Transitioning from the military can be exciting. You may dream of a steady schedule, no deployments, a break from iron discipline and strenuous activity…basically, just freedom. And if you’ve been following popular media, you’re probably thrilled to hear so much emphasis on hiring veterans. You happen to be a desirable candidate with great experience and useful skills, so this job search is going to be a piece of cake!
Or at least you hope. The truth is that despite a growing economy and a popular push to hire veterans, it can be very hard to find the job you need, much less want. Veterans who have tested the job search markets can say that even with all the goodwill about your service, employers are often confused by your experiences and eager to hire the “safe” candidates: the ones who have done that job before.
But that’s if you follow “the rules” of a job search like every other candidate. In hiring processes designed to find “safe” candidates, the deck is stacked against a veteran with meaningful experiences and unteachable skills. In many ways, your best bet is to break those rules and grab a potential employer’s attention. Here’s how.
1. Write a human-sounding resume. This is hard for veterans because the military is famous for teaching robotic, dry prose. Also, the military strongly disapproves of anything that smacks of self-promotion or style — a consequence of its focus on performance. But you need to be a person to an employer. If you write a resume and cover letter that sound like they should be read in a monotone, you can count on sending your recruiter to sleep. (Read: Why You Should Write a Human-Sounding Resume).
2. Make your resume a story. Preferably one that starts with you making a courageous decision to serve your country, and then building a solid base of skills and experiences that has perfectly prepared you for the job to which you’re applying. It takes a little authorship, but humans – including recruiters and employers – always respond better to a story than a list.
3. Don’t be afraid to use the word “I.” Trying to write about what you’ve done (your experiences) or what you can do (your skills/achievements) without using the word “I” results in convoluted sentences, added words which eat up space, and ultimately a supremely uninteresting resume. Don’t be afraid to write your application documents naturally. You’ll come across as more engaged and more interesting.
4. Contact the hiring manager about your application. It’s easy to hit “send” on the online application and think you’ve done your due diligence on the job search, but don’t abandon your resume to the computerized hopper of some company website. Find the hiring manager, send a paper copy of your application to his or her work address, and then call that person directly. Tell him or her that you applied and offer a short summary of why you’re a great fit for the job. It’s hard to forget tangible and sensory things like a voice or a paper copy of a resume, but it’s easy to flick past a hyperlink to your online application. Make yourself hard to forget so when that hiring manager remembers he or she has to fill a spot, you will be the first one who springs to mind.
5. Don’t talk about how great you are. Everyone dislikes hearing others brag, even when they’re reviewing an application on which you’re supposed to brag. Instead, tell how you can make the business better by identifying the need lurking in the subtext of the job posting. That means research: you have to figure out what is lacking, or not working right in their organization, based on the qualifications they require. With that, explain in your cover letter and resume summary how you’re going to fix what is broken. You don’t have to be all slimy-used-car-salesman about it, either… just be friendly, helpful and respectful. That’s how you offer added value instead of a boring group of boilerplate qualifications like every other candidate in the system.
Don’t let computer automation and check-box-ticking human resources departments ignore your applications. Break the old job search rules designed to elicit computer responses and make yourself hard to ignore. Because once you get to talk to an employer, your veteran status, bearing, dedication and experience will carry the day.