Step 06

Interview Like a Champ

How to answer any post-military job interview question

Interviews are all about picking the person who’s best qualified for the job, right?

Not quite.

Let’s think about how humans actually size each other up. A large field of research shows that most judgments boil down to two key factors :

  1. Competence - Can this person do the job?
  2. Warmth - Would I want to work with this person?

Which means that, instead of trying to cram every last fact and figure into your brain before stepping into the interview room, you really just need to focus on how you’ll come off through these lenses:

  • Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about?
  • Do I seem like someone who’d be easy and enjoyable to work with?

Here’s how you prepare to ace these two tests:

Answering Interview Questions with Competence

  • Start by understanding the job. Go back to the job description and make sure you have a clear grasp on what every key skill and requirement is about (but don’t worry if you’re not an expert yet). And if you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to reach out to the industry pros you spoke to during your fit-finding mission. For example, if you’re applying for a Project Management position that talks about leading Scrum sprints, chances are that by digging into what those entail, you’ll find something in your military experience that matches up.
  • Next, understand the company. Specifically, what are they trying to achieve via this job? You can get a better sense of this by walking through the job description with the insiders who helped refer you in. For instance, an insider may tell you that her company is hiring for a Project Manager because they’ve been shipping all their products six months behind schedule and are falling behind a major competitor.
  • Finally, understand yourself. You need to build a bridge between doing the job and accomplishing the company’s goals and the way you do that is by telling related stories from your career. So start by thinking of all your experiences that are relevant to the job and then see if you can tie those back to outcomes that the company cares about. To go back to the Project Management example, you may recall a time in the Air Force where you oversaw a complicated launch but, thanks to your careful management, you got the project completed ahead of schedule. This kind of story screams competence since it illustrates that you can both do this job and the get the very results the company needs!

Answering Interview Questions with Warmth

  • The #1 thing you can do to win over your interviewer is to bring positive energy to the conversation. While this may seem like an amorphous point, try this experiment: Think of anyone you know. Now, does that person have positive or negative energy? See - it really is something that we instinctively judge and remember about every single person we meet. So no matter you natural predisposition, know that you need to manage that energy impression in the interview carefully, using the following tips:
  • Before you walk into the interview, think of all the things that genuinely have you excited about the role. Whether it’s the potential to work on something meaningful to you or just the chance to start something new and different in your life, beginning with this frame will color everything about your presentation.
  • The minute the interview door opens, smile. As cliched as this sounds, it does two things. First, it forms that critical first impression for the interviewer at the exact moment they’re sizing you up. And second, even if you have to force the smile, it fools your body into releasing dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin that will get you energized for the conversation.

  • Throughout the conversation, make sure that your goal is to win a friend, not to come across as perfect. If you apply the former lens, you’ll naturally do all the things that win others over. You’ll listen carefully, be self-deprecating, and ask good questions - just like you did every time you changed jobs in the military. Whereas, if you try to focus on perfection, you’ll talk too much, give out canned answers, and freeze up when the conversation goes off-script.

  • While how you act is the primary determinant of warmth, how you communicate is a close second. And the judgement here really comes down to two key aspects of your answers:

    • Are they organized? If your answers flow logically, your interviewer will think, “Ah - I get it. Working with this person’s going to be a breeze.” So make sure that every single answer uses this kind of logical format: Here’s the challenge -> Here’s what I did about it -> Here’s the result. So instead of saying “I did blah blah blah, then I did blah blah blah, oh by the way did I mention blah blah blah?” (which is the surest path to “Next candidate please!”), you say “We had to get the supplies to Baghdad in 24 hours - which wouldn’t have been possible normally, so I leveraged a relationship with a key ally that I had built up over the last three years, and we got all the equipment there overnight.” Cause -> Effect -> Job Offer!

    • Are they concise? But even if your answers are logical, you can still sink your candidacy by not keeping them tight. Especially in a phone interview where your body language isn’t on display to keep the interviewer engaged, any answer over 2-3 minutes feels like pure torture. So prove that you’re going to be a colleague they can trust not to waste their time by always setting a mental timer for each of your answers. And then, if you catch yourself not building momentum towards clear results, well, get to it!

Put Your Interview Preparation to the Test

Now that you’ve prepared for the big day, it’s time to put your preparation to the test against the two key metrics of success: Warmth + Competence. To do so, just follow this gameplan:

  • Get a really good friend to help you out. While the ideal person either has experience interviewing or working in your desired industry, the most important trait is that they can be honest with you. So just make sure you have a strong enough relationship that they can give you blunt feedback (just like the hiring manager is going to bluntly assess you in her post-interview write-up).

  • Give the friend a list of these common interview questions and a list of questions candidates for this job have been asked previously (you can find these on Glassdoor). But ask them to select questions from the lists on their own. As mentioned above, you don’t want to come off as too robotic so don’t try to have an answer for every possible question in advance.

  • Set-up your phone’s camera to record your face and upper body during the practice interview. This is the exact same view that your real interviewer will have so you want to get a complete read on both your answers and your body language.

  • After each answer, have the friend give you feedback on the two essential questions (Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? + Do I seem like someone who’d be easy and enjoyable to work with?). And ask them to give you really detailed reasons for their assessment. For example, “I wasn’t convinced that you knew what you were talking about since you didn’t have any results to show when you talked about your project management experience.” Or “I got the sense that you might kind of be a jerk because you had a frown on your face every time you talked about your teammates.” And be sure to capture all of this feedback for your post-interview review.

  • Afterwards, sit down with the feedback and the recording and intentionally write down exactly how you’re going to course correct: “When I tell my project management story, I’m going to be sure to end with the time and cost savings I helped the team achieve.” Or “When I talk about working with the team, I’ll be certain to praise my crew for going above and beyond.”

  • Then, go back to your friend for another round and have them really dig in mercilessly on your weak spots (e.g., if your Competence seemed weak the first time due to a lack of details, they should drill down and force you to prove your impact this time around). Only when you’re consistently getting thumbs up for Warmth and Competence after each answer can you be confident that you’re ready for the real thing.

For more interview tips, including what to do at the end of the interview, check out Shift’s complete interview guide. And then get ready to walk into that interview room with a smile on your face and conviction in your heart - i.e., the walk of someone who’s about to get their dream job!

Evaluate + Negotiate Like an Insider

How to negotiate salary and pick the right post-military job for you

Step 07