How to Brilliantly Interview Veterans and Transitioning Military Members (and Meet Your Veteran Hiring Goal)

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Interviewing military and veteran candidates for a job seems easy. What is all the fuss? Ask them a few interview questions. Get some straight answers. Put together an offer. Bring them aboard. Imagine how happy the human resources (HR) department will be when the company hits's 25 Top Veteran Employers list. Surely, there will be a raise in it for you!

But first, you must actually interview transitioning military members and veterans. As a recruiter, sourcer or hiring manager, I bet you see military candidates who say they can do anything, even when they have no experience in your industry. I bet you get candidates who answer behavioral interview questions with a yes or no and think that answer is complete. I bet you see candidates who talk for 10 minutes straight without taking a breath. This is frustrating and does not lead to a lot of veteran hires.

The Best Way to Interview Veterans and Transitioning Military

Our free master class How to Nail the Job Offer is already helping thousands of veterans improve their interview skills. How can you change your own interview skills so you get a better interview out of a veteran or transitioning military member and increase the hiring rate?

Permission to Nudge

As talent and leadership adviser Jordan Burton wrote in the LinkedIn Talent Blog this month, you probably need a kickoff module to shape the interview better.

One of the most helpful ideas for veteran candidates Burton presents is to ask for permission to nudge as the interview begins. He suggests you say something like, "I'm excited to learn more about you. I'm hoping we can cover a lot of ground. Would it be OK with you if I jump in or nudge the conversation along from time to time to make sure we hear your full story?"

This kind of behavior sets the tone for the job candidate and lets them know you are planning to interrupt not to be rude, but to keep the interview on course. This is great for veterans because they want to give you the right answer, and it is helpful to know when they need to course-correct.

The Six-Word Fix

In working with our pool of 16,000+ veteran job hunters, we have found that many transitioning military members do not understand the purpose of behavioral interview questions -- the ones that start with, "Tell me about a time ...," or, "Give me an example ..."

If you say, "Tell me about a difficult problem you had to solve with other people," they are going to tell you about the most difficult problem ever solved. It may be impressive, global and history-making. The problem is that it will likely have nothing to do with the job at hand.

The solution? Add six little magic words to each behavioral question: as it relates to this job.

A couple of examples:

  • Tell me about a difficult problem you had to solve with other people, as it relates to this job.
  • Tell me about something you are proud of, as it relates to this job.

Break Free from the Jargon Box

The other sin veterans are most likely to commit is to give you an answer full of military jargon. They do not do it on purpose. It is such a part of their lives, they do not hear it.

They talk about targets and foreign nationals and executing an objective. They talk about COs, XOs, PCS and TDYs. It is probably as jarring to you as it is for them when you talk about CRMs, KPIs, CTR, B2C and P&L.

Help them out by just asking what a certain term means. Most recruiters and hiring managers hate to do this. No one wants to look like they don't understand something. But asking what a term means signals to veteran candidates that they need to be more self-aware and clean up the jargon.

I have a three-strike rule with this one. When you ask the candidate what some term means twice during the conversation, the best candidates catch on quickly and start leaving those words out, which is a good sign.

If you have to ask three times and they continue to give jargon-laden answers, that is telling you something about their readiness for employment.

Veterans want the interview to go as brilliantly as you do. They want to give the answers you are looking for. Tweaking your own interview skills can make the difference it takes to identify the perfect (military) candidate for your company.

Jacey Eckhart is's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, Reach her at

Find Your Next Job Fast

Transitioning military, veterans and spouses may be qualified for the job, but they are missing the secrets of civilian hiring. Find out everything you need to know with our FREE master class series, including our next class. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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