Here’s How Veterans Can Nail A Civilian Job Interview

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U.S. Navy/Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Justin Pacheco

Editor’s Note: This story highlights a job opportunity at Otis Elevator Company. Committed to filling its ranks with talented members of the military community, Otis is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.


Decades of recruiting experience has taught Otis Elevator Company’s Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Christian Meisner more than a thing or two about selecting high-quality candidates.

Meisner, who’s been in human resources for more than 24 years, is both keenly aware of the hurdles service members face when seeking employment after the military and passionate about doing what he can to turn veteran candidates into successful employees.

Prior to his role at Otis, Meisner served as the vice president of human resources for Sikorsky Aircraft, a company that works closely with the military, and he recounted the stories those service members shared and the mark they’ve made.

“Veterans may not have the same experience as candidates who come in with engineering or business degrees plus 10 to 15 years of work experience,” Meisner explains. “But they just need help translating their experiences and technical skills into our world.”

Lucky for Hirepurpose jobseekers, Meisner shared his best interviewing secrets, including the top three attributes he looks for in a potential employee.

Otis Elevator

"There is a huge connection between skills service members are trained and what we are looking for," says Otis Elevator Company’s Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Christian Meisner.

First things first: Be prepared.

One of the biggest mistakes applicants make is not being prepared for the interview. Recruiters tend to see through an interviewee’s attempt to answer questions on the fly. To avoid a disaster, list your skills on paper and practice until you are comfortable talking about them.

“Have a little bit of value proposition mapped out; write it out in bullet points and get comfortable with them,” he advises. “When you take the time to prepare and pre-map your skills ahead of time, you go into the interview armed. It goes very differently if you’re trying to do that on the fly.”

Not sure which of your skills to highlight in an interview? Meisner’s got you covered. His recipe for the ideal job candidate boils down to three essential ingredients:

A team-player personality. “You need to be able to work in an organization that is bigger than you,” Meisner explains.

Recruiters want to see that both your emotional quotient and intelligence quotient are in balance, which means you are smart and able to work well with a wide variety of people and personalities.

Meisner recalls a pair of outstanding veterans who moved up the chain of leadership in a short period of due to their ability to treat a diverse group with respect and humility. Time in the military teaches individuals the need to put team first and that mission success depends on a trustworthy group-dynamic.

“The teams have loved them and they’ve done very well,” he said.

Leadership potential. A team-player personality isn’t the only value veterans have to contribute to the corporate world. Meisner reveals Otis invests large amounts of money and time to assess and build up new recruits as future leaders for the company, and he recognizes veterans often have these leadership skills already.

Meisner recommends considering leadership roles you’ve filled, formally or informally, and come up with examples of how you have managed to perform under high stress. Additionally, potential employees want to know you are able to problem solve effectively and are not afraid to make a decision and take necessary action.

Technical fit. Even though Meisner considers technical fit to be the least important of this trio of skills, he suggests highlighting it because the ability to use technology is essential to landing a job at Otis.

Instead of worrying about what you don’t know, Meisner advises, “Think about your exposure to technology, then articulate what you did and the results you got.”

If your job in the military required you to use sophisticated GPS systems, for example, that experience is valuable even though it may not be a direct translation to the technology Otis uses. Companies are looking for people who can use technology to solve problems and make decisions to best serve their customers. Many veterans are used to working in a dispersed organization out in the field with a variety of technology. Any gaps can be filled with on-the-job technical training.

Otis Elevator

Otis employees recorded video “Thank You” messages to our troops overseas at their national leadership meeting.

Show you’re 'in it to win it.'

When face-to-face with a job applicant, Meisner reveals there is something far more important than a well-executed resume: an honest interest in the job and company.

“I tend to look for three things: a self-starter with high energy and a strong moral compass. I also ask, Can they work in a team environment or is it all about them and do they want to work here?” Meisner says.

When he meets someone with loads of enthusiasm, Meisner admits he starts thinking less about whether they are a technical fit with the immediate job and more about where he can place them. Candidates often interview for one job and then find themselves receiving an offer for a different position that may better fit their skills and background.

Go into the interview like you would a promotion board; look sharp, study well before-hand and speak confidently.

Otis Elevator

Otis Anaheim employees assembled care packages to send overseas.

Ask thoughtful questions about the company.

In addition to a low energy level, a mild interest in the company is another big letdown for recruiters. Asking questions shows you care about who you are asking to work for.

“A good interview is a two-way street, and you should walk out knowing more about the company than you did when you went in,” Meisner explains.

If you find yourself stuck, he offers a few starter questions to consider: “Are you growing? Are you shrinking? Who are your major competitors? What is your favorite thing about working for this company, or what would you change?”

Additionally, before the interview, ask the recruiter about the dress code. Interviews aren’t as formal as they used to be, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. When in doubt, round up; it’s easier to make yourself less formal than show up to a suit-and-tie interview wearing jeans.

See all Job opportunities with Otis »

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