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Service Members, Get Hired! Part V(d): Interview Performance


Welcome back! We're biting off a lot of material this week, so let’s cut straight to the chase!

Introduction / Elevator Speech

As we discussed last week, you will often be asked to tell the interviewer(s) a little bit about yourself. This is your chance to share your background and what skills and passions that background has cultivated in order to excel at the job you’re interviewing for. It needs to be concise – 90-120 seconds max – so while I’m not saying you can’t include personal facts like where you’re from or marital status, I would stay away from listing off all your children's birthdays and the dog’s name for the sake of time and brevity.

This is also often similar to your elevator speech, which is what you would tell someone you just met in an elevator that gives a synopsis of your professional experience and background. It should include your skills, goals, experiences, and sound fluid and natural, but not so rehearsed that it’s robotic. Not sure where to start developing your elevator speech or intro? That “Professional Summary” paragraph that sits at the top of your resume could be a good launching point. Remember that research you did on their company? This is also a great opportunity to sprinkle some of their values and ethics into how yours align!

Formulating Your Answers

You may be wondering, how can you practice answering a question if you don’t know what the questions will be prior to the interview? The answer is that you’re not practicing answering specific questions, you’re practicing a specific formula on how you format all of your answers. Let me also state that I’m going to be discussing only the STARS method, which is primarily for Behavioral Interviews (BI), but I am only doing that because I would argue that even if you get a “traditional” question (i.e. How would you describe your work ethic?), the STARS method is still applicable, and quite frankly probably a more impactful way to answer.

As we discussed in Part V(b), traditional interview questions are more hypothetical, cognitive, or personality-based, whereas BI questions are rooted in the behaviors of your actions. A case in point is the questions posed two weeks ago regarding coworkers. “What's attribute about coworkers do you dislike?” is a traditional question that speaks to your cognitive thought about your coworkers’ actions or personalities, and how they conflict with your personality. However, “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker.” Now I’m wanting you to describe an actual event in which you experienced this, and I’m listening for your behavior during the event which therein lies the skill(s) that I’m assessing, in this case being your conflict resolution and interpersonal communication skills.

So how do we prepare for these types of questions? Through “STARS.” A quick google search will pull up a litany of articles and sites dedicated to the STAR formula, which consists of Situation, Task, Action, and Result. So going back to our conflict question from earlier, an abbreviated answer could be, “I once had a coworker who liked to duck out of work early (Situation). Our peers asked me to address the situation (Task). I decided to pull the coworker aside in a private spot so as to not embarrass them publicly, and politely informed them that several of us were having to work overtime to accomplish tasks that they could have done if they weren’t leaving work early (Action). They replied that they hadn’t realized that my peers and I were having to do extra work, and that they would not do that anymore and thanked me for my candid but professional manner in which I approached the situation without embarrassing them publicly (Result).”

So, what’s the extra “S” that I keep referencing at the end of STAR? That would be Sustain. If you can also throw in how you were able to sustain that result every time moving forward, then I’m telling you, you’re going to knock that question out of the park! So back to our conflict question, “I informed the coworker that we are a team that succeeds and fails together, and that they’re a valuable part of that team and we can’t do it without them. This gave them a sense of pride in their work and role, and the individual never snuck out of work again. They would even volunteer to stay late on occasion if there was still work to be done.” Boom. You just told me how you were able to create a condition or environment in which the behavior sustained the desired outcome well past that one event. You nailed it.

Practice Makes Habit

So now that you know how to formulate your answers, you need to practice it. Being able to think “STARS” in your head, when that cortisol is flowing, can be challenging. Again, you don’t know what your questions are going to be, but I can almost guarantee you that your answers are going to be very similar to your accomplishments listed on your resume. So go down your resume, bullet for bullet, and practice posing each bullet in the STARS narrative. That’s how you internalize the pattern, and that’s how you combat the cortisol that’s trying to cause you to fight, flight, or worse yet, freeze.

You can also enlist others to assist you in mock interviews. There are tons of websites out there with mock BI interview questions that you can provide to a friend or loved one to “quiz” you and hone your STARS skill. Better yet, reach out to one of those nonprofits I advocate for. Hire Heroes USA and American Corporate Partners both provide mock interview services. Get someone who actually works in your desired role or field to ask you some BI questions. And remember, even if it’s a traditional question rather than a BI, you can almost always still employ the STARS format.

Interview Closing

So you’ve gotten through the barrage of questions, and it’s time to close out the interview. You’ll likely want to breathe a sigh of relief, but it’s not quite over yet! Now you’re going to be given an opportunity to ask any questions that you have (or at least, most interviewers will allow you this opportunity). Do not take this lightly, and realize that you’re still being assessed! What do I mean by this? You’ve got one last chance to knock their socks off in this interview, and so you want to ask impactful and insightful questions that really make them go, “Wow, we want them!”

So, what sort of questions do you want to consider? Or even, how many questions do you want to consider. Well, I tell folks, you always want to have at least one. However, you also don’t want to annoy them with a barrage, so I encourage no more than three. As for types, there’s always the common ones like, “When can I expect to hear more?” or “What are the next steps?” However, I have always advocated for questions that may pack a little more “punch” and demonstrate a deeper level of thinking like, “What type of projects will I be able to assist on?” or “How long is the average learning curve to be fully functional in the position?”

The point? Ask impactful questions that show you're thinking deeply about the position and what's important to you. For instance, I am huge on organizational culture. I refuse to work in an unhealthy or toxic environment. So for me, I have a question that I always ask pertaining to this topic. It goes like this: “Organizational climate and leadership style are very important to me, and I would like to know what your leadership philosophy or approach is to employees who are struggling to perform to standard?” First off, they’ve probably never heard that question in an interview before, and secondly, how they answer that question will tell you so much. And if they are truly someone you want to work for, they will appreciate the question!

Anyhow, once you’ve asked your questions, thank them. Be genuinely appreciative for the opportunity to interview, and wish them the best in their decision.

Follow Up

After the interview is over, you’re not quite done yet! Within 24-48 hours you want to follow up with a “Thank you” note, thanking them again for their time, the chance for you to interview and showcase your skills, and wishing them the best in their tough decision whatever the outcome may be. If you’re unsure what to write, there are lots of examples out there. What I want to discuss is the format and delivery. There are a lot of different philosophies on how you create the note, but I am a staunch advocate for making it personal, and by that, I mean an actual thank you card that is handwritten. Hiring managers that I’ve spoken to over the years are always more appreciative of that gesture than a generic email.

Now, how do you deliver a handwritten note? If the interview was in-person, you can return to the location and hand-deliver it. Chances are in today’s day and age, however, you may not have a mailing address. If the interview was virtual, or if all you have access to is email, then scan the card into digital format and email it to them. Don’t have a scanner? Chances are you can do it with your phone via the Adobe Scan app. Don’t have their email, but have a recruiter’s email? Email it to the recruiter and ask them to forward it on. Whatever it takes to get them the note, do it (without violating policies or privacy, of course).

Checking In for Updates

Now how soon do you follow up after the note? This can be a nerve-wracking topic for some folks. After all, you don’t want to contact them too often for an update, but you don’t want to sit around and wait forever either. Chances are, you’re going to find out relatively quickly in many civilian jobs. The federal system can be a different beast, however. What I tell folks is this: give it a week, check-in for an update, and during that check-in, ask how often it is acceptable to reach out. Most recruiters or hiring managers will tell you either once a week or twice a week. Don’t be afraid to reach out at all though. You’re eager to get the job. Hiring managers get that (or at least they should). So long as you’re not badgering them, they’ll usually have no issues with updating you.

Lastly, if you don't get the job. I encourage you to do one last follow-up. Thank them one last time for the opportunity, but also ask them what you can do to better groom yourself for next time. Maybe more training, an extra certification, more experience in a certain area. Ask them what skill or experience you lacked that you can work on to be more competitive next time. But, I’m praying you don’t have to do that. Chances are you will, but if you prepare like I’m encouraging you to prepare, those chances will be significantly decreased.

Hopefully, you’ve found some use in Part V(d) of our Employment chat. If you did, share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition. And of course, join me next week for Part V(e) of the Employment chat as we talk about the best part after the job interview is over: Negotiating the job offer!

Until next time, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!

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