The key to presenting your military experience during an interview is to research the company prior to the interview and practice making connections.  What does that mean?

Let’s focus on three (3) concepts.

1.      Translation of language.  How do we learn to speak their language?
2.      Preparation of what you want to say.  Think this through so we have a plan for what we want to present.  
3.      Why you want to say it.  Why am I speaking?  What is the end goal?

Consider this...

Have you ever had to brief a senior leader in the military?  The odds are the answer to that question is yes. 
Also, the odds are you prepared for that brief.  You didn’t just “wing it”.  You researched the hottest points that needed to be made relative to the subject you were briefing.  You spoke the language of the corporate culture i.e. the military by incorporating appropriate acronyms, rank, equipment, etc and you stayed on topic.  Had you gone into that brief and talked about everything except the subject they asked you to discuss, I don’t think there would have been a very positive outcome. Do you?

Guess what?  That is exactly how you are going to prepare and present yourself in the interview!


Research, research, research.

★ Research the company and see if there is any “business” terminology or “corporate” language that you should make connections with from your time in the service.   

★ Analyze the skill sets they are looking for and be prepared to tell the story specific to a time you used those very same skills. 

★ Just because the environment is different, doesn’t mean the skill is different.”

How do you conduct this research, you ask?  We start with the job description we are interviewing for.  Study it and consider it a question versus a job description.  The job description is asking you “do you know how to….?” “Have you ever conducted…?” “Are you experienced using xxxx equipment?”   By reading about the specific skills the job wants you to do, you can tailor your interview answers to match what you know they are looking for- and in the terminology they are looking for.  Once you have scrubbed the job description, you must take the time to look at the company’s website, LinkedIn page, and any articles on the internet. Find out as much as possible. And you can even research their competitors. 

We often hear military personnel say the hardest part is to change their military title to a civilian title because they feel it is not being honest.  Our advice, consider the areas of responsibilities and make the connections.  In other words, when in France, learn to speak French.  Not all areas of responsibilities will be a perfect match but it does give the interviewer an idea of the level of experience you are bringing to the table.

Avoid using the word “just” when translating your experience. “I just worked in the transportation section.” You didn’t just do anything- your service is something to be proud of and should be presented as such. We discuss this more in our recent article about Professional Introductions.


Examples of translation

  • Squad Leader (E5-E6)
  • First-Line Supervisor
  • Civilians, Officers, Enlisted, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Troops
  • Personnel staff; Crew; Team; Taskforce
  • Senior NCO/Senior Chief (E7-E9)
  • Operations Manager; Senior Advisor

Remember, the military is a business, a corporation and the language you learned was part of the corporate culture in that business.  The same goes for the positions you will be interviewing in the civilian market.

Prepare Your Selling Points

  • Before you head into the interview, be prepared with five key selling points that make you the best candidate for the job. And expand on the points. For example, it is not enough to say you have excellent communication skills. You must be prepared to back up the statement with an accomplishment highlighting your communications skills.
    You should also anticipate any concerns or reservations the interviewer may have about you.  Prepare your defense.  If you are applying for a job that “desires” a certain degree and you do not possess that degree, you may want to be ready to explain that your experience in the subject matter equals a degree. The idea here is to put their mind at ease about any concerns.
  • A key mindset for the interview is to think like the hiring manager.  If you were in their shoes, what would you want the candidate to bring to the table.  Make it clear to the interviewer that you are there to make their life better. What can you do for them? What do you bring to the table?
  • Be sure the interviewer knows that you want the job.  Be prepared to tell them what interests you about the position.
  • Be positive.  Be energetic.  From the moment you walk into the building, your energy and enthusiasm should show.  Studies have shown that interviewers may make up their minds about candidates in the first five minutes.  They spend the remaining time confirming their decisions.  So that first impression is crucial. 
  • Begin with a positive statement.  “I’ve been looking forward to this meeting. I think the company is doing great work, and I’m excited by the prospect of being able to contribute.” 
    *Note the use of the word “meeting” instead of “interview.”  Try to paint a picture of yourself already part of the team. 

Personal Appearance and Etiquette

  • A job interview is social.  You have an opportunity to demonstrate that working with you will be a pleasure.  You can show the employer your genuine, authentic self.  However, an interview is a professional meeting, so be sharp and efficient—details matter.  From your body language to your outfit, everything is providing information.
  • The interview normally lasts about an hour so the interviewer is paying close attention to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time.  Your appearance is the first impression you will make. The interviewer will notice if your appearance is professional, stylish, and, yes, even meticulous. Your language and etiquette will be the next things the interviewer will note. Always use professional language. 
  • Body language is another factor.  Show confidence. Your body language, when answering questions, can tell the interviewer a lot.  Make eye contact and sit forward in the chair. 

So to recap:
1.       Translate your military language by researching the company and learning the corporate culture norms.
2.      Prepare what you want to tell about yourself.  Practice this out loud- not just in your head.  There is something about processing your own voice that helps clarify you are saying what you mean to say.
3.      Give your listener a reason to want to listen.  Make connections.  Show them you are a benefit to their organization.

Information from ESEL Seminars.