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Interview Tips for Hiring Military Veterans

Interview Tips for Hiring Military Veterans

By: August Nielsen, Human Resources Director for Veterans United Home Loans

Many members of the US Armed Forces are returning home to a progressively competitive civilian job market. What’s worse is the fact that these men and women are having difficulty translating broad military experiences into gainful employment.

“Most of these men and women have never applied for a job before. They went straight from high school or college and they went into the military,” said former Marine Corps Captain and President of Hire Heroes USA, Brian Stann. “So for them to play the unemployment game and translate their skill-sets effectively, it is very difficult for them.”

Stann’s comments are directly on point. From M1A1 Abrams Tank Operators to Platoon Leaders, veterans are having difficulty translating their skills and are giving recruiters the added challenge of interpreting unfamiliar experience.

When interviewing veterans and service members, take the following interview tips into consideration and you’ll discover a strong crop of top candidates.

Uncover Qualities through Performance Based Interviews
Interviewing a veteran is no different than interviewing a civilian candidate. The Department of Veterans Affairs even recommends using performance based interviews for applicants directly out of the service. This type of interview has been widely used for the past 30 years and focuses on what a person has done, instead of what they would do.

As many recruiters know, the performance based interview does have its flaws. Most notably is the fact that an applicant with great presentation skills can secure strong consideration by conveying what the interviewer wants to hear over what is true, meaning they may or may not possess the skills relevant to the position.

To avoid this, shift the focus from past behavior to verifiable experiences and achievements that matter most to the specific position. Basically, don’t look at achievements, but the path that led them there.

This may require some tailoring of normal interview questions to fit the applicant.

How to Tailor your Interview Questions to Veteran Experience
If you are interested in the veteran applicant’s ability to handle customer service, you will want to ask them interview questions that allow them to provide a complete answer:

Tell me about a situation where you realized a person needed help. How did you realize the person needed assistance and what did you do? What was the outcome of this situation?

Keep in mind that for many veterans, this could be their first job interview outside of the military. Thus asking them to provide a time they had to deal with an unruly customer may not yield an appropriate answer.

Remember that the rules of combat and military service often differ from civilian life. Your job is to determine if the candidate you’re interviewing can differentiate these situations.

What Not to Ask in the Interview Process
Beyond knowing what interview questions to ask, remember to keep the interview legal by not asking interview questions related to the candidate’s type of discharge, current military status and potential disabilities.

Asking questions related to training, education and service experience is fine; however, unless you are a Federal agency or deal with Veteran Preference Points, you should never ask anything that requires the veteran to give their discharge status.

Similarly, you should avoid questions pertaining to an applicant’s military status. Asking a National Guardsman if they will be deployed soon is similar to asking a woman if she is pregnant or planning to have children.

Lastly, if you are interviewing a wounded warrior, refrain from asking questions that would require them to disclose any disabilities.

It is perfectly fine, and encouraged, to ask an applicant if they have read the job description and can fulfill the minimum job requirements; however, questioning an applicant on their disability or trying to uncover PTSD or a traumatic brain injury is a direct violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Why Hire Veterans
Hiring veterans isn’t charity work. These men and women possess job skills and qualities that don’t just make them good employees, but some of the best employees.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the pleasure of hiring well over a thousand qualified and sometimes not so qualified applicants. In many cases, these employees proved to be major contributors to the company’s success; however, not every employee has been a seamless fit, emphasizing the importance of acquiring stand-out candidates.

I’m very pleased to say that of the veteran candidates hired, their military experience and its related qualities -- leadership, respect, teamwork, loyalty and the ability to produce results under pressure -- has made our company an even more united company with a common goal.

As you consider your next group of new hires, don’t discount our nation’s veterans. Dig deeper and ask questions that truly uncover values and qualities that can determine how well they mesh with your company’s culture.

Author Bio:
August Nielsen
is the human resources director for Veterans United Home Loans, and has been responsible for hiring over 1,000 employees in the past five years for a company recently named the #1 job creator nationally in the financial industry by Inc. Magazine as well as making the Great Place to Work top 25. Connect with him on Google+.

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