Many civilian employers have admitted challenges when it comes to evaluating a veteran during a job interview. This is often because veterans have difficulty explaining how their military experience relates to the needs of the civilian employer. Additionally, while veterans will be quick to praise their team or unit, they are typically not self-boastful in interviews, so civilian employers can often feel like veteran candidates are not “selling themselves.”
It is important to keep in mind that the concept of professional presentation is often different for former military personnel than for civilians. Military personnel (particularly those recently separated/discharged from military service) will often present themselves with eyes forward, back straight and using “Sir” and “Ma’am” vocabulary (often without much smiling). This behavior may be misperceived as cold, distant, unapproachable or demonstrating a lack of social skills. While this is generally not the case, these perceptions have caused many service members to be discarded early in the interview process.
Employers should recognize that former military personnel may need permission to “speak freely” to create a comfort level where they can appear in the most positive light. Hiring managers should be encouraged to be patient with these candidates and to “dig deep” with follow up questions to find qualities that are not apparent at first glance. It is worth remembering that veteran candidates, unlike many civilian candidates, may not be accustomed to interviewing and may require a little latitude.
Know What You Can and Should Not Ask During an Interview
First and foremost, interviewing a veteran or wounded warrior is no different than interviewing any other candidate. It is important to ask all questions of all candidates, without exception. A good interviewing practice is to ask all candidates the following question: “Have you read the job description? Yes or no — can you, with or without a reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the job?” You are not asking the candidate to disclose whether or not they have a disability but are ensuring they can perform the essential functions of the job. In addition, you make it clear that as an employer you understand this process and are not likely to discriminate due to disability.
Great questions to ask veterans can include:
- What is in the job description that interests you most?
- Can you, with or without a reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the job?
- What type of training and education did you receive in the military?
- Were you involved in the day-to-day management of people or supplies?
Questions you should NEVER ask veterans include:
- What type of discharge did you receive?
- Are you to be called up for duty anytime soon?
- Did you experience any combat operations?
- How could you leave your family while you were deployed?
- Have you ever killed anyone?
- Do you have post-traumatic stress disorder?
Making a Decision
If you feel like the veteran you interviewed for the position is simply not the right fit, you shouldn’t feel obligated to hire a veteran just because they are veteran. However, you do need to take special factors into consideration when it comes to making a final decision on whether you should hire a veteran:
- Did the veteran progress throughout his/her military career?
- Identify the strengths such as leadership, accountability and team building
- Look for compatibility — did the veteran match their military skills with the position?
- Remember veterans have a myriad of soft skills, like leadership and flexibility
- Veterans possess skills that can make them some of your best employees
Make sure that whatever your decision for hiring, that you hire the veteran because they are the best candidate. In the end, it will be the most beneficial to the employer and employee alike.
Sources: Obama White House Archives, Department of Veteran Services Ohio