Do's & Don'ts of Interviewing Veterans

Behavioral and situational interview styles are the most effective when interviewing both veterans and spouses. That’s because veterans are accustomed to concise and polite conversation. They are not accustomed to boasting about their accomplishments, scope of authority or level of responsibility, as they have been operating in a team environment. Gaps in a spouse’s resume or volunteer experience may overshadow the great skills and experience they have gained over their professional career. In both cases, you as the interviewer have to probe for their accomplishments and for detail revealing their adaptability and how their experience can contribute to your company.

Ask prospective employees if they're willing to be coached by an existing veteran employee.

For example, a candidate may say he drove a truck. What he may not be saying is that he supervised several dozen soldiers transporting millions of dollars of inventory. Or a military spouse may say she volunteered as a Bible study leader. What she may not be saying is that she coordinated spiritual retreats for a few hundred military spouses, organized food deliveries for families in need, and went through training to spot domestic violence on post, all while her husband was deployed three times to a war zone. If you have an employee resource group devoted to veterans, ask members to attend hiring fairs and to be available to coach potential interviewees on their resumes and job interviewing skills before the interview process begins. And ask prospective employees if they're willing to be coached by an existing veteran employee.

These veteran employee resource groups can even be tapped to participate in mock interviews with HR recruiters, join the in-person interview with the veteran or spouse job candidate to help break the ice, or provide the candidate a tour of the workplace.

Also, train your hiring managers on these interviewing techniques, suggested by Sherrill A. Curtis, principal and creative director for HR consulting firm Curtis Consulting Group LLC, in a report for the Society for Human Resource Management:

Know what they bring. Be familiar with the military occupational skills (MOS) that correlate with the job. (Refer to O*NET OnLine.)

Show gratitude. At the start of the interview, thank military talent applicants for their service or the spouse for their service and sacrifice as well.

Explain the job. Clearly describe the job role and its responsibilities, defining expectations up front and avoiding generalizations.

Make them comfortable. Draw out applicants to discover their “thread of excellence.”

Get them talking. Avoid closed-ended questions (those that elicit a “yes” or “no” response) by posing probing questions about an individual’s service experience.

Translating Military Experience

Lend them your ears. Focus on active listening for skill sets, and correlate them with job functions within your organization.

Stay connected. Keep the candidate engaged in the process by following up and delivering on what you promise (for example, with post-interview phone calls about the status of their application, next steps, etc.). This is very important to them and should not be overlooked.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers these tips:

Set an easygoing tone. The concept of “professional presentation” is often different for veterans than for civilians. Employers should understand that some might present themselves with a high level of discipline and formality (for example, using “sir” or “ma’am”). It’s OK to let candidates know that they can be more relaxed and respond in a casual manner. Doing so may help foster a more comfortable and insightful conversation.

Ask if they can do the job. Whether or not you’re interviewing someone who might have a disability, it’s a good practice to ask all candidates about whether they think they could perform the job—one idea of raising the issue is by asking: “Have you read the job description? Can you, with or without a reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the job?” This is not the same as asking candidates to disclose any disability; it merely ensures they can perform the necessary functions of the position. For more guidance on some do's and don'ts when interviewing, download this fact sheet by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Questions relevant to experience or training in the military, or to determine eligibility for any veteran’s preference required by law, are acceptable.

Dig for detail. When trying to delve deeper into their experience and how it might translate to your business, consider phrasing questions that will ensure that the candidate provide more detail about their responsibilities. For example: “Tell me about the type of training and education you received in the military.” Or: “Were you involved in day-to-day management of personnel and/or supplies?” “How many people did you supervise?”


There are rules on what you can and can’t ask veterans about during an interview.


  • What kind of discharge did you get from the military?
  • When will you get deployed again?
  • Have you ever killed anyone?
  • Were you ever injured in combat?
  • Will you have to miss much work for your military service?


  • Will you be able to perform the duties in the job description with reasonable accommodation?
  • What did you do in the military?
  • Which of your military experiences will translate to this job?