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Back against the wall

Just one small, free, painless change can express your business’s desire to be Military Passionate, not just Military Friendly. 

This post is about the absolute simplest thing you can do to make a vet feel comfortable in an interview. Let them sit with their back to the wall. That’s it. 

I must have been ten years old the first time I learned that warriors don’t like to sit with their backs to the door. 

I was at dinner with my parents and they were reminiscing about a Vietnam-era vet they had served with who had seen some intense combat. He’d always insist on having his back to the wall at any restaurant they went to, even if it mean waiting longer for a seat. I was too young to understand the hyper-vigilance that comes with training to protect others. All I knew was my parents respected this man and honored his request, despite their hunger, when waiting for just the right seat.

When I was issued my service weapon at Quantico, I understood more fully the feeling of unease you experience when you can’t see what’s coming at you. I soon found myself picking the seat at restaurants that allowed me a view of the door and asking my friends to switch with me, should they grab the prime seat before I could quietly nab it. Even though I am no longer on the job, I still opt for the seat with the best view of the door (or any other place from which a threat may emerge) or spend a whole meal looking over my shoulder not-so-surreptitiously.

Most of my friends have learned this little idiosyncrasy by now and just cede me the preferred seat, but my friends who don’t come from this world of warriors all look at me funny the first time I ask to switch seats. They don’t know how uncomfortable it is to sit with my back exposed. They don’t know that even in a perfectly safe room in a perfectly safe building, one can feel horribly exposed. They don’t know that while they sit eating their dinner, I run through my mind scenarios of what I would do if a gunman came through the door. They don’t know that every warrior does this. Call us paranoid if you’d like, but until the first movie theater shooting, no-one thought it would happen there either. It's a mindset warriors never quite shake.

What’s this have to do with job interviews? EVERYTHING.

You see, if you bring a veteran in for an interview and sit him/her down facing away from the door, you’re unknowingly creating a stress-inducing situation. 

Most likely this person is going to become a tad fidgety and their eyes will dart about a bit, looking over their shoulder whenever they get the chance OR conversely, fighting that urge during the whole interview. This could easily become a distraction for your candidate and could create unintentional nonverbal cues to you, the interviewer, that cause you to disqualify the candidate for “looking shifty” or “not being cool under pressure.” I mean, who wants to hire the person who can’t sit still and won’t make eye contact?

What’s the easiest, cheapest, most immediate change you can make in your hiring process to become more Military Passionate? You guessed it, simply make a conscious decision to let the candidate see the door when interviewing. Put his/her back to a wall if at all possible. This small gesture will never be mentioned. It will never be blogged about as “the reason I knew this was the perfect employer for me” and it won’t get magazine articles written about you. However, it will make your veteran candidates more comfortable and allow them to relax just a bit more in your presence. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we want - candidates who are best able to show us who they truly are? I encourage you to allow for this idiosyncrasy not because veterans are in some way broken by needing to see the door, but because they’ve spent a lifetime being vigilant for the safety of other people, and that vigilance is something we don’t want them to change. This is not something that should be “adapted” for corporate America. (In fact, one could argue, in the day and age we live in where “going postal” is a thing, this “idiosyncracy” has the potential to save lives in your organization on a day when things go horribly wrong.)

I encourage you to incorporate this small, but powerful step into your interviewing process. 

When you know you’re interviewing a veteran, ask your interviewers to give them a seat with their back to the wall or, if that isn’t possible, a view of the door. Explain to the interviewer that this is out of respect for their history of service and will help the candidate feel more comfortable during the interview. 

Then watch and see what happens. Just that small gesture may make the difference

Jean SouthComment