By George MatthewsSeptember 19, 2013
FORT MEADE, Md. -- One of the hottest careers in the Department of Defense these days is intelligence -- intel. Whether it's tracking down bad guys, understanding the enemy's strategy and tactics, or ferreting out those trying to bring us to our knees via cyber warfare, good intel is a critical component of today's strategy for keeping America safe.
At various levels, military folks commonly employ intel tactics to learn about the new commander, promotion opportunities, their chances for a coveted assignment and an endless list of other things. It is therefore puzzling for those in the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, community when they consistently see clients fail to demonstrate the same level of energy in seeking intel about the job search process.
The first piece of intel military folks too often ignore is the need to start the process early. Despite implementation of the 2012 Veterans Opportunity to Work, or VOW Act, mandating pre-separation counseling at least 365 days before separation, TAP staff routinely must persuade leaders and separating service members to meet the timeline.
It doesn't seem to occur to many separating service members the VOW Act timeline resulted from data -- intel -- indicating a direct positive correlation between starting TAP early and success. At this time of year when many students graduate from college, those who started networking and searching for jobs months ago likely stand a better chance of finding employment than those who start after they toss their caps into the air.
As a human resources professional and current TAP manager, I constantly solicit feedback about the hiring process from recruiters and hiring managers. Also, I have first-hand experience trying to hire veterans who obviously haven't used the key intel and services transition counselors can provide.
Resumes and interviews are two areas where separating service members frequently fail to use readily available intel to enhance their potential for a successful job search.
Prepare a good resume
While a well-written resume does not guarantee a job, it's the marketing tool for getting invited to an interview. Various types can be effective, but some general rules govern resume writing.
First, the resume must convey the job seeker's skills and experience in language the hiring manager can understand. Some call this skills translation. Numerous resources, including the Department of Labor Employment Workshop Participant Manual, DOLEW facilitators, TAP counselors, FedsHireVets.gov, and other job search related books and websites can assist with this process.
Yet hiring managers routinely say a key barrier to offering an interview is their own inability to understand a military member's skill set.
Recently, a hiring official told me he received an eight-page resume from a 2012 retiree. He said he thought the applicant would have known that anything over two pages was overkill, but more frustrating was the fact nothing in the resume demonstrated the person had experience or skills to satisfy what the employer's needs. I have no doubt this person had the skills, but because his resume did not covey it, he was not invited for an interview.
Get ready for interviews
Once the person secures an interview, the resources above can again assist with preparing for the interview. The interview process could include a telephone screening, face-to-face, video teleconferencing, panel or meal interview.
A key point military members need to understand is that an interview is not a guarantee one will be hired. It simply implies a candidate has been elevated to compete in a select group of other talented jobseekers.
The wide variety of types of interviews means candidates must prepare, practice and present themselves in such a way that elevates them among the candidate pool. The key to preparation, practice and presentation is to have a plan and a step by step method to the interview process.
Candidates must have the answers to a variety of questions, and these questions and answers should be practiced. One should also have several questions to ask an employer. It goes without saying that candidates must have appropriate attire for the interview and dress to attract, not distract.
While the need for appropriate dress may be common knowledge I have personally interviewed transitioning members who missed this target by wide margins. Responses to three particular questions will immediately give the interviewer a sense of whether candidates have practiced good intel in preparing for the interview.
The first is, "Tell me more about yourself." If the answer begins with anything remotely related to place of birth, experiences in grade school, or one's bad relationship with parents, the candidate can pretty much consider the interview over. And remember, this is often the first question you'll face.
We call the response your opportunity to provide your 30-second commercial, articulating the skill sets you bring to the table; anyone who has taken advantage of TAP services would have been told how to prepare for this question.
The second question is, "Tell me about your weaknesses." The first thought is 'Who would dare tell a potential employer about a weakness?' but it is a legitimate and common question and if jobseekers try to conjure up an answer on the fly they will often appear to be like a deer caught in headlights; again simple intel can help prepare for this question.
The third question is, "Tell me what you know about our company." This is a 'low-hanging fruit' question; a few minutes spent on a corporate search website such as www.glassdoor.com can easily prepare one to confidently answer such a question. One's inability to answer such a question sends a direct message that the candidate is either lazy, disrespectful or tremendously naïve about the job search process.
The above information is certainly not inclusive of all that separating military members need to know about the job search process. The goal is to convey the importance of using the tremendous amount of available transition services to gain intel that can enhance one's chances for career success in the post-military service world.
A final piece of critical intel -- hiring managers and recruiters will not provide information on why a candidate was not selected for a position. Instead, candidates will get the form letter that says "It was a pleasure to interview you and it's obvious that you are very talented. Unfortunately, you were not the best qualified candidate for the position. We thank you for the immense service you have provided to our country. We will keep your resume on file in the event another opportunity arises that we think you are a good fit for. We wish you continued success in your job search."
No candidate can make an employer hire them, but all candidates can use the intel offered via TAP to ensure they control the components of the job search process they can control, such as resume, interview, dress, networking, attire and preparation.