Military service is no golden ticket to employment
Thursday, September 15, 2016
While both honorable and respected, military service is by no means your golden ticket to a new career.
Serving this great nation in any branch of the armed forces is a highly respected duty, but no matter what your goal is, someday we must all leave. As a leader, I always harped on soldiers about attending college because that degree was going to help them get promoted and assist in obtaining a good-paying career upon discharge.
After 29 years of Army service as a military police officer, I thought I had been trained and prepared for just about anything the world could throw at me. When it came time to start preparing for my own retirement, I quickly found out this was not the case.
It had been nearly 30 years since I had last applied for a job, and the process back then was much less technical. You went to wherever it was you wished to work, filled out an application and had an in-person interview.
This is not the case in the modern technological world. Today, you do nearly all of your applying online. As a face-to-face person, I was completely unprepared for this. I did get the job I wanted, but my interviewing performance was only a small part of that success; it was my experience paired with academic achievements that set the stone.
Currently, I work for Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, just outside Fort Campbell as the equal opportunity compliance officer and investigator. Part of my duties in this position is to ensure that job applicants are given equal opportunity in the selection process so everyone gets a fair shake.
However, as I glance over the thousands of resumes and applications that come across my desk, it has become abundantly clear that service members need much more training on resume writing and the interview process. Accurately capitalizing on the plethora of skills that you have acquired is paramount to your success, and I see many veterans who just don't know how.
Using military jargon and acronyms is a showstopper unless you are applying for a position closely related to your previous field — even then it should be left to a minimum. Then, there is grammar, syntax and for the love of all that is holy, spell check! There is nothing that gets a resume dropped into the round file cabinet faster than simple mistakes.
When writing your resume, you should copy and paste and then paraphrase many of the words listed in the job announcement into your resume. It's not plagiarism, it's part of the game of making sure the computer looking for keywords gets the highest number from your resume. That's how you get moved forward in the process.
However, don't apply for a position for which you are not qualified and can't produce credentials.
A civilian resume should be no more than two pages in length. Trust me I know it's hard to squeeze 20-plus years of experience and training into two 8-by-11-inch pieces of paper, but hiring committees are swamped with resumes. A strong, concise resume will survive, you can and should save the best for the interview.
Three key and essential things are a cover letter, a resume and good references. When choosing references, you need to have professional and personal ones. Make sure they are people who can attest to your professionalism, such as former senior leaders, and definitely ask their permission.
Then comes the interview, and this is where you can and should shine the most because you have practiced — right? Remember when you were studying for a board and practiced your biography and bearing when answering questions? It's the same thing, only this time you can do it without sitting at attention while getting shotgun blasted by first sergeants.
If you are having a telephone interview first, make sure you do it somewhere with no annoying background noise or interruptions. Think of answers to questions like, "Why do you want to work for us?" If asked to tell them a little about yourself, this does not mean you are a Virgo and like long walks on the beach. Tell them about your experience, skill, knowledge and abilities.
Do some research! Nothing bodes as well as having some knowledge of the company you're trying to work for — especially if you are hit with the "How do you feel you can help our company?" question. Seriously though, this is your time to mention all of the other training and experience you couldn't fit on your resume.
If you are graced with a face-to-face interview, dress for success. Do a little intel gathering and know what is acceptable in this organization. So you're proud of your new Duck Dynasty-style "I want everyone to think I was a Special Forces operator" beard? Good luck with that.
If you show up to a job interview looking like an unshaven slob or homeless person, you have most likely wasted everyone's time. The standard rule is to dress one level up from the position you're applying for, but you can never go wrong in business attire. And if you don't know what that is, Google it.
It should be no issue to show up early because you have been trained to be everywhere early, right? Ten to 15 minutes early is perfectly acceptable, but don't be sitting in the lobby for an hour playing Candy Crush on your phone — you never know who might be watching.
If you are a smoker, that's fine. But curb that urge for a while so you don't show up smelling like an ashtray. Also, never conduct an interview with anything in your mouth like gum or chewing tobacco — it is extremely unprofessional.
Etiquette is crucial, and while my personal belief is that it should be part of academia, I know it is not. Practice and make it a habit. Stand up before you shake anyone's hand, male or female, and don't try to impress anyone by crushing their hand. Use proper grammar when speaking and using sir or ma'am is perfectly acceptable, but turn off the military jargon switch and do not cuss.
If asked about previous employers, don't start bashing them — it's interview suicide. At the same time, don't lie because your interviewer may be a veteran. If you can't provide proof or documentation on a skill or training, don't bring it up.
If asked why you think you are the best candidate, throw them off guard with a response like, "It would be extremely arrogant for me to say I am the best candidate because I know nothing of the abilities of the others, but what I do know is what I bring to the table and how I can help to make your organization a success."
Upon completion of the interview, you may be asked if you have any questions, but be careful here. Don't start asking about vacation time, days off, holidays, etc. Questions about standard work week, health benefits and even job expectation are perfectly fine. If asked what your salary goal is, you need to be reasonable and know what the going rate is for that position with your skills. If you are retired and have Tricare coverage, you may have room to negotiate for higher salary since you may not be using their insurance.
If you have no questions at the time, make sure you stand once again, shake everyone's hand and thank them for taking the time and giving you the opportunity. You may be walked out by someone, and he/she may walk you all the way to your car. Believe it or not, your car also makes an impression, so clean it.
Here is a little tidbit I learned from a friend who was the chief operation officer of a major corporation: Write a thank-you letter; it makes an impression. Once you are done with the interview and as soon as you have time, write a thank-you letter to whomever was in charge of your interview, and either mail or email it. Thank them once again for giving you the opportunity for the interview, and take the opportunity to briefly explain once again your interest in working for them.
There are many other aspects to consider, such as security clearances, credit scores, etc., but that is for a different conversation. Just remember as I stated earlier, your service while highly respected by most employers is not your golden ticket.
As with any mission, there is training required, intel to gather and recon and rehearsals to conduct. Serve with honor and get your degree because you are not the only veteran looking for a job, and you need to have something to set you apart.
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