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Behavioral Interviewing Tips for Transitioning Military

Monday, April 4, 2016



In our first blog, Kevin, an Optum employee and 25 year Air Force veteran, talked about the steps he took that led to a job offer at UnitedHealth Group. In part 2 of our conversation with Kevin, we’ll be taking a closer look at behavioral interviewing and how military veterans can apply these learnings to a successful career:

What is behavioral interviewing?

Behavioral Interviewing is a technique used by employers to learn about past behavior in particular situations. It’s a big part of most job interviews, and hiring managers and employers use these types of questions to get an idea if candidates have the skills and competencies needed for the job. The rationale behind behavioral interviewing is to give a sense of how one might do in the future based on past experiences. 

Why is behavioral interviewing challenging for transitioning military?

Interviewing in general can be challenging. I’ll use myself as an example. The first time I interviewed for a job, I was retiring from the Air Force at 42 years old. In the military, there are circumstances that may be like an interview, but certainly not one you’ll find in the private sector. So military folks are not only unfamiliar with interviewing techniques, they may have never heard of the concept of behavioral interviewing.

What are the challenges relating to the veterans/civilian culture gap?

The type of questions that may be asked. In the military, it’s very common to get to know “your people”. When new people join your unit, you ask them to tell you about yourself. Inevitably in the military, they’ll tell you about their family, traveling and where they’ve been assigned. That’s a typical kind of response in the military culture. But when you’re coming into the civilian culture, employers want to know what skill sets you can provide to the organization.

Also, the cultural gap size in numbers. In the military, you’re working with big numbers – whether it’s money or people. Someone may be 25 years old with 50 people working for them. That’s essentially unheard of in any private sector company. When I got to UnitedHealth Group, people commented to me, “well, don’t you think UnitedHealth Group is big?” I find 160,000 relatively small compared to what I came from. So again, that culture gap of size is much different related to an organization.

What type of responses is UnitedHealth Group looking for in a military candidate?

Like all companies, they want to make sure you’re a fit for that specific position. Again, it’s a little different than how military may view hiring positions. You need to show how your experience is related to that position. Show how you can fit into that specific job. Besides your job, show that you’re willing and able to do other things that come your way. That kind of flexibility is important.

I was an individual contributor for my first eight weeks, which meant that no one worked for me. For the first time since I was 21, I didn’t have people reporting to me. But because I talked about my experience of leading large organizations in my interview, they already knew I had that skill set if/when the need came up.

Also, make sure you use words that the interviewer understands. Avoid giving very, very specific examples. In the military you want to be very precise. But if the interviewer doesn’t know the jargon, it’ll only be confusing on the receiving end.

How should a military candidate approach behavioral interviewing?

Understand what it is. Look at some common questions. Take the situations in the military and use them. Practice those situations. Use terminology that the person interviewing would understand. Translate military scenarios that would be relatable.

What are some examples of tailoring responses to different audiences? How would responses be different for a civilian employer?

Keep the terminology generic but give the specifics of what you did. For example, if you fixed a military communication issue – you’d want to clearly translate what you did: “I solved this problem, allowing 500 people to complete what they were assigned to do.”

Here’s another example -- let’s say you maintained a $30M F16 aircraft in the military. While interviewing, it’s more important to say that you were responsible for $30M of capital investment. Showing responsibility is a concept that everyone can understand.

What can veterans offer a company like UnitedHealth Group? What kind of skill sets can they offer?

Program management. Communication. Leadership. IT. Flexibility. Being true to your word. Delivering on time. The vast majority of the military has those skill sets and can translate very easily over to a company like UnitedHealth Group.

Any last words of advice?

I know that the job hunt can be very frustrating for veterans. Part of that frustration is that veterans need to decide what company they want to work for. UnitedHealth Group is a fantastic company and organization. I’m proud to be part of it. Their value statement is important to me—having a purpose. Find a company that you can fully contribute to on day 1. You want to feel proud to be part of that organization.

Even if you’re frustrated, keeping working for it. Don’t settle. Understand what trade-offs you’ll make and which ones you don’t want to make. If you make those steps, you’ll be very happy with your choice.

Check out our military blog section to hear from other veteran or military spouse employees about what it’s like to work at UnitedHealth Group, a place where you can do your life’s best work SM.

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