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How can I overcome the challenge of competing against experience in the private sector?


Scott Gilman Stafford, VA

I have had two great series of interviews with two different private sector companies and made it all the way to the 'top two', only to be told that they chose the other candidate over me because of their experience in the private sector. I am trying to get as far away from federal employment as possible so assimilating back into the private sector workforce is critical. I have the skills and matched experience but in a military setting and that seems to continue to be the disqualifying factor. Even with the other positions that I interviewed for and didn't make it as far, it seemed to be a show stopper. Any advice or guidance is surely appreciated.

23 July 2019 11 replies Military to Civilian Transition



Roger Bhalla Houston, TX

One suggestion I have for all interviewees is to close the interview by asking the interviewer "Is there anything that would make you pause before confirming that I am a strong candidate for the role?" This has two values. First, it hopefully gets the interviewer to raise any points of concern regarding your candidacy while you're still in the interview such that you have the opportunity to address them - either filling in a blank, or correcting a miss-perception. So if they raise a concern that your experience is "too military", you can point out where the core skills are clearly analogous to the civilian world. Second, if they cannot think of significant concerns, you've left a closing thought in their mind that you must be a strong candidate, as they couldn't think of why you wouldn't be. So when they review all the candidates for ranking, it increases your probability to be at least above the cut line.

Having said all that, this HELPS improve you candidacy, but cannot guarantee that you end up as the top choice. Sometimes you're just unlucky to be 2nd or 3rd out of a large pool, but there's only one role. Not to be unsympathetic, but your data set is only two experiences, so don't give up hope. Keep at it (and consider al the advice that I hope others will provide as well).

24 July 2019 Helpful answer


Louis Schwarz Somerville, NJ

Hi Scott, From my experience, a lot of employers are not comfortable with individuals with a military background. There is a lack of knowledge about the military in our businesses. You need to take the military flavor out of your interviews. You have to manage the interviewer. If you speak in terms of things they are not familiar with, they tend to ignore them. They think you will do that on the job and confuse people, or take more time to manage you. Military experience is valuable, but most employers do not know how to integrate that into their business. When I hired military experience, it does take more time to integrate them into the business, but not a lot of time. Military individuals are quick learners and very responsible. I love the fact they are responsible and can be trusted to get the job done. You will have to find the right employer, if they reject you, it is better than finding out later that this is not a good fit for you. Keep your head up and keep going, you will find the right position.

19 August 2019 Helpful answer


Paul Trejo Austin, TX

Hi Scott,

Thanks for your years of service. We have all faced that old uphill battle of needing experience to get experience.

Here is how I have dealt in the past:

1. RECENT CERTIFICATIONS. You know your field. You know what the hiring managers want after the basics. In your situation, I spend all my free time and money getting CERTIFIED in the latest and greatest Technologies in my field. It makes a difference when considering two candidates -- in my experience.

2. SHORT, PERSONAL ANECDOTES. Have a cache of at least 2 dozen brief stories about yourself (average three sentences each) that tell how you solved a problem on the job.

If you are asked a direct question about a topic -- never answer "Yes" or "No." Always answer with a short anecdote about how you solved a problem in that topic.

The anecdotes could include tech related topics, but also include Teamwork topics, solving person-problems, and so on. Be the Team Player they desperately need. MAKE IT SOUND GENERIC AND NOT GOVERNMENT SPECIFIC.

Best wishes

22 August 2019 Helpful answer


John Volpe Seaford, NY

Scott :

You came close in two interviews . That’s a major accomplishment! Please forgive my baseball analogy but you almost hit the damn thing out of the park on two occasions. You clearly are doing a lot right!

Please be patient. Sounds like you’re close to hitting the next one out of the park! I hope you remembered to send a email to the people with whom you interviewed thanking them for their time and perhaps asking them to consider you for any future positions .

Good luck


19 August 2019 Helpful answer


Paul Tusting Salt Lake City, UT

Great advice from the others.

The only other thing I can think of is looking for companies in the privet sector, which works closely with government entities. In that scenario, experience in both sectors may be more valuable than more experience in the privet sector alone.

Best of luck!

17 August 2019 Helpful answer


Jeanne Perdue Houston, TX

Dear Scott:
Face the issue head on, proactively. Tell the interviewer: "If it comes down to choosing between my military experience and someone else's private sector experience, just consider this: When the going gets tough, the private sector person will be going, will leave your company. [Point your thumb toward the door here]. But when the going gets tough, that's when I will truly shine!" [Point your thumb toward your heart.] See if that works.
Love, Jeanne

Jeanne Perdue
Occidental Petroleum
Houston, TX


Marc Blanchenay Pompano Beach, FL


I have to second or third Roger Bhalla advice. I believe you are likely doing well with de-jargon/de-militarizing your resume and speaking points as you're getting interviews and going multiple rounds.

The other thing that is happening during an interview is that the prospective employer (and if they are good the team you will work with) are looking to see if you'll be a good fit culturally. You may be the best qualified candidate, however if you aren't relating well that could be the determining factor. As a hiring manager I'd love to have a super star, but they're going to have to work as a team.

Next time you're interviewing, keep that in mind, you need to highlight your skills and accomplishments and what you bring to the organization. Not forgetting to work in the teamwork, collaboration aspects.


Denise Kalm Walnut Creek, CA

This happens to a lot of people moving from one type of venture to another - I see this with people going from private sector to government. The trick is to look carefully at where your perspective can really add value that a private sector specialist wouldn't have. Without more detail of what you were doing and hope to do, I can't give specifics, but often, the outside view can be highly valuable. Does the private sector job need to deal with or sell to the govt? Consider where you can spin your outsider title as a plus. I agree with Roger - always ask if there's something they've heard that might cause them not to consider you further. It gives you a chance to explain your value in a new way.


Kent Watson Monticello, FL

Good afternoon Scott, First on behalf of a grateful Nation and a fellow senior Chief Warrant Officer thank you for your extraordinary service to our country. I have found that those in the private sector do not understand the role of a technocrat (CWO). You are a technical expert that had been appointed by the Head of your Agency. This does sell. Sometimes you have to translate your military skills into private sector jargon. For example, you clearly bring to the table the ability to learn, know how to think analytically, have leadership ability in group dynamics, can communicate up and down the leadership spectrum, and with the private sector is really is about networking and more networking. I had dinner with a former Airborne Post Commander of a large US Army installation last night. This person now works as a mid-level executive with Northrop-Grumman. What he said was true in that education shows that you have the ability to learn a new task. In the private sector, experience may not be as important as being a member of their professional association, similar trade organization, or sharing a line of communication with those in that particular industry. When I would close out an interview, I would frankly ask what can I do to make myself more competitive in this industry. This will give you a feel as where they are placing you in the stack. Best of Luck! Chief Warrant Officer Four Kent T. Watson, 34 years US Army of America. Now Southeast Regional Fraud Prevention Inspector to a National Security Firm in the Maryland area, but living in Florida. Again, Very Best of Good Luck! Keep the Faith!


Henry ("Dr. Hank") Stevens Fort Lauderdale, FL

As a vocational counselor, I posit that the answer lies in selling your TALENTS over your education and experience. A wise employer will give a nod to those with the talents for the position and SOMETIMES forgive your education and experience.

Short analogy - would you put a dyed-in-the-wool introvert into a customer-facing position? Introversion and extroversion can't be learned. So, just what ARE your talents and just how do they relate to the sought position?

Let me know if you would like a link to a free website that offers some great guidance on the subject! Dr, Hank


John Faber Arlington, VA

Hi Scott -

Roger Bhalia provided great advice that I recommend following. My advice is to show how you can work with people and are willing and able to adapt to their culture. It might be best to have a civilian friend do a mock interview with you and provide feedback on your communication style. If you can speak and look the part, then you are already on your way to showing that you are adapting to the new environment. Hope this helps.


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