A career with the armed forces can provide you with a wide range of benefits, like access to job training, scholarship potential for higher education and solid health coverage. If you’d like to begin your working life as a member of the military, you’ll need to start by meeting with a recruiter, who will ask you about your goals and background and will help guide you into a role best suited to your particular strengths and aspirations.
Sitting down with a military recruiter bears many similarities to a classic office-job interview, but because military service requires a specific time commitment and the possibility of putting yourself in harm’s way, it’s especially important to prepare for these meetings and to put together a list of questions for the recruiter that can give you a better perspective on the commitment and your expected duties.
To start you off on the right foot, we’ve put together a crib sheet for that first recruiter meeting, with tips on how to ready yourself, how to dress and how to take prime advantage of the question-and-answer portion of the conversation.
What is the military looking for in new recruits?
Because military careers involve significant responsibility, recruiters must screen applicants carefully and thoroughly. While the specific sought-after traits vary from recruiter to recruiter (and from recruiting pool to recruiting pool), the following characteristics will serve you well regardless of individual preferences.
1. A proven track record of self-motivation.
Because military training is often strenuous and challenging, recruiters seek out candidates with a strong ability to push themselves and overcome difficulties in order to achieve their goals.
2. A desire to help others.
Marine recruiter Sgt. Jacob Andre told the Lubbock Avalanche Journal that “we are looking for kids who are smart. We’re looking for people who are in shape, who are healthy, but who are also motivated to help others.”
3. Strong communication skills.
Every division of the armed forces is a collaborative work environment, so recruiters tend to favor applicants who can easily transmit and retain information.
4. Physical fitness.
While an athletic background isn’t required for military consideration, the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard all include a fitness test as part of their entrance exams, so recruiters seek candidates with a high likelihood of fulfilling those standards.
How should you prepare for that first meeting?
In many ways, a first meeting with a military recruiter bears similarities to any other job interview. It’s crucial to present yourself in a professional manner, to arrive on time and to come prepared with questions for your interviewer. Before your initial sit-down with a recruiter, use these steps to get yourself ready.
Schedule an appointment in advance.
While some military recruitment offices allow for walk-in meetings, calling ahead to arrange shows respect for the recruiter’s time and also guarantees that the recruiter you want to speak with will be available when you arrive.
Familiarize yourself with the service qualifications for the particular armed-services branch that interests you.
Many of the questions posed by a recruiter during an introductory meeting will focus on these barometers, so having a sense of them ahead of time will help you formulate answers to questions.
Come in with a list of at least 3-5 questions for your recruiter.
Signing up for military service is a massive commitment, so be sure to take the opportunity to gather as much information as possible before making your decision.
How should you dress when meeting with a military recruiter?
While most military recruiters won’t expect you to attend your interview in formal business dress (or anything even approaching that aesthetic), appearing clean and put-together will certainly serve you well. Street clothes are typically considered appropriate for military-recruitment meetings, but you’ll want to steer clear of overly casual looks (like torn jeans, tee shirts with logos, or anything exposing the midriff). A pair of dark-wash jeans and a button-down top or a sundress with a cardigan project an air of professionalism without running the risk of overdressing.
Which questions should you ask the recruiter?
Above all else, you should prioritize questions that truly matter to you during your interview. You’ll be the one undergoing strenuous training and possibly progressing to active duty, so give yourself the chance to really think about what you want to learn about this experience and what information will give you the strongest basis from which to make your ultimate choice. These questions can serve as a helpful jumping-off point:
1. Should I pursue enlistment in the Reserves or in Active Duty?
This question speaks to the practical reality of life in the military, and recruitment conversations provide a perfect opportunity to talk through the pros and cons of each option. Military.com makes the following recommendation: “When making this decision, weigh factors such as salary, enlistment bonuses, likelihood for relocation and your confidence that the military is the right path for you. Writing out a list of the pros and cons of each will help shed light on your intentions and make your decision much easier.”
2. What benefits can I receive as a member of the armed forces?
When interviewing for most professional positions, applicants are discouraged from asking detailed questions about salary and benefits prior to the offer stage. However, the nature of military work often brings these questions to bear far earlier, and it’s acceptable (and often encouraged) for prospective recruits to find out exactly what military service can provide for them in terms of medical benefits, educational stipends and scholarships and job-placement programs for after their term ends.
3. What does “basic training” entail?
“Basic training” comprises the early phases of any military career, but the specific requirements can vary from branch to branch. Therefore, asking your recruiter to fill you in on what their branch expects from beginner trainees can provide you with a clearer view of your possible experience.
4. What resources can I access for further information?
Obviously, the decision to join the armed forces should involve plenty of research, and all of the necessary information probably can’t be communicated during a single meeting with a recruiter. Ask your recruiter to provide you with literature, online forums and official websites that can offer you more nuanced information. Any good recruiter will want you to make this decision in a fully-informed way, so she’ll likely give you access to useful materials.