Interviewing Tips for U.S. Veterans

9 interviewing tips for transitioning U.S. veterans: mastering the civilian job interview

Transitioning from military service to a civilian career is a significant step for US veterans. One of the most critical stages in this transition is the job interview. For many veterans, civilian job interviews can be a new terrain, requiring a different approach compared to their military experience. This comprehensive guide offers nine essential interviewing tips for transitioning US veterans, aiming to help them navigate this crucial phase successfully.

1. Understand the Civilian Job Market

Research Industry Norms

Before attending any interview, it’s crucial to understand the norms and expectations of the civilian job market. Research the industry you’re interested in, focusing on the work culture, common practices, and the professional demeanor expected in interviews.

Align Military Experience with Civilian Roles

Identify how your military experience and skills can be beneficial in a civilian context. Understand the parallels between your military role and the civilian position you are applying for, and be ready to discuss these in the interview.

2. Translate Military Experience Effectively

Avoid Jargon

One of the key challenges for veterans is to avoid military jargon that civilian interviewers may not understand. Translate your experience into terms that resonate with civilian employers, focusing on transferable skills such as leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving.

Highlight Transferable Skills

Emphasize skills gained in the military that are valuable in civilian jobs. This includes leadership, discipline, strategic planning, and the ability to work under pressure.

3. Prepare for Common Interview Questions

Anticipate Standard Questions

Prepare for standard interview questions such as “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “Why are you interested in this role?” Tailor your responses to reflect your skills and experiences.

Practice Behavioral Questions

Be prepared for behavioral interview questions. These questions require you to describe past experiences and how you handled specific situations. Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to structure your answers.

4. Conduct Mock Interviews

Practice with a Mentor

Conduct mock interviews with a mentor or friend, preferably someone with experience in the civilian job market. This practice can help you refine your answers and get comfortable with the interview format.

Feedback and Improvement

Seek feedback on your interview performance and work on areas that need improvement. Pay attention to not just what you say, but also how you say it, including your body language and tone.

5. Dress Appropriately

Understand Dress Codes

Research the company’s culture to understand appropriate dress codes for the interview. In most cases, business professional attire is recommended, but some industries may have more relaxed dress codes.

First Impressions Matter

Remember that first impressions are crucial. Dressing appropriately shows respect for the interviewer and demonstrates your seriousness about the position.

6. Showcase Soft Skills

Communication Skills

Demonstrate effective communication skills. Be clear, concise, and articulate in your responses. Listening is also a critical part of communication, so be attentive to the interviewer’s questions and comments.

Adaptability and Teamwork

Highlight your adaptability and ability to work in a team. Share examples from your military career where you successfully adapted to new situations or worked collaboratively.

7. Ask Insightful Questions

Prepare Questions in Advance

Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer. This shows your interest in the role and the company. Questions could be about the company culture, growth opportunities, or specific aspects of the job.

Engage in the Conversation

Asking questions also turns the interview into a two-way conversation. It helps you gather important information about the company and the role, aiding in your decision-making process.

8. Follow-Up After the Interview

Send a Thank-You Note

Send a thank-you note or email within 24 hours of the interview. Express your gratitude for the opportunity and reiterate your interest in the role.

Keep the Communication Open

A follow-up keeps the communication line open and can keep you top of mind for the interviewer. It also demonstrates your professionalism and courtesy.

9. Handle Rejection Positively

Learn from the Experience

If you face rejection, use it as a learning experience. Reflect on the interview and consider areas for improvement.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Stay positive and persistent in your job search. Each interview is a learning opportunity and brings you closer to finding the right job.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: How can I best describe my military experience in a civilian job interview?

A1: Focus on the transferable skills you gained in the military, such as leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving. Avoid military jargon and give examples that illustrate how these skills can be applied in a civilian context.

Q2: What should I do if I don’t understand a question during an interview?

A2: If you don’t understand a question, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for clarification. This shows your interest in providing a thoughtful response and your attention to detail.

Q3: How can I deal with interview nerves?

A3: Practice is key to dealing with nerves. The more you prepare and practice, the more confident you will feel. Also, remember that it’s normal to be nervous, and interviewers expect candidates to have some level of anxiety.

Q4: Is it appropriate to discuss salary in the first interview?

A4: It’s usually best to wait for the interviewer to bring up the topic of salary. If they ask about your salary expectations, be prepared with a researched response.

Q5: How long should I wait to follow up after an interview?

A5: Send a thank-you note within 24 hours. If you haven’t heard back regarding the next steps within the timeframe mentioned during the interview, it’s appropriate to send a polite follow-up email.


Mastering the civilian job interview is a crucial step in the transition from military to civilian employment. By understanding the civilian job market, effectively translating military experience, preparing thoroughly, and showcasing your skills and professionalism, you can navigate this phase successfully. Remember, each interview is an opportunity to learn and grow. Stay positive, persistent, and open to feedback, and you will find a role that suits your skills and career aspirations.

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