candidate experience

Too Humble to Hire? Refining Your Interview Questions to Serve Veterans

Too Humble to Hire? Refining Your Interview Questions to Serve Veterans

Last year, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans hit an all-time low, declining to 3.8% from 12.1% in 2011. A strong employment market is undoubtedly driving the numbers, as is the value former military members offer civilian employers. According to Orion Talent’s Veteran Hiring Survey: Exploring the Bottom-line Value of Hiring Veteran Talent, nearly 80% of respondents “pointed to excellent qualifications, composure, productivity, skills and leadership” as factors in hiring veterans. Better interview-to-hire ratios and retention rates offer further evidence that these individuals represent the high-quality candidates talent acquisition seeks.

But the Veteran Hiring Survey also found that “effectively exploring the candidate’s military background and qualifications” and “translating military skill sets into civilian skill sets” were among the top challenges standing in the way of successful veteran hiring initiatives. While technology like Google Cloud Talent Solution is bridging the gap for the latter by using AI to more effectively translate military codes into civilian job skills, there remains a need to identify better strategies for talking through the candidate’s background.

Veterans Aren’t Primed to Promote

Justin Constantine, author of From We Will to At Will: A Handbook to Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, believes there’s one reason in particular that makes this so difficult. As he points out in a recent Q&A with SHRM, unlike the civilian workforce, the military doesn’t emphasize networking and, as such, many veterans simply aren’t “used to talking themselves up and bragging about their accomplishments.”

The result is that veterans are far likelier than their civilian counterparts to struggle when asked by interviewers to talk about their greatest achievements in the military. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Talent acquisition can refine their questions, structuring them to make veterans more comfortable with promoting their abilities. For example:

• Start more broadly with unit-focused questions. Instead of beginning with a question focused on the individual, begin by asking veterans about their unit’s successes. Then, as you sense they are growing more comfortable, dig deeper by asking what they learned from their experiences, followed by what role they played or how they supported any of the situations described.

• Keep the emphasis on “learnings” vs. “accomplishments.” Ask veterans what their military experiences taught them about leadership versus a more direct question about how they were an effective leader in the military. You can also inquire about the leaders they admired while in the military and why to uncover the leadership style they aspire to most.

• Ask about a specific scenario rather than posing an open-ended question. Remember, many of the candidates you interview won’t have any civilian experiences to which they can relate. The daily customs and ways of getting things done that we take for granted are just as foreign to them as their day-to-day experience in the military is to us. Rather than asking how they would apply their military experiences to your workplace, which they have yet to understand, provide candidates with a specific scenario and ask them how they would react if faced with the situation.

While some veterans may adapt easily to the experience of interviewing for a civilian job, others will find it difficult. Adjusting your interview questions accordingly allows you to uncover a candidate’s strengths while putting them at ease, which will result in better outcomes for all involved. Plus, you’ll deliver veterans a better candidate experience, leaving them with a positive impression of your organization.


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