5 things veterans should not do at job interviews

Job interviews can be a daunting experience but with the proper preparation, you can learn strategies that can help you ace an interview.

There’s no such thing as a second chance to make a first impression so it’s critical that you take the time to do your research and create a battle plan that will help you overcome some of your interview weaknesses.

So you’ve landed an interview? Great! Now the real work begins. Here are some tips to help you prepare:

1. Don’t Be Late!

“If you’re on time, you’re late.” You’ve heard that countless times in your military career. It holds true today. In fact, if your interview is within reasonable driving distance, it’s a good idea to actually drive the route. As reliable as Google Maps is, it’s still a good idea to be prepared. Getting there early gives you time to relax, go over your interview notes one last time and use the bathroom to make sure you look squared away (be sure your shoes are clean and polished and you don’t have any food in your teeth!).

2. Don’t Criticize Past Employers

It’s an interview standard to be questioned about your previous employers. Even if you have legitimate grievances against a former boss or colleague, this is not the time to air them. Negativity, even when in tandem with your interviewer, is still negativity. Formulate how you can stay positive and try to turn the conversation to skills you learned and contributions you made.

3. Don’t Um and Ah

Let’s face it. Unless you were a PAO (Public Affairs Officer), you likely don’t have a great deal of experience public speaking. The good news is that you don’t need a college degree to become an excellent public speaker during interviews. Avoid ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, and other filler words as much as possible. If you are not quite sure of your next word, simply take a pause to think. If you need to, clarify the question with the interviewer to give yourself time to think.

In fact, a thoughtful pause might make the interviewer have the impression that you are really taking a moment to consider the question they are asking instead of just immediately rambling on with the first thing that pops into your head.

The key to mastering speaking for an interview is to practice. It’s highly recommended you practice in front of someone, or at the least, record yourself while answering some common interview questions. Keep practicing until you’re confident you can eliminate filler words from your conversation.

4. Don’t Give Generic Answers

Always, always, always be specific. If you say “I’m an excellent communicator” make sure you follow with specific examples on how you’ve demonstrated excellent communication skills. Anyone can rattle off a list of positive sounding traits, but you need to show them how you will be good for the role with evidence and examples.

For example, the question, “What makes you a good team player?,” shouldn’t just be answered with, “Well, I work good with others, I have a positive attitude, and I am a hard worker.” You should answer with a story about a project that you worked on with a team and the way you contributed to that team to successfully complete it.

5. Don’t Say You Have No Questions

Anytime you are asked if you have any questions, ask a question! During your interview preparation compile a list of questions you have about the company and the role. A couple of good fallback questions are “Why did you choose to work here?” or “What excites you most about the company’s future?” Your questions will indicate that you’ve thought more about what this job might be like or what you’re looking for in a job than just getting one for the paycheck. You can indicate more of what you’ll bring to the table. You also should avoid saying the following:

  • “Honestly” -- Any version of “honestly” including, “to tell you the truth” or “truthfully,” signals to the interviewer that what you said previously might have been misleading or untruthful. Deception experts listen for cues such as the word “honestly” to indicate a change of heart in the respondent’s message as if what they just said before wasn’t honest. While it is a subtlety, don’t take the chance that the interviewer would question what you said, casting a doubt on your confidence, information, or ability to relate to others.

  • “No… absolutely…” -- I have a friend who does this one constantly! You ask her, “Do you have time to help me with this?” and she replies, “No, absolutely I do!” Huh? It’s as if the “no” is a stall and the “absolutely I do” is the real response. To the listener, this prefacing statement is confusing and can disrupt the flow of the conversation. Your goal in an interview is to give thoughtful and focused responses to questions asked. If you need to take a few seconds to form a response, do that. Look off to the side (or upwards) and then respond clearly and with confidence.

  • “Between you and me…” -- In an interview, nothing should be considered private or confidential. If you aren’t comfortable sharing the information with your former employer, colleagues, or former C.O., don’t mention it. Prefacing with a statement like “between us” implies a level of trust and intimacy misplaced in a job interview.