Over the last four months or so I’ve interviewed over a hundred individuals for either initial accessions into the military, or for a branch transfer for those currently serving.
Some general observations.
Honesty really is the best policy, but if you really, REALLY want to get the job don’t tell the interviewer that “this other thing is my #1 choice and passion, this is a fall back.”
The interviewer can take two different routes to conduct the interview, one where you make yourself nervous and they try to calm you down, or one where you are calm and they try to make you a little nervous through the questions. If you are dealing with a teenager, or someone about to graduate college with absolutely no life experience, odds are good they will be nervous, and that’s ok. Older people with a little more life experience are more likely to be at ease with the interview process. Don’t worry about how nervous or not you are, especially if it is for an entry level position (you aren’t being recruited to start out at the top).
Don’t oversell your skills if the interviewer is a subject matter expert. But you won’t know if the interviewer is a subject matter expert or not, so don’t oversell yourself as a general rule. Do be proud of what you have actually accomplished, and be prepared to tell the interviewer about it. Don’t say, “I’m a confident, fast learner who can quickly master the skills you are looking for.” unless you have absolutely nothing else unique to offer them. As an example, one person spent 25 minutes of a 30 minute interview talking about how basketball had shaped his life and leadership style, which is not a good thing when many of the interview questions focus around computers, networking, and information technology. I didn’t rank Mr. Sports Scholarship very high, but possibly he could have connected better with a different interviewer who had a common life experience (I was not a collegiate athlete).
Do ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question. Interviewers are there to find out about you, and whether or not you are a good fit for their branch needs, and the more exchanges (questions and answers back and forth) the better off you are at maximizing your chances at making a good impression.
Be willing to accept “no” or “not at this time” as an outcome with grace and tact, because it isn’t the end of the story. In life, a “no” or “not at this time” is always something that can be re-negotiated in the future.
Practice your interviews with friends and mentors. People who know you well enough to ask the hard questions that feel like a punch in the gut. That will be time well spent before interviewing for a career.
I hope this advice is useful.