How to Respond to Difficult Interview Questions on Military Experience

How to Respond to Difficult Interview Questions on Military Experience - USAA Member Community


All interview questions are hard because interviewing is hard.  It is just that simple. In the job interview, we are trying to convince a group of people we have never met why our experiences matter to the success of their company and why we are the correct person to take on the challenge of the open position. For most interview panels, the presence of someone with military experience is both engaging and awkward. 


Interview panels are engaged because they may rarely directly connect with someone with first hand military experience, so they are curious about experiences, foreign travels, and what “combat” is. They may also be a bit awkward, because they may feel that military experience may not directly help or could even hurt success in the position. This combination of being curious and being awkward may lead interviewers and interview panels to ask insensitive questions about military service. There are ways to use a job interview panel engagement, curiosity, and potential awkwardness to your advantage.


The first lesson for military veterans when asked an awkward question is to constantly sell your value to the organization through rich examples.


A poor choice of a job interview question may go as follows:


INTERVIEWER: Well, I heard that the roads were dangerous! What's it like to shoot machine guns when there are so many civilians around? Did that bother you?


The central point for military veterans when poised with an awkward question is to not answer it directly. The correct way to answer an awkward question is to constantly promote and demonstrate with examples how your military experience will create greater value for the organization, the organization's customers, and help improve fellow employees. 


MILITARY VETERAN RESPONSE: The situations in convoys were almost always dangerous, but we developed several standard procedures to help minimize the danger. One of my responsibilities was to make sure each resupply convoy was fully utilized. One of the ways we did this was to make sure we developed a standard process for military organizations (our customers) we were supplying to order and forecast supplies. This allowed each vehicle on the convoy to carry a maximum load of essential supplies. In this way, even if a unit had not already asked for an item, we anticipated their needs so we could help reduce the need for a follow up resupply convoy. The results of this ordering and forecasting process were a reduction in the total number of convoy's by 15% but an increase in the tons shipped by 10%. Even in a dangerous environment, we hauled more tons to our "customers" and exposed fewer military personnel to danger. My experience in inventory management, forecasting, and on-line ordering systems will be invaluable to this position. The danger that I was exposed to will provide a great leadership base as I develop and train new employees so they can be the best they can be in front of customers.


The second lesson is answering interview questions with a standard response format that interviewers will be able to follow, understand, and appreciate the answers you provide. The use of the STAR format to answer interview questions is simple and valuable.  STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Actions, and Results.


The third lesson is to answer interview questions using a story telling format of your military experiences. Stories create vivid experiences, they tell us something new, and create a visible path that demonstrates the value you will bring to the company. The use of stories also demonstrates how your military skills can be translated and applied to the company and the industry that you will work. 


Finally, military leadership examples are the “icing on the cake” that demonstrate how teams can be led under difficult circumstances to accomplish large goals.
The central part to interviewing for military veterans is to tell a compelling, understandable, and entertaining story that shows what you did, why you did it, what you accomplished, and how that experience will help the company achieve their business goals. The proper veteran response to awkward interview questions is to ALWAYS sell your value with easy to understand, simple, and solid examples that demonstrate how you will create value for the firm. The use of the STAR format and stories will allow you to create vivid question answers that fully translate your military experiences to the challenges of the position you desire. 


Finally, do not take offense or get mad at an awkward interview question. Every chance for you to speak in an interview is a chance for you to sell, translate, and demonstrate how you are the correct person for the position. Veterans successfully interview when they tell clear, compelling, and understandable stories that demonstrate how their military experience will greatly benefit their future employer.


Have something to add to this article? Share your advice in the comments below.



About the blogger:
Chad Storlie is the author of two books: Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success. Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. An adjunct Lecturer of Marketing at Creighton University and Bellevue University in Omaha, NE. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. In addition to teaching, he is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.




231886 - 0616

Occasional Visitor

Given this is a job interview, the context of the job is relevant. Curiosity is understandable, but it needs to have a purpose. The way the example is posed does not compel the interviewee to answer with details. It is satisfactory to state that you would rather not discuss the issue in the present forum. You can respond with tact and demonstrate your ability to handle an awkward situation. 


If that's not enough to please the interviewers, they are not a team you want to work with. That would certainly be the case for me.

Chad Storlie USAA
Blog Author
Blog Author

BigHero6, thank you so much for sharing this feedback in USAA Member Community.  Your insight helps a great deal to understand how to have a great interview.


New Member

I have a couple of composite stories I use that illustrate leadership experience without divulging any detail.


If pressed for detail, I apologize that I can't divulge details.  If pressed again, or if the interviewer seems dissatisfied, I point out that I have an honorable discharge with an excellent service record, and that I am sure s/he can appreciate that I would protect company information at the same level.  Then I offer to explain how I would deal with a real-world corporate situation that actually pertains to the position under application.


If that doesn't do it, BigHero6 is absolutely correct: I don't want to join that team.  And in fact, I have ended interviews at that point, respectfully explaining why and making every attempt to leave on an amicable footing.


Some things simply do not qualify for idle conversation and curiosity-fill.