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Oo-rah, Motivator! Tips for Interviewing Marines

I was speaking with a civilian business partner the other day when she described a Marine she'd met on a plane as "very motivated". She was speaking to an intensity that caught her a bit off guard after hours of travel-induced sleep deprivation. What she didn't know was she was paying that Marine a high compliment.

Marines frequently greet one another using the term, "Motivator" (among a few others). I remember the first time I heard this, it was at the gates of Quantico as my classmates and I were returning to base after dinner. My classmate behind the wheel is a Marine (you NEVER say "was a Marine", they get annoyed). He handed over his ID card and I witnessed a ritual that was foreign at the time. The Marine at the gate saluted, my classmate said, "Oo-rah, Motivator", we drove off, and for a second my classmate was a different person. The pride in his eyes burned a bit brighter, he sat up a bit straighter, and spoke a bit more precisely. He was suddenly very intense. He was motivated.

Marines, more than any of the services, are deeply proud of their title. No, not their rank. Their title is "Marine" and they wear it with so much pride you could bounce a quarter off their chests when they say it. 

Because of this, as civilians we can easily offend a Marine rather unintentionally. I, for example, watched the ritual above for the first time and responded, "Oh, how cute!" THAT? Was not received well. We can easily not understand the many rituals and sayings that Marines hold dear and seemingly trivialize those things they hold the most pride in. Should you unintentionally get an element of protocol around the flag in front of the building wrong, your Marine co-worker/employee will be the very first one to notice and call it out. They'll likely be uncomfortably direct about it. They aren't being rude, though in the moment it could come across as such. They are being exactly who we've asked them to be - precise and proud of the flag they have given so much for. 

In an employment interview with a Marine, you may notice some of the intensity my colleague noticed. She, rightfully identified it as motivation. Others might just be intimidated or off-put by it. Recognize that this quality is what the Marine Corps encourages, builds, creates, and identifies with so intensely that they've turned it into a nickname for one another.

How do you get past that intensity to understand whether this Marine could be a right fit for your company? 

Ask about it.

Ask why s/he joined the Corps. You'll learn so much. My favorite response to date came from a female Marine/Naval Academy graduate.

She said that she asked herself what was the hardest thing she could do, recognized it was the Marine Corps, and joined. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that's a candidate you want working for you.

That's an employee who will seek out the hardest, most daunting projects and take them on to bring your organization success.

Invite them to relax.

Before you dive into rapid-fire questions, spend some extra time building rapport. Ask them to use your first name (years of being punished for using anything other than "sir", "ma'am", or rank and last name have them pretty programmed). Ask about their hometown or their pets.

One of the fastest ways to break through to the heart of a Marine is to mention their pups if they have them. Instant Marine Mush!

Ask yourself if you're listening to the candidate's heart or responding only to his/her body language.

I've learned that most Marines are cuddly teddy bears on the inside, but you would NEVER know it from the outside. Their words will betray them if you truly listen. Don't make a snap judgment call. In the story about securing supplies and moving them to a remote base in a war zone you will find pride in a job well done as well as self-sacrifice (I guarantee getting those supplies to that base was hairier and scarier than you're being led to believe).

When you find out the candidate was top of his/her class in Officer Candidates School (OCS), that doesn't just mean s/he is smart. It means they have endured many physical & mental challenges and come out on top of them all. The classroom is a small element. For the employer, that means you have someone who won't give up when things get tough. That's why Amazon loves our vets so much - they know that in the height of the highest shipping seasons, their vets are relentless to get the job done. Wouldn't you love to capitalize on that?

The intensity of a motivated Marine can either overwhelm you or it can inspire you. It's a fine line all civilians walk. Take a step back in an effort to understand what built that intensity and you'll find yourself in awe.