Was it something you said in the interview that made the job offer disappear? None of the thousands of young enlisted, junior officers, mid-level pros, senior leaders, veterans or spouses I have worked with would insult an interviewer or networking contact deliberately. You never would tell an interviewer that their baby was ugly, point out that their mother wears combat boots or pinch them and make them cry. You are all too classy for that.
So Why Didn’t You Get the Job?
Well, someone else might have been more qualified, or the company could have hired from within. Then again, you might have insulted the interviewer accidentally.
As Military.com’s transition master coach, I cringe every time I hear about one of these easy-to-avoid errors. To help explain the misunderstandings between employers and job hunters, I reached out to military transition coach Bill Kieffer, author of Military Career Transition: Insights From the Employer's Side of the Desk.
Since Kieffer served in the Army for 12 years before becoming a senior HR executive for three multibillion dollar companies, he does a really good job of explaining what those employers are thinking and how they make their decisions about hiring veterans and spouses. The man pulls no punches. In a recent interview, Kieffer told me about the most common insults you could be serving up to civilian hiring managers without even knowing it.
1. Your Baby Is Ugly.
When you have jumped out of planes, sailed the seven seas, brought water to refugees during a natural disaster and literally worked for world peace, the job in the ‘burbs might look mundane in comparison. Letting that show in an interview is a big mistake.
“Don’t underestimate how important our work is to us,” Kieffer said. “It is our life’s work, our source of income, our purpose. Don’t call our baby ugly if you want to be part of the family.”
2. Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.
A big pet peeve of many networking contacts and hiring managers is when a service member tells them, “I can do anything.” You think this is showing your versatility and adaptability, two soft skills that hiring managers say they want. So what is their problem?
“We don’t hire people for ‘anything’; we hire for specific things,” Kieffer told me. “When you come in and expect me to identify a place for you, it implies you don’t know what I want and that you did not even take the trouble to find out.”
It also can imply that compared to what you have done in the military, you think anything the civilian world offers would be easy. Ouch.
3. Can’t You Speak English?
Kieffer calls it Mil-speak or Veteranese; you call it English. When someone asks you what you did in the military, you might say something like, “I was a 91 Alpha 5 Papa 3 Romeo.” When they prod, you come up with something more helpful like, “I was a tactical, multifunctional logistics officer: airborne and nuclear, biological and chemical certified.”
You mean well, but this does not help a civilian employer at all. They were hoping you would use keywords from their job description to highlight how your experience exactly matches their needs.
“If you really want to offend a connection, ignore their language,” Kieffer said. “Learn some of the most common terms like P&L [profit and loss] and ROIC [return on invested capital]. Know the difference between marketing and sales. Know what they mean by B2B [business to business] or B2C [business to consumer].”
It is just like learning a few common phrases in the local language when you are stationed overseas. Think of it as the respect you are paying the job.
4. You Take an Hour to Cook Minute Rice, Dude.
New veterans working in the civilian world complain about how slow the work is. While the civilian world is not the military, you can help your future self by paying attention to the optempo in your target industry.
Know that all civilian jobs have an optempo. The company or industry can be fast-paced and dynamic, or more stable, predictable and slower to change.
“The challenge comes when your optempo doesn’t align with the optempo of your new company,” Kieffer said. “You can find yourself either ahead of or behind the power curve. You can be restrained by the bridle of others’ slower pace or stung by the driver’s crop as they push you to move faster. Do your homework.”
5. Let Me Tell You What You Want.
When a hiring manager is interviewing you, they want to know whether you can do the work and fit in well on the team. As a courtesy and an efficiency, they tell you exactly what they want in the job description. Think of these items as an “ask.”
“The person to be hired is the person who best answers all of those asks,” Kieffer said. “If you really want to offend someone in an interview, don’t answer the asks. Just talk about what you have done, as if the hiring manager should be able to make the connections.”
Even if you do not have the exact experience the interviewer asks about, you can say something like, “I have not done exactly that work, but let me tell you something I have done that I think is directly relevant or is an example of the skills you are asking about.” Always bring it back to what they specifically said they wanted.
6. Hi, I’m Captain Obvious.
A hundred years ago, the kind of person who was presumptuous and offered advice or opinions beyond their sphere of knowledge would be called an ultracrepidarian. Now you call that person Captain Obvious.
Captain Obvious strikes in an interview or on the job when suggesting things you would change about a civilian company right away. “When I got out, I did it, too,” Kieffer said. “I told them everything we needed to fix. I was right, but I was so direct and so eager, and it hurt their feelings.”
If the interviewer does ask what you would change about the company, you can answer the question with confidence if you have done your research and can point to an outside industry source.
“Civilian employers are looking for military members who can show they have the experience to do the work well, deliver results quickly and fit in with the team without being a jerk,” Kieffer said. “You have to find a way to honor your past, and you have to figure out how to leverage your past in a whole new future.”
You are a class act. You can fill this tall order with a little research, a little insight and the ability to find beauty in even the ugliest baby.
Find out the secrets to getting a civilian hiring manager to see your true value. We teach you proven career-level strategies to help you obtain your next, high-impact job. Our next transition master class is How to Get a Government Job on Aug. 31. Sign up today.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com’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 SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.