning military officer, I would argue that interviewing for the role into which you will transition after the military requires the same advice – practice like you play.

Rearview of a businessman working on his laptop while talking to his colleague

Connect Your Background!

A common mistake I see military officers make when preparing for an interview is memorizing perfectly¬†scripted answers, then attempting to deliver these memorized, perfectly scripted answers to hiring managers when they are face-to-face. This does not work. Some typical feedback that companies give about candidates who do this is, “I did not really get to know him,” or “I didn’t feel like she was being genuine,” or “I never really felt like I got past the veneer.” Don’t get me wrong – I truly believe there is value in preparing scripted answers. Going through the process of writing out answers, following a specific format and including well thought out content allow you to get your ideas on paper in a succinct, specific and accurate manner. After conducting a thorough self-analysis, this is a logical and beneficial next step in the interview preparation process. It is not, however, the final step in the process.

The final step is moving from “canned” to “connecting,” i.e., having a conversation with a hiring manager where you are able to effectively translate your military experience and describe that experience in such a way that what you are saying directly connects to the job for which you are interviewing. As you read that sentence, my guess is you are thinking to yourself, “Duh. Of course I want to translate my military experience effectively. Of course I want to directly connect what I’ve done in the military to the specific job for which I am interviewing.” In my experience, most officers want to do that and some do it very well. Others, however, never quite get there. Here are some practical steps that you can take in your preparation to better connect in an interview:

  1. Practice with an actual job description. There are a lot of places to find job descriptions. We often post job descriptions on our social media pages like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  1. Once you have a job description, pick out the functions of the job and leave out the specifics of the actual company or work environment. This will help you to better envision yourself in the role, which is absolutely critical to connecting in an interview.
  1. Begin to make direct and overt connections between your experience and the specific functions of the role for which you are interviewing so when you are in an interview, you can tell the hiring manager of your experience as it specifically relates to the job for which you are interviewing.
  1. Use the job description to find specific reasons why you are interested in the role and why you would be a good fit. Remember your specific connection to the job description. Explaining your interest in the work is equally important as explaining your fit.

Perhaps the main reason I see officers fail to effectively connect in an interview is lack of preparation. This level of preparation takes time and effort. Most things in life that we value typically do.

Best,

Pete Van Epps