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Top interview tips for your first civilian job

17 Nov 11:25 by Myles Kendrick

Top interview tips for your first civilian job

We’ve talked a lot recently about civilian job opportunities and how to prepare for civilian life after leaving the army.

From your transition timeline to the types of support on offer, there’s a lot to think about, and it can be difficult to know where to start – and this is especially true when it comes to the interview process.

You’ve created a new CV, decided on the industry you want to work in, nailed your cover letter and now landed yourself your first civilian interview.

But how do you prepare? From what to expect and how to handle your nerves to our tried and tested tips to ensure your interview is a success, read on to discover our expert ex-military interview advice... 

What to expect in a civilian interview

An interview is your chance to shine and to show your potential employer that you’re the right person for the job. When you interview with a civilian company, you must be able to explain what you know about the company, the position and why they should pick you over other candidates.

The key to acing any interview is preparation and confidence. Employers can spot unprepared candidates a mile away, so make sure you are thoroughly prepared and that you’ve done your research so you’re ready to impress.

If you can feel the pressure mounting, remember this: if you have been asked to come in for an interview, that means the employer is already impressed with what you have to bring to the table and wants to know more.

They already know you have the skills – so all you need to do now is confirm it!

How civilian interviews are different to what you’re used to in the army

Civilian interviews tend to be pretty different to what you’ve experienced in the military. For starters, civilian job interviews are, generally speaking, more relaxed than any interactions you will have had with military authority. So, swap the rigid posture for friendly and open body language. 

Whilst your potential employer will control the flow of the interview, civilian interviews are also intended to be a two-way conversation. This means you should expect to elaborate on your answers and ask questions in return to show you are eager and engaged.

So, with all this in mind, how can you make sure your first civilian interview goes off with a bang?

Six top tips for your first civilian job interview:

1. Watch your language!

One of the main things to keep in mind during your civilian interview is your language. Avoid using military jargon that could leave your interviewer feeling lost or confused, and make sure you translate your military experience into civilian terms.

Remember, you need to make sure that all your achievements in the army are relatable and relevant to the position, so be sure to review the job description again before the interview so you can have some well-rehearsed examples ready to go.

For example, your military experience might have seen you lead a 10-person combat team through five successful missions. But in civilian language, you successfully managed a 10-person team in a fast-paced environment. 

Make sure you translate other terms too. For example, soldiers become ‘staff’ or ‘employees’, tanks become ‘heavy equipment’, and uniforms and ammunition become ‘supplies’.

2. Identify your transferable skills

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: military skills are incredibly valuable in the civilian job market. You just need to know how to leverage them!

In your interview, it’s down to you to convince your potential employer that the skills you have picked up in the military will make you an asset to their company. So, focus on all the attributes you can bring to the role, and make sure you’ve prepared examples of how you’ve used these skills in action.

Discipline, being a team player, leadership skills, coping well under pressure – these are all useful in civilian roles too, whilst other transferable skills to highlight include problem-solving skills, communication skills, organisational skills, attention to detail and a strong work ethic.

3. Take ownership of your achievements

All too often, we see ex-military personnel speak in terms of ‘we’ and ‘us’ not ‘me’ and ‘I’. It makes sense – after all, the army is known for its camaraderie and working together as a team. But be careful not to diminish your achievements!

Your job interview is all about selling yourself to potential employers and showing them how you are right for the role, so take credit where it's due and talk about your accomplishments – trust us, your potential employer wants to hear about them!


4. Control your nerves

If you’re busy preparing for your first civilian job interview, it’s natural to be nervous. But without a doubt, the best way to handle your nerves is to thoroughly prepare.

In fact, think of your interview preparation as military training! And, as with military training, practice makes perfect when getting ready for the big day – whether that big day is the beginning of a mission or your interview.

Go over your responses to interview questions and practice summarising your military experiences and accomplishments in civilian terms. If you’re unsure what type of questions to prepare for, here are a few to start you off:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is it about this position that appeals to you?
  • How does your military background make you the right person for this role?

You could even ask a friend or family member to play the role of the interviewer so you can practice your answers as much as possible.

5. Dress the part

Finally, make sure you look the part. Dress appropriately (even if your interview is via video call!) and make sure you’re well groomed.

It can be difficult to know how to dress appropriately for an interview, especially if you’re used to wearing specific uniforms in the army, but your best bet is to dress smartly and wear professional colours such as black, navy or grey. No polo shirts and jeans for your first interviews, please!

6. And after the interview...

You did it! You’ve successfully navigated the civilian job opportunities available and undertaken your first job interview! There’s just one more thing to do before giving yourself a big high five: always follow up after your interview with an email to thank the interviewer for their time.

Not only will this reinforce how eager you are to be offered the job, but it will also jog the interviewer’s memory if there are a lot of candidates to consider and keep you at the front of their mind. 

Even if you aren't successful this time around, the action of following up will make sure your interviewer remembers you for all the right reasons – and could even result in them contacting you in the future should another suitable role come up.

How M&E can help

Preparing for a civilian job interview can be daunting, but the more you prepare, the better the outcome.  

At M&E Global, we are experts in helping ex-military personnel find the right civilian job opportunities, so if you are ready to make the jump and move back to civvy street, why not take a look at the exciting roles we currently have available for ex-military personnel? 

Alternatively, make sure you check out our expert guide for further advice about transitioning to civilian employment too. 

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