WASHINGTON — That first civilian job interview can make even the most seasoned combat veterans break out in a cold sweat.

“I’ve got junior officers and guys with 30 years confessing to me that they’re nervous about going in there,” said retired Col. Dick Crampton, director of the Military Officers Association of America’s jobs placement services. “It’s unfamiliar. They’re used to military life. So, they worry.”

But you shouldn’t.

“If you can go to war,” he said, “you can handle this.”

Here’s how:

Prepare for the interview“In the military, you don’t just rush into a battle,” Crampton said. “You prepare.”

That means putting together a job-specific resume for the interviewer. Get ready for questions tailored to that job and that company. Practice a personal sales pitch.

Crampton also suggests you see whether other veterans in your networking circles are already working at the company.

Ask them what to expect in the interview. See what the bosses are looking for, and play to those ideas.

Watch the jargon“Rifle platoon leader” sounds impressive, Crampton said, but it also sounds violent to civilians with no military experience. “Team leader” or “squad manager” sounds like someone with supervisory business skills who is ready to start work today.

“They need to talk about their communication skills, adaptability and leadership,” he said. “ ‘Leadership’ and ‘working as a team’ are concepts that are familiar in the civilian world. Platoons aren’t.”

Mention your previous security clearance, regardless of the jobCivilian employers who don’t really understand what “top secret” means still see a security clearance as proof of reliability and trustworthiness, Crampton said. Even if the position doesn’t require one, mentioning it can impress interviewers.

And if the position does require one, mention it as often as possible. Getting a new one can take months or years.

Ask questions, and listen to the answersIt’s basic reconnaissance work. Crampton said human resources officials who advise MOAA’s job seekers tell them to slip in a “stealth question” early in the interview, something like, “How will you measure success in six months for the person you hire for this position?” Then, actually listen to the answer.

Treat job fairs like job interviewsHow do you stand out in a sea of resumes and handshakes? By treating job fairs as more than just paperwork drop-offs, Crampton said.

Start preparing three weeks ahead, not the night before. Research the companies and their openings online. Talk to the representatives as if they’re the ones doing the hiring and not just corporate secretaries.

“If you come in and start talking about specific company goals and jobs, they’re going to pass out,” he said, laughing. “Or, they’ll at least remember you.”

Don't take the basics for grantedBeing in the service means showing up for duty on time, following orders and staying on task until a mission is complete. It also represents years of training and practical work experience.

Don’t be afraid to point that out, since the competition might be just out of college with no track record or life experience.

“[Veterans] need to concentrate on those strengths, talk about their communications skills, adaptability, that they’re goal-oriented and not focused on the clock,” he said.

shanel@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @LeoShane

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