Here are 3 interview strategies for transitioning military members


By Chad Storlie

Easy interview prep strategies perfect for veterans and military getting out.

I remember one of my first interviews as a 1st year MBA with a major, international automobile manufacturer.  I did horrible . . . horrible.  My responses were unstructured, I did not translate my military experience at all, my communication style was stiff, and I expected the interview team to have extensive knowledge of Special Operations.  I was the only member from my business school who did not get a second round call back.

After that interview, I learned that I had to apply my military experience to understand, plan, execute, and improve how I approached an interview. Just like rehearsing actions on the objective or planning a raid, an interview must be prepared for and practiced in order to be successful.  Interviews can be difficult, but they are immeasurably easier when you plan, prepare, and practice your interview performance.

The first part of interview preparation is to have an honest, personal, and approachable communication style. The acronym HEAT stands for Humility-Engagement-Attitude-Timely (HEAT) when creating an effective, comfortable, and honest interview style.  The use of the HEAT interview attributes will help ensure an effective communication exchange. Vets need to apply the following leadership attributes and interpersonal communication style while in an interview session.

The HEAT Interview Formula

H = Humility – A humble, but straightforward and honest style with clear, non-military language.
E = Engagement – Strong personal leadership presence in the interview process and ready to help the company.
A = Attitude – A willingness to translate and apply military skills and background to meet company needs.
T = Timely, Complete Response – The use of a complete and brief answer style to address all interview questions.

The HEAT communication style will help establish and maintain an engaged and effective communication style that is essential to a successful interview.

The second part of interview preparation is to have a standardized, consistent, and structured question response style to ensure interviewers understand and recognize all that you can bring to a company.  The use of a standard framework for responding to interview questions like the STAR format will ensure that you effectively relay how your military experience and personal values will be an immediate benefit for the company that hires you.

The STAR Interview Response Formula

S= Situation – Fully describe the setting, environment, living conditions, weather, and operating environment using simple, clear, and non-military language.  Provide details on what made the assigned task so challenging.
T = Task – Fully describe what you and your team were assigned to do as your mission and the way (s) you would measure the effectiveness of your mission.  Make sure you highlight road blocks and other challenges to success.
A = Actions – Discuss what you and your team did to have a successful outcome and the steps you took to understand, plan, and execute the plan to achieve your results.
R = Results – Discuss and provide the evaluation criteria before and after your actions and what the percentage change was in the evaluation criteria.  Showing your impact on a process to save money, create a new process, make something safer, or reduce risk are absolutely essential to convince an employer that your military skills and background will make their company better.

The STAR format is an easy to use and an easy to remember framework for answering an interview question.

The third area of interview preparation is the need to be able to answer these 10 questions employing the HEAT communication style attributes and in the STAR format.  The ability to pre create stories and answers in the STAR format using HEAT communication style attributes is critical preparation for a successful interview.  If you can have pre-prepared and pre-practiced responses to common interview questions

The top 10 interview questions for a military veteran

  1. What would your current boss say is a weakness of yours?
  2. How do you translate and apply your military experience and background to this position and company?
  3. Why did you choose this company and this industry?
  4. Describe a time when and how you overcame a failure.
  5. Describe a time when you led a cross functional team in a project.
  6. Describe a time when you made an unhappy customer happy.
  7. Describe a time when you used technology to improve a process.
  8. Describe a time when you created a new process and what problem did it solve.
  9. Describe a time how you dealt with and managed a bad boss.
  10. What would you change in this company today if you could?

Once you have these questions mastered you are ready to modify your response when you receive a question that you have not prepared.

A successful interview uses a relaxed and effective communication style combined with a structured, complete response to common interview questions.  The HEAT communication style combined with the STAR interview question response to The Top 10 Interview Questions will ensure an effective interview.  Have fun and be great!

Chad StorlieChad is the author of two books: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to BusinessSuccess.  Chad’s brand message is that organizations & individuals need to translate and apply military skills to business because they immediately produce results and are cost effective.  Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units.  He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States.  He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab.   Chad is also an adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, NE.  In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics.  He has been published in over 80 publications including The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today.  He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.

4 Comments

  1. Chad, Great article. Appreciate the practical and structured ways to improve interview skills. Any suggestions on low threat environments to practice these techniques?

      1. Hey Tom,

        This is from Chad…

        Thanks for the feedback. Veterati and American Corporate Partners (ACP) are two good mentoring programs to find a mentor and practice these techniques. Also, writing out responses to the common interview questions in a 5-6 sentence paragraph using the STARS format – Situation, Task, Actions, Results, and Skills used (STARS) is a great way to prep for an interview. Using the STARS format interview questions and finding a mentor to practice are high payoff and low threat.

        Have a great day,
        Danya

  2. Chad, this is brilliant and applicable in other situations. I was in a focus group with the new principal at my child’s school and after commenting, another parent (university professor) who knew I was retired military jokingly mentioned that he was impressed that I didn’t venture once into acronyms.

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