by Andrea Downing Peck
Are you a service member poised to transition into the civilian job market? An improving job market and growing numbers of “military friendly” civilian employers should make landing a job a breeze, right?
Not so fast.
While the unemployment rate for Post-9/11 veterans has fallen from a high of 12.1% in 2011 to 4.6% this year, finding a job in today’s robust job market still requires a winning search strategy and the ability to get your resume noticed by employers.
“Just because the job market is good doesn’t mean it is easier to find a job,” states Janis Whitaker, executive director of VetCTAP , a San Diego-based veteran career transition assistance program. She says veterans, particularly those who have served a decade or more, often “start from ground zero” in the search process because they don’t have a civilian network to tap or firsthand experience in the corporate world.
On the flipside, Whitaker says veterans have “phenomenal skills” — both technical and soft skills — that make them thought after by employers. The challenge is learning how to translate that talent and experience into language civilian hiring managers can understood.
Veterans who quickly learn to navigate the civilian hiring process can find a swifter path to a postmilitary career. Army veteran Lisa Rosser, CEO and founder of The Value of a Veteran in Virginia, says today’s employment landscape is opening more possibilities for veterans to get “great jobs as they transition” or to jump from an initial job into a “more appropriate position.”
In today’s job-seekers’ market, here are eight secrets to success:
1Think beyond LinkedIn. If you don’t have a profile on LinkedIn (military-jargon free and with a professional civilian photo), you are missing an opportunity to find — and be found by —corporate recruiters. But Navy veteran Sultan Camp, strategic recruiter, talent acquisition for Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, argues a LinkedIn profile no longer is enough.
“Everybody is on LinkedIn now, but not everybody is on Twitter,” says Camp, who recommends reaching out to hiring officials via the social media. “Wherever there is less noise, there is increased opportunity for interaction,” he explains. “I may get 50 InMails via LinkedIn each day. On Twitter, I may get one direct message.”
Though he considers LinkedIn a must for job seekers, Camp advises against paying for LinkedIn Premium. “I am big fan of sticking with free,” he says. “Use the free version as long as possible — until LinkedIn nudges you that you are nearing the commercial limit. At that point, take advantage of the Veteran Job Seeker Upgrade for 12 months.
2Network, network, network. You may be applying for jobs online, but don’t lose sight of the fact most jobs are found through personal connections.
Local chapters of professional organizations, Meetup groups, veteran associations/organizations and career fairs are all ways to connect with professionals working in the industry you want to enter.
“Depending on who you talk to, between 70% and 80% of jobs are found through networking,” Whitaker says. “Military members have a wide network, but most of them are in the military, which doesn’t help them if they are interested in getting a corporate or civilian job.”
3Eliminate “military speak.” Writing a civilian resume requires more than eliminating obvious military acronyms and jargon. Terms such as “command,” “deployed” and “non-commissioned officer” roll off the tongue of anyone who has worn a uniform, but may draw blank stares from hiring managers.
“Simple, everyday terms come so easily [to service members] so they think everyone understands them,” Whitaker explains. “We spend a lot of time [with service members] translating military-speak to civilian speak for their resume and when they speak with people one-on-one.”
4Customize your resume. The resume you created in a transition class is likely not the resume you want to include with a job application. Rosser says veterans must avoid drafting resumes that read like a “master skills list.” Instead, make each resume job-specific.
“If your resume lists everything you know how to do and it’s not tailored to the job, you are fighting an uphill battle,” she says. “You’re fighting an applicant tracking system that is going to screen you out because you don’t look like you have the relevant skills. You’re fighting a human set of eyes — a recruiter who is looking at your resume for the first time and saying, ‘This person thinks they have the right skills, but I’m not seeing it.’”
5Consider a job’s potential. After leaving active duty, Rosser accepted a lower-level position with a major consulting firm even though her military experience suggested she was qualified for a management role. When she was promoted 18 months later, she was better prepared to excel as a manager.
“Ultimately, I came to realize it was a good thing they didn’t throw me [directly] into the management position because people in that role had been with the company typically for 10 years and had profit and loss experience, had managed contracts and knew the language around contracts,” Rosser states. “I didn’t know any of that [initially].”
6Don’t expect to be a trailblazer. Camp recommends veterans focus their job-search efforts on companies where they know they will be a “good fit.”
A keyword search on LinkedIn can help determine if the company you are applying to previously has hired people with your military skill set and experience. If you fail to find someone with a similar military background, your chances of getting hired may be low.
“The hiring manager knows what they want and what their preference is,” Camp says, so this is a way to hedge your bets and focus on places where your chances of being hired are better. “If you’re a colonel, see if there are any colonels working there. If there aren’t, you’re probably looking at a 90% chance…you aren’t going to be a good fit.”
7Master mentoring programs. Take advantage of mentoring programs for military personnel and veterans with corporate professionals who can offer resume and interview advice as well as provide industry insights and networking opportunities. Rallypoint (www.Rallypoint.com), Veterati (www.veterati.com/sva/) and American Corporate Partners (www.acp-usa.org) are a few of the well-known names. “There are so many tools and organizations out there specific to helping service members,” Rosser says. “It can’t be the excuse ‘I don’t know where to go; I don’t know where to look.’”
8Practice makes perfect. Your resume may get you an interview, but the interview is the real key to getting hired. Whitaker recommends service members take advantage of all opportunities to practice their interview skills, from prepping with family members to going on informational interviews and interviewing for positions they have little interest in filling.