Veterans: Learn to Tell Your Story in a Job Interview

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This article first appeared in U.S. News & World Report, May 16, 2016

Have you ever wondered what the hiring manager across the table is thinking during your job interview? The chances are good that they are asking themselves two questions: "Who is this person, really?" and "Can they fix my problem or solve my need?"

As the discussion continues, the interviewer's inner dialog will perhaps expand to: "Can I see myself working with this person?" and "Will this candidate cause me any difficulties?"

In order to successfully navigate the interview, the veteran candidate needs to show that they can do the job, will do the job and that they will fit in the team and company cultures. The candidate must know their own story cold and show how that narrative addresses the interviewer's questions.

For military veterans, telling your story is an especially critical task. Coming from an often misunderstood, underappreciated or plain incomprehensible series of experiences, it is up to the veteran job seeker to tell their story in a way that resonates with the interviewer.

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As with any story, a job seeker must address the who, what, when, where, and why of their veteran service. This does not have to be exhaustive, just logically consistent and compelling. Focus on the facts and feelings that match the job and career for which you are applying.

For example, a veteran applying for a technology role might say: "I joined the Navy for three reasons: the satisfaction of national service, to travel the world, and to get first class technical training and experience. I realized all of those goals and more during three deployments to the Pacific and Indian oceans on a cruiser, working as a radar technician. I rose three rank levels by passing examinations and receiving stellar reviews from my seniors. I learned how to keep complex machinery working but also how teamwork and creative thinking are critical to performance. I can honestly say that the Navy provided me with the best possible preparation for the role you seek to fill."

Remember, the key is explaining your story in a way that is compelling and appropriate to the company need. You don't need translator software and you must avoid the use of too much military jargon and acronyms.

Each personal narrative needs the following subjects addressed:

Who: Who are you? What is important to you? Are you self-aware and comfortable in your own skin?

What: What are you good at doing? How can you prove that to the interviewer?

When/Where: What are the basic facts of your relevant experience?

Why: Why did you do the things you did and why should the interviewer care?

Use non-cliched headlines and soundbites that the interviewer can write down and digest. For example, goal-oriented, team-oriented, competitive and great attention to detail are all phrases that connote certain desirable traits (if accurate). Think like a campaigning politician who has only a few sentences to get an idea across. Don't waste time or words when you can get right to the point.

In short, winning a job is about establishing rapport and demonstrating how you are the solution to the problem presented by the employer. To do this, you have to be able to tell your story in a way that is compelling, accurate and pithy. No one can ever know your personal story as well as you can. Being good at knowing who you are and where you fit in the world of work is an art, but is one that benefits from preparation and practice.

Many employers are excited about hiring military veterans, but they are going to leave the work of explaining the connection to you. Know who you are, what you can do, and how you fit. Learn to articulate your value and the world of work will be yours for the taking.

By Peter Gudmundsson on Friday June 3, 2016