From Battle Plans to Business Plans

From Battle Plans to Business Plans

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

Well, the results are in – Veterans are entrepreneurial. Whether or not we know it, and whether or not we do anything to confirm it, is another matter – but you can ‘rest easy’ knowing you’re more likely to succeed as a small business owner than your counterpart in the general population, one with no military experience.

Notice I didn’t say anything about guaranteed success. As I’ve said in this blog’s space before, small business is risky. I’ve always thought, though, that it’s what we’ve been through – from the adversity, to the training, to the opportunities to lead, to the expectations that we’ll be flexible and adaptable – those are some of the intangibles that stack the entrepreneurial deck in our favor, even if just a little bit. 

Another one of those intangibles, a really important one that’s hard to measure, is our ability (and susceptibility) to plan – to plan for the best and worst cases, to plan for contingencies, and to plan for second- and third-order effects. From battle plans to business plans – our background in the military community makes us more likely to succeed because we’re more likely to plan.

President and former Soldier Dwight Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” It could be argued that truer words have never been spoken, because it’s what we discover (or uncover) during the planning process that can make all the difference. But with as much planning as you, the small business owner, might engage in, keep in mind that you’ll need to be ready to adjust fire just as soon as things go sideways.

We have plenty of advocates in the civilian sector that want to help us succeed in small business, and most of them that I’ve spoken with over the years agree that we, collectively, have what it takes. Case in point #1: a colleague of mine that works for the Small Business Development Center system has worked with hundreds of clients and reviewed countless business plans. When advising prospective entrepreneurs, he doles out his own words of advice, such as those in an earlier post we titled, “Six Tips to a Top-Shelf Business Plan” (https://militaryconnection.com/blog/top-shelf-business-plan/). When business planning, he recommends beginning with the end in mind, being wary of search engine results, being specific in your statement of purpose, and backing up your plan with robust action. Keep in mind that, as far as business plans go, there is no magic format or layout, and research is the key to a solid plan.

Case in point #2: a franchise consultant I know, one that regularly presents at transition workshops, tells me that there’s a general consensus among the franchise industry that Veterans make great franchisees (in other words, as small business owners). In an article found on our blog at https://militaryconnection.com/blog/vets-make-good-franchisees/, he offers up his take on why U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that approximately 2.5 million businesses – nearly 9.1% – are Veteran-owned, and why nearly one in seven U.S. franchises is owned by a Veteran. He touches on how proper planning is the foundation for so many other success factors that franchisors seek: quality training, risk management, discipline, and the ability to work under pressure. I second that assessment, and add a few more of my own tips for the ‘would-be’ entrepreneur…things that become second nature with constant and consistent planning.

What are those extra tips that might help you plan your next business venture, you ask? Well, they include defining success (success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents, but without spending time and energy in the planning process, that may be hard to nail down; figuring out your comfort level with risk (with proper planning, you can identify where your risk lies and determine the best way to mitigate that risk); building your team (as in, surrounding yourself with good people…professionals who have skillsets that you don’t (but need); and managing your brand (be your own brand ambassador for your small business…clean up your online image if you need to, then walk the walk.)

So, at the end of the day (or at the beginning of your next venture), just remember how valuable the planning process will be and embrace it accordingly. A few more words from someone more famous than I would be, “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Many successful small business owners can also attest that, “no business plan survives first contact with the customer.” But in the process of planning, with what you’ve learned along the way, you’ll adapt and you’ll adjust…it’s what we do. And more often than not, we’ll succeed…

Until next time…

 

Veterans’ Preference in the Job Search

Veterans’ Preference in the Job Search

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

If you’re part of the Military community and you’ve spent any time at all looking for a job, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with the term “Veterans’ Preference.” For most of us, though, that’s the extent of it…we have a vague familiarity with the words, something that gives us a conceptual warm and fuzzy, but we’re not quite sure why.

Simply stated, Veterans’ Preference is a policy that may allow an applicant to receive preference in the hiring process over non-Veterans. State and local public-sector programs and companies in private enterprise may have their own preference policies in place, but for the rest of this post, we’ll be talking about Veterans’ Preference in the federal jobs environment.

According to OPM (the US Office of Personnel Management that serves as the country’s chief Human Resources agency and that oversees its federal hiring processes), Veterans of the US Armed Forces have been given some degree of preference in appointments to federal jobs since the Civil War. Veterans’ Preference was used to “recognize the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country in uniform, restore Veterans to a favorable competitive position for Government employment, and acknowledge the larger obligation owed to disabled Veterans.” In its current form, the policy has its roots in the Veterans’ Preference Act of 1944 (codified in Title 5, United States Code).

If you really want to do a deep dive on the subject, you should supplement your education with a visit to OPM’s web page for HR professionals at https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/veterans-services/vet-guide-for-hr-professionals/. While you’re there, you’ll find that, by law, preference in hiring “applies to permanent and temporary positions in the competitive and excepted services of the Executive branch,” but that the Legislative and Judicial branches of the Federal Government are exempt, unless made subject to the Veterans’ Preference Act by some other law. If you find yourself longing for more on the topic, I’d also visit https://www.fedshirevets.gov/job-seekers/veterans-preference/. You’ll be able to really get in the weeds about when preference applies and the type you’re eligible for, which we’ll just touch on here and now…

Types of Veterans’ Preference (Federal level). Veterans’ Preference eligibility can be based on dates of active duty service, receipt of a campaign badge, receipt of a Purple Heart, or a service-connected disability, but know that not all active duty service qualifies for Veterans’ Preference. Only Veterans discharged or released from active duty under honorable conditions are eligible for veterans’ preference. Military retirees at the rank of Major, Lieutenant Commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans (but this doesn’t apply to gray-area retirees, those Reservists who won’t draw military retired pay until age 60.) There are three types of preference eligibility: sole survivorship (0-point preference), non-disabled (5-point preference), and disabled (10-point preference). Here are a few of the details:

…0-point preference eligibility. You were released or discharged from a period of active duty from the armed forces, after August 29, 2008, by reason of being the only surviving child in a family in which the father or mother or one or more siblings: 1) Served in the armed forces, AND 2) was killed, died as a result of wounds, accident, or disease, is in a captured or missing in action status, or is permanently 100 percent disabled or hospitalized on a continuing basis (and is not employed gainfully because of the disability or hospitalization); WHERE the death, status, or disability did not result from the intentional misconduct or willful neglect of the parent or sibling and was not incurred during a period of unauthorized absence. (While no points are added to a scored application for 0-point eligibles, they are listed ahead of non-preference eligibles with the same score or in the same quality category.)

…5-point preference eligibility. You served on active duty in a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal or badge has been authorized; OR for more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, during various periods of time over the last 65 years or so. (I refer you back to the OPM webpage earlier in this post for the exact dates.)

…10-Point preference eligibility.  You served at any time, AND 1) you have a service-connected disability, OR 2) you received a Purple Heart.

How Veterans’ Preference is applied & other things you’ll need. When applying for Federal jobs, eligible Veterans should claim preference on their application or resume; when agencies use a numerical rating and ranking system to determine the best qualified applicants for a position, an additional 5 or 10 points are added to the numerical score of qualified preference-eligible Veterans. When claiming Veterans’ Preference, you’ll typically need to provide a copy of your DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or other acceptable documentation. Applicants claiming 10-point preference will usually need to submit form SF-15, Application for 10-point Veterans’ Preference, or other acceptable documentation (such as a letter from the VA that contains details on dates of service, discharge status, and disability rating).

 

The informal feedback I’ve received over the last decade indicates that most of us in the general population of job seekers have mixed feelings about Veterans’ Preference. I, for one, appreciate the gesture our national leadership put in place all those years ago, but I can’t say as I’ve ever benefited from being awarded those preference points in the application process. I’ve heard many folks say they’ve applied to countless position and (even with points applied) have never even been called for an interview, and therefore are less than enamored with the policy. Still others make no bones about their dislike and distrust of the process, believing that nepotism and the ‘good old boy’ system is still alive and well, regardless of what OPM has to say.

My take is that you’d have to have a look deep under the hood to gauge whether or not Veterans’ Preference in the federal hiring arena has had the kind of impact its writers had hoped it would. But if you’re applying for a position or a program that uses Veterans’ Preference and you’re eligible, I encourage you to use it to your advantage – you’ve earned it. Remember that Veterans’ Preference doesn’t guarantee a job to those that qualify, and it typically doesn’t apply to internal agency actions like promotions, transfers, reassignments, and reinstatements.

Personally, I never thought Veterans’ Preference would be that ‘X’ factor that got me the job, but rather that it might be what gives me that competitive edge one day, and propels me to the interview phase of the job search. And here’s hoping that it will for you, too.

Until next time…

 

 

Hiring Veterans: Why Veterans Make Excellent Employees

Hiring Veterans: Why Veterans Make Excellent Employees

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

Nearly a year ago, I posted one of my first blogs for Military Connection, one that had a focus on why employers should hire members of the military community. It was called “At Least Ten Reasons to Hire Veterans,” but by the time I reached the closing paragraph, I had parlayed that into 25 reasons. Although I didn’t want to just rewrite that original post, I did want to take a closer look at some of those elements on my list. If you’re an employer reading this, you either already ‘get it’ or maybe my words will encourage you to seek more Veterans for your open positions. If you’re a jobseeker with military experience, once again I encourage you to take inventory of the items on this list and use them to sell yourself…both on your resume and in the interview.

Across the various workforce development groups I’ve been a part of over the last ten years or so, my teammates and I have spoken to and worked with literally thousands of employers. When we’ve had those conversations, here are some of the reasons why Veterans make excellent employees…

Leadership experience. At the top of nearly every employer’s wish list is to on-board someone who can make a sudden and lasting impact on their workforce, someone who has already successfully held positions of leadership. If those positions happened to have involved troops, it might have ranged from leading just a few men and women in the early stages of a military enlistment, to serving at the helm of thousands of warriors near the end of one’s career. The successes and failures, and the subsequent growth from lessons learned, can help develop a maturity that’s hard to find. And those that have successfully led men and women in uniform haven’t always been at the top, so they usually have a keen ability to work as either a team member or a team leader…and they can give or follow directions, depending on the needs of the organization.

Performance under pressure. While I typically avoid blanket statements, I’m comfortable saying that everyone in uniform is trained to do their job under less-than-ideal conditions or in a ‘lives depend on it’ scenario. I’ve been in units that trained at every turn for their wartime mission, taking every opportunity to train in the dark, in the rain, in the cold, and without a second to spare. Every training event is essentially a rehearsal for an eventuality most of us pray will never come. A by-product of that training, for many, is the ability to work efficiently and diligently in a fast-paced environment. A sought-after skill for many hiring managers, for sure.

Strong work ethic. If there’s one attribute that employers seem to assign to military jobseekers more than any other, it’s this one. Whichever branch of service, in whatever part of the world…those in uniform know what hard work looks like. For some, the work ethic comes naturally; for others, it comes after being honed in countless situations and unforgiving conditions. In either case, a strong work ethic, coupled with systematic planning and organizational skills, can do wonders for a workforce.

Specialized, advanced training and technical skills. Whether hiring managers are looking for those with the latest training and certifications in IT or someone who has the transferable skills of a commercial truck driver or First Responder, the specialized job training that military schools provide are world-class. Regardless of the industry in which an employer’s open positions lie – transportation, logistics, intelligence, manufacturing, or any other – there are folks transitioning from active military service or still serving in the National Guard & Reserve that are ready to fill them.

Discipline, with a healthy dose of flexibility and adaptability. One definition of discipline is “training to act in accordance with rules.” Combine that with the ability to flex and adapt and you have a potential workforce all-star who can adjust and excel at whatever the corporate environment throws their way.

Attention to detail. Long considered a hallmark of military Veterans from every branch of service, detail-oriented employees are also on most employers’ wish lists. That soft skill – being able to spot whether things are as they should be or corrections are needed – is one that comes more naturally the more it’s put into practice. It also often comes with a host of similar traits, such as a commitment to excellence, a history of meeting standards of quality, and a respect for procedures and accountability.

So there starts another list…one that goes into just a little more detail about why Veterans make excellent employees. To all you small business owners and hiring managers out there, I highly encourage you to connect with job-seeking Veterans (and those Military Spouses, too) for your open positions…you’ll be glad you did.

Until next time…

Mission Essential: Soft Skills & Your Job Search

By Alan Rohlfing
 
Soft skills. Whether you’re a supervisor, business owner, military leader, or employee, no doubt you’ve heard how important those are in the world of work. They’re defined by some as an individual’s ability to sense, regulate, and respond in a constructive way to other people’s ideas…as a way to explore resolutions to issues, problems or conflicts with others…and as a way to exercise influence and build trust. Organizations with an inherent appreciation of those skills often see their value reflected in the bottom line, and those that work in the Human Resources space will tell you that it’s the application of soft skills, or lack thereof, that keeps them busy. That said, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there’s a great deal of attention on soft skills in the job search process, from the resume to the interview and beyond. Knowing how to emphasize your soft skill strengths can mean the world to a hiring manager.
The standard that was: historically, the goal of most resumes was to show – on paper – the hard skills that job seekers could bring to an organization, typically through education or experience. And for sure, those hard skills, those technical skills, remain a critical element that companies need in their ranks. The ability to learn the job, retain that knowledge, and perform tasks that meet or exceed expectations are essential for organizations to compete and succeed.
More and more companies, however, are placing great importance on soft skills in the workplace and their role in the overall culture of the organization. Leaders find that soft skills matter even in ‘hard’ disciplines…that it’s the interpersonal skills, the bedside manner, the ability to innovate and collaborate…that can give a company an edge in their market. Because of that, many employers are offering (or requiring) more training and allocating more resources on soft skills in the workforce, with some even admitting they give preference to them over hard skills. Studies show that companies with a focus on soft skills have higher retention, higher employee engagement, and improved business results.
On the other hand, workplace cultures that don’t value those soft skills, traits, and attributes …tend to reap what they sow. Companies that foster poor leadership soft skills like rudeness, hostility, and disrespect find that employees are less creative and produce a lower quality of work. Overall, good people leave the organization and the bottom line suffers.
What exactly are those soft skillsets that employers are looking for? Some that are common throughout many civilian organizations include communication skills, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, the ability to work as part of a team, and time management. But what about for those of us from the military community? Back in November, I penned an article for this blog that identified my top 25 reasons that employers hire Veterans. I could have just as easily named that article the “Top 25 Soft Skills that Employers Want Today!” That list included things like leadership experience, performance under pressure, and a strong work ethic. And discipline, attention to detail, and a respect for procedures and accountability. And a commitment to excellence, a history of meeting standards of quality, and the ability to conform to rules and structure. Get the picture?
Soft skills, as great as they are, are very subjective. They are some of the hardest to master and are very hard to quantify, with no easy, standard measure of success. How do employers find out if a candidate that looks good on paper has any of those soft skillsets that might make them the most qualified for the open position? Most likely during the interview, where there’s an opportunity for personal interaction and follow-up questions. Be prepared for behavioral and situational interview questions, those that are open-ended and that allow you to draw on past experiences or talk about your approach to hypothetical scenarios. Be prepared for questions like:
 
– Describe a situation where you found you had a serious problem. What did you do to solve it?
– Describe when you had to present a proposal to your superiors. How did you do and why?
– Tell me about a time you did more than was required in your position.
– How do you develop short- and long-range plans?
– Have you ever given instructions that someone didn’t follow? What did you do about it?
 Did you ever have to deal with a co-worker who wasn’t pulling his or her weight? What was your approach to the situation?
– How do you confront underperforming employees?
– Give an example of an especially difficult project you had to complete. What was your role?
 
Soft skills. At the end of the day, these are the reasons why employers want to hire from the military community, why they value military experience in their workforce. Take inventory of what you bring to an employer’s open position. Incorporate those soft skillsets and experiences into your resume, your cover letter, and answers to potential interview questions. If you can make the connection between those skills – skills that you possess – and essential elements in the job description, you’ll be well on your way to making a positive and lasting impact on that employer’s workforce. Best of luck!
 
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, email [email protected] and tell us your story…

How to Leverage Applicant Tracking Systems in Your Job Search

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
 
Ahhh, the online job application. Been there, done that. From the advent of the Web to social to mobile, technology has made quite the impact…and perhaps no more so than on the recruiting and selection process for today’s workforce.
Have you ever completed an online job application and received “NO” feedback? Not even a “Thanks, but no thanks”? Because I know that most of you are nodding your heads in agreement, I’m going to spend the next few minutes talking about the primary source of our frustration – the Applicant Tracking System, or ATS. Of course, this information & these comments serve as a general reference and do not apply systemically to all ATS programs or to all companies.
Before I continue, you need to know that much credit for the substance of this post goes to my good friend, Frank Alaniz. Frank is an Air Force Veteran, colleague, mentor, and friend, and he’s helped literally thousands of job-seekers over the last twenty years find gainful employment as a trainer for the Missouri Division of Workforce Development. Between his grasp of technology and his tremendous network of employers, he’s been able to stay current on the latest hiring practices and pass that knowledge along to his clients and workshop attendees. You can connect with Frank on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/frankalaniz).
Early on. Way back in the day, the explosion of online job boards created a global platform for advertising job openings and forced the recruiter to look to an electronic recruitment system to help automate the processing of all the candidates. The early ATS companies appeared on the scene in the late 1990s and, at the turn of the century, many recruiters weren’t convinced that the Internet would ever become relevant for mainstream recruiting…your average retail clerk or plumber or sales rep would never apply for a job online.
E-recruitment and Applicant Tracking Systems started off as clunky, bureaucratic processes that frustrated everyone. But now…now they’re so much more. Those systems are integrated, cloud-based software suites that encompass the entire employee lifecycle. There are hundreds of Applicant Tracking Systems out there from which a company can choose, and in the employee selection ‘space’ an ATS enables users to manage hiring processes like job distribution, screening, interviewing, and sending out offers.
The good. What used to be the exclusive domain of large organizations, the ATS solution is now available for employers of all sizes, thanks in large part to the potential unleashed by cloud-based computing. An ATS can be implemented or accessed online at an enterprise or small business level, depending on the needs of the company. There’s also free and open source ATS software available. And what can an ATS do for the overburdened HR staff? Well, it can analyze resumes and present the data they contain in a standardized format where it can be quickly reviewed; it can make comparing resumes fast and simple; it can collect, organize, and show job candidates in the same way LinkedIn or Facebook show your contacts or friends; it can post to a wide range of free and paid job boards with a single submission; and it offers the facility to automatically filter dud applications from true job candidates. The right applicant tracking software is a major step towards creating a repeatable, systematic hiring process, from posting a job to having an offer letter accepted.
The bad. It’s estimated that about 95% of businesses use software programs to handle their recruitment process. The ATS searches resumes – sometimes thousands of them – for keywords that match the job description in order to help determine the human “best fit” for the position. But while that helps with efficiency, experts also claim that a full 90% or more of resumes submitted online are never seen by human eyes.
In some of our workshops, we jokingly(?) call the Applicant Tracking System a “weapon of mass rejection.” Here are some numbers for you: up to 80% of those resumes scored by ATS programs are determined unqualified within the first 10 minutes of the application process (i.e., before actual submission); up to 75% of the remaining job applicants are unqualified immediately after hitting the submit button; and some experts estimate that at least 85% of those resumes rejected were done so because they contained the wrong words or used the wrong format.
Simply put, an ATS maps and gathers info from your resume, scores each resume based on how well it matches the job description (think keywords), and then ranks the candidates. Potential employees with the highest scores move to the next step in the recruitment process, while others are left in the dust. Your carefully-crafted, hand-tailored, aesthetically-pleasing resume is getting reviewed and graded by… a bot.
Make sure your application entries and/or resume contain the keywords that the job posting uses to avoid the ATS “black hole” …that situation where you never hear from anyone at any time about any of the jobs for which you’ve applied. Keywords are those…well, words…that employers and recruiters use to find appropriate and relevant resumes. Regardless of how well-qualified you are, if your resume doesn’t contain the words they’ve coded into the ATS for that position, the system will not find your resume.
The ATS looks for a specific match, ranking the resumes with the most keyword matches higher than the rest. Those keywords typically come from the job description you’re applying for, so don’t use generic “buzz words” you found online.
Speaking of keywords and the ATS, here’s a tip: avoid keyword stuffing at all costs. What’s that, you say? It’s literally stuffing hidden keywords into a resume in order to game the system, done by repeatedly typing keywords into the resume then making the text white so that it’s invisible to human eyes. The idea is that it will help the candidate rank higher in an ATS review.
Unfortunately, keyword stuffing with hidden text is easily spotted and one of the quickest ways to burn a bridge with a recruiter. Instead, focus on resume keyword optimization, which isn’t about “tricking” or “beating” the system; it’s about working in sync with recruiters and hiring managers and the technology they use. One way to optimize is to use any number of online apps to help you analyze a job description compared to your resume. Do so, and that comparison will reveal all the keywords that are missing from your resume so you can deliberately work them in.
There are other legitimate ways to increase your resume “ranking”, like tailoring the content to the exact way the job description is written. And yes, that will mean a different version of your resume for each job application. Focus your resume on hard skills; many soft skill terms we use (like ‘dynamic’, ‘team player’, and ‘critical thinker’) are not quantifiable. Pay attention to how words are written in that job description: watch for plural vs. singular, abbreviations, and numbers. Did the job description read “nonprofit” or “non-profit”? Did it read “3 years” or “three years”? In ATS-land, those details matter…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…there are certain things that you might just want to go ahead and embrace, rather than fight every step of the way. Applicant tracking systems are one of those things. Learn them, figure out how to use them to your advantage, and stay connected with folks like Frank who can help you keep up with all the latest techniques. Best of luck working within YOUR system!
 
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your job search or military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!

“How to Get a Job” Has Certainly Changed…

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
(This is one of a series of posts focused on employment assistance. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment and self-employment topics.)
 
Getting a job…one of those timeless tasks. One that surely won’t ever go away, for gainful employment is a hallmark of a productive society (I think someone important said that, but I don’t recall who). I’d venture a guess that most of us remember well our first job…how we found out about it, how we applied (was it just a quick conversation with the boss?), and the lasting impressions – both good and bad – that it likely left on us.
Unless you’re in the younger percentile of our audience’s demographics, though, the methods you may have used to land that first job are significantly different than finding a job today. While I suppose some of us still punch out our resumes and cover letters on that faithful old IBM Selectric typewriter we have sitting in the den, the rest of us have had to adapt and welcome – dare I say, embrace – the advent of technology and how it has made an impact on the recruiting and selection process for today’s workforce.
For the rest of this post, we’re going to talk strategically (30,000-foot view) about just how some of that technology has made its presence felt for those of us in the job search. Perhaps we’ll get in the weeds in future employment assistance posts, especially if we can connect with subject-matter experts that deal with these tools on a regular basis and have them on as guest contributors. Not only would that free me from the keyboard (just kidding), but it would likely be information with a level of detail that would be useful to job-seekers immediately. Trust me when I say that we’re working on making those connections.
In the meantime, here is a very short summary of a group of modules that was put together by one of those subject-matter experts I mentioned above: St. Louis-area workforce development ‘trainer-extraordinaire’, Frank Alaniz. Frank is an Air Force Veteran, colleague, mentor, and friend, and he’s helped literally thousands of job-seekers over the last twenty years find gainful employment. Between his grasp of technology and his tremendous network of employers, he’s been able to stay current on the latest hiring practices and pass that knowledge along to his clients and workshop attendees. And before I forget, if you’re interested, you can connect with Frank on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/frankalaniz).
-Looking online: Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). It’s estimated that about 95% of businesses use software programs to handle their recruitment process. The ATS searches resumes – sometimes thousands of them – for keywords that match the job description in order to help determine the human “best fit” for the position. But while that helps with efficiency, experts also claim that a full 90% or more of resumes submitted online are never seen by human eyes. Make sure your application entries and/or resume contain the keywords that the job posting uses to avoid the ATS “black hole”…that situation where you never hear from anyone about any of the jobs for which you’ve applied.
-Developing a cyber-friendly resume. Since the majority of job openings are now online and most job-seekers are applying for them online, it only makes sense that the job-seeker’s resume should support those endeavors. You may have already drafted a functional or chronological resume, but if you’re looking for one that’s cyber-friendly, you should create more of a hybrid of the two. That resume should have five sections: contact information, summary, skills, experience, and education.
-Social media management. Check your online presence and clean up your social profiles, if you can. Some ATS systems and recruiting tools compile applicants’ social media profiles at the time of application. Plenty of recruiters go digging on social platforms, for both the good and the bad. “The Good” might include engagement in local and national groups and organizations; “The Bad” might be references to drugs, pictures of alcohol consumption, or political rants. Finally, don’t forget about LinkedIn…it’s a social platform, too, and surveys indicate that 98% of recruiters use it to help vet their candidates.
In a post this brief, it’s really hard to convey just how important it is for job-seekers to accept – again, I really mean embrace – the online application “system” in order to use it to their advantage. Since we’re all life-long learners anyway, my advice is to connect with experts out there (like Frank, or his counterparts in your neck of the woods), get up to speed on the topic and then some, and become THE subject-matter expert on the position you’re applying for and why you’re the best person to fill it. Best of luck!
 
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your job search or military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!

The Job Search: Navigating a Job Fair

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
 
(This is one of a series of posts relating to the job search. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment assistance topics.)
Career fairs, hiring events, job fairs, career expos…whatever you might call them, if you’ve looked for a job anytime recently, you’ve probably been to one. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, many of us consider them a necessary evil, one of those aspects of the search for employment that would be hard to replace.
Job fairs come in all shapes and sizes, from the “one employer at the local career center” variety to the 150-employer extravaganza that was advertised at the regional or national level. Since many of you will find yourself at that registration table sooner or later, we’ve put together a list of things to be sure and do and things to avoid at YOUR next hiring event.
Do your homework. Pre-register for the event and try to get a listing of those companies attending in advance. If you have the opportunity, do a little detective work…research them & get a feel for their open positions. You’ll be able to talk intelligently about the company with the recruiter and you’ll give a great first impression. And don’t rule out companies just because they’re recruiting for positions outside your career field. Remember, this is a networking event. And while you’re at it, network with fellow job seekers & other professionals in the vicinity. Remember, many times it’s who you know…
Dress professionally. For more information on that topic, see last Friday’s post on Dressing for Success. I’ll place an emphasis on comfortable shoes, and call them a necessity for a day like this.
Accessorize with a portfolio. Have a clean pad of paper with a list of questions. Take good notes for follow-up after the fair…but remove the page from the top of the tablet when you’ve completed the interview with each recruiter. Yes, the interview. Think of a job fair as a series of mini-interviews…lots of chances to make great first impressions.
Bring business cards. A professionally designed card, tailored to introduce you as a job seeker, is a must! Resumes are your second choice…ask the recruiter which they prefer. Bring different versions of your resumes if you’re searching for different types of jobs, and have them tucked in a separate folder inside your portfolio.
Minimize your chances of bad breath. Watch what you eat. This is especially true for those fairs in the afternoons, where it’s just too easy to have onions or garlic on what you eat for lunch. Be careful not to drink coffee or smoke right before the event, and you may want to use a strong mint right before entering the fair.
When you first arrive…smiling is required. A recent study indicated that smiling faces were easier to remember. Start with the gatekeepers and others in the queue waiting to enter the event. Obtain a floor plan of the event and locate your targeted employers. Walk the room first, if needed, to relax and get the feel of how the recruiters are working their stations.
Put the phone away. Unless you’re bumping phones to trade contact information with the recruiter, or showing an employer how well you create mobile-friendly apps, just put it away. Enough said.
Listen. Process what questions are being asked of the recruiter by other candidates while you stand in line, waiting. Try not to ask the same question others have asked…especially if the recruiter knows that you were within earshot and should have been paying attention. Listen to what the recruiters are asking the other candidates, for these same questions may be asked of you.
Meeting the recruiter. Don’t just walk up to a table and interrupt the current conversation; wait your turn and be polite. Some employers will have long lines, which will deter (and discourage) some jobseekers. The amount of time you will have with the recruiter can vary from mere seconds to minutes. Take notes if possible and offer your business card or resume.
Sell yourself. Prepare (and rehearse) your one-minute elevator pitch, highlighting your unique value proposition…what you can offer the employer. Be prepared to talk about your military history and work experiences, as well as your skills and abilities. Questions not to ask: Are you hiring? What kind of jobs do you have? What does it pay? All those indicate you haven’t done a lick of research about the company’s opportunities for employment.
Before you leave each table/recruiter/mini-interview, take the initiative and ask, “What’s the next step?” Don’t be offended if the recruiter tells you that they don’t need your resume and you’ll have to apply online for their open positions. If you have time, ask if there are any suggested tips for completing their online job application. Request the recruiter’s business card for future correspondence, shake hands, and thank them for their time. Move away and finalize your notes.
Follow up. Email each recruiter (with whom you had a meaningful conversation) a note about 2-3 days after the event, thanking them for their time and recapping your conversation (this is why your notes are so important). Attach a PDF version of your resume, so they’ll have it digitally.
Finally, here are some recruiters’ pet peeves: Too much cologne or perfume. Weak or sloppy handshake. Too many filler words (“like’, “you know”). Walking from booth to booth, picking up swag. Even worse – walking up to a recruiter with a bag full of stuff and then fumbling for your resume/business card, which happens to be stuck to the free pen you picked up from another recruiter.
One last note about career fairs…keep in mind that these events aren’t all about YOU and open jobs…these events are about networking with companies that you’d like to work for. If you get a referral for a job, consider it your lucky day. It means that you did everything right to warrant that recommendation…
 
Do you have any tidbits or success stories from your experiences at career fairs? Anything that might benefit others in the military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!

PTSD Project & Veterans CARE: VA Initiatives To Promote Employment

PTSD Project & Veterans CARE: VA Initiatives To Promote Employment
Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso
 
PTSD is arguably one of the most significant issues that our Veterans face when they are acclimating to civilian life. Unlike physical wounds which are visible to others, a soldier battles the mental wounds on his or her own. While there are many different forms of therapy available, the treatment is personal and not all therapy methods work for every person. As more research results become available, the additional needs required become increasingly apparent.
 
Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause Veterans to struggle, particularly when it comes to interviewing, getting a civilian position and maintaining a new career. That is where Veterans CARE comes into play.
 
Veterans Coordinated Approach to Recovery and Employment (Veterans CARE) is a $5.1 million Pay for Success initiative that is the result of a partnership between the US Department of Veterans Affairs, local governments, impact investors and Social Finance. The goal of this initiative is to support unemployed or underemployed Veterans with PTSD and assist them in attaining and maintaining employment that is both compatible with their skill set and competitive in their workforce.
 
The first Veterans CARE project will launch in New York City, Boston and Brockton, Massachusetts and Central/Western Massachusetts. It is anticipated that 480 Veterans will benefit from the programs in these areas. Recruitment has begun for this comprehensive “test study” in those areas.   
 
It is expected that local VA medical centers will be able to deliver Individual Placement and Support (IPS) to program participates through Veterans CARE. IPS is a personal approach, tailored to each Veteran, with the goal of supported employment. Veteran CARE plans to assist up to 500 Veterans over the three year period.
 
Funded primarily by project investors, government partners will repay investors when the positive outcomes as a result of the project are proven.
 
This is the first Pay-For-Service project of its kind in the United States. Veterans CARE focuses on improving the health and employment for Veterans. The ground-breaking project, the first to be multi-state, will work to achieve the goals of supporting under- and unemployed Veterans with PTSD in their journey to attain and maintain employment, improve the access to high-quality, evidence-based employment services, and to serve as the demonstration project for the use of the Pay-For-Success model and its successors.
 
For more information regarding Veterans CARE, visit the Social Finance website: http://socialfinance.org/focus-areas/workforce/veterans-care-project/

The Job Search: Dressing for Success

The Job Search: Dressing for Success

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

(This is the first in a series of posts relating to the job search. Check back every Friday for observations on a variety of employment assistance topics.)

You know what they say…you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Whether it’s reporting in to your new military unit or trying to land a job, many of us still believe that good first impressions are crucial. For the next few minutes, we’re going to take a deeper dive into the ‘land a job’ arena, from the perspective of proper dress during an interview.

Many civilians think that active military and fully separated Veterans have the wardrobe thing all figured out. They see us looking sharp in a parade or a recruiting commercial, but may not realize that while many of us were issued our uniforms, we also had it drilled into our heads exactly how to wear them…by memorizing ‘wear and appearance of the uniform’ regulations or just by verbal instructions from our favorite drill sergeant.

But when it comes to the civilian side of the wardrobe closet, especially for those of us still serving or in the initial stages of separating, things may be woefully inadequate. In fact, I’ve known plenty of Soldiers over the years that had exactly “0” civilian suits on hand. If only we could wear our most comfortable field uniform to the job fair and our service dress to the interview…

For now, let’s move forward under the premise that wearing a military uniform of any type is not an option. You may be like most other humans and cue up your best Internet search query to get smart on what you should wear at different points of the job search. During the interview process, specifically, the clothing you select is indicative of your respect for the interviewers and the companies they represent, as well as how seriously you take the interview itself. The better you dress, the more seriously you will be taken and considered. No doubt about it.

While the way we dress for a job interview isn’t the only criteria on which we’ll be judged, it is the most obvious. Other nonverbal factors include things such as your choice of accessories, firmness of handshake, degree of eye contact, and overall projection of confidence. All are important, to be sure; for the rest of this post, however, let’s focus on attire. We’ve broken down some tips and techniques into recommendations for men and women, with some general tips to serve as bookends. While we didn’t write these rules, feedback from many employers and hiring managers over the years indicates that job searchers should sure pay attention to them.

Tips for everyone. Make sure to wear deodorant, brush your teeth, and comb your hair (sorry if that goes without saying). Bring along breath mints if you won’t be able to brush your teeth before the interview, but don’t eat the mints or chew gum during the conversation. Don’t wear scented items like perfume and cologne; I’ve spoken to more than one interviewer who was allergic to a particular scent being worn, and those particular interviews weren’t exactly enjoyable experiences.

Tips for women. Acceptable attire for women usually includes a suit or conservatively tailored dress, with a coordinated blouse. Avoid blouses or sweaters that are transparent, are tight fitting, have low necklines, or have details that detract from your face. Wear plain-style, non-patterned hosiery, of a color that flatters your skin tone. Wear flat shoes or low pumps in colors that avoid making your feet a focal point. Limit your jewelry: avoid dangling earrings, and wear no more than one ring per hand and a dress watch. You may want to consider manicured nails with clear nail polish. Make your primary accessory a portfolio or small briefcase (don’t carry a purse and a briefcase…choose one or the other).

Tips for men. Feedback indicates that men should wear suits of a solid color (navy, black, or gray, in pinstripe or solid) with a white, long sleeve shirt. Ties should be conservative (silk or silk-like, tied with a half-Windsor knot) and of a color that strongly contrasts with the color of your shirt. Wear professional-looking, lace-up shoes with dark socks, coupled with a leather belt that visually blends with or matches your shoes. Again, wear limited jewelry – no more than one ring per hand and a dress watch. Ensure you have neatly trimmed nails and accessorize with a portfolio or small briefcase.

More tips for everyone. In general, dress in a professional and conservative manner. Ensure your clothing fits well and is clean and pressed. Stay away from denim. Remove facial and body piercings, cover up any visible tattoos, and fix your hair so that it’s conservative in color and style, if possible.

If you haven’t taken anything else from this short post, make sure and put conscious thought into what you wear to the interview. A good rule of thumb is to dress for the job you want five years from now, not the job you want today. Some say to choose the same clothing you’d expect the boss of the company to wear.  Some will tell you to dress conservatively. The point of it all, however, is to keep the focus on the interview, not what you’re wearing.

Do your homework and know the business climate and culture of the company you’re interviewing for, if at all possible. Dress your best for the interview, regardless of the dress code at the organization. Dressing for success will feed into your confidence level, which will be on full display during your interview. And go knock ‘em dead, sweaty palms and all…

 

Do you have any ‘lessons learned’ from your job interviews as you transitioned from active service to the workforce? Anything that might benefit your brothers- and sisters-in-arms, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!

“At Least Ten” Reasons to Hire Veterans

“At Least Ten” Reasons to Hire Veterans

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

Top ten lists…it seems like they’re everywhere, and about everything. For many of us, it’s a method of focusing and organizing so we can prioritize our time and energy on what we’ve deemed the ‘most important’. For others, it’s just a catchy way to encourage a reader or a viewer to linger a few more minutes.

Whether you cut your teeth on the humor of David Letterman’s regular ‘Top Ten List’ segment or you find such lists a really valuable use of your time, it should come as no surprise that examples abound on the top ten reasons employers should hire Veterans.

A quick Google search will pull up results from the U.S. Department of Labor (“Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Veteran”), BusinessInsider.com (“10 Reasons Companies Should Hire Military Veterans”), Military.com (“10 Reasons to Hire Vets”), MakePositive.com (“5 Good Reasons to Hire a Veteran”), and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (“Top Ten Reasons to Hire Members of the Guard and Reserve”). Some of those lists were compiled with the help of military veterans, some were put together by employers, and some were assembled by federal, state, and local agency personnel who have a stake in the employment assistance space. And the shocker is, all of them are correct, to some degree…it’s just a matter of perspective.

I put my first of such lists together in 2010, when I started working with the Show-Me Heroes Program, a partnership between the Missouri Division of Workforce Development and the Missouri National Guard that sought to help our state’s Veterans find meaningful employment. My original list expanded and contracted as I spoke with more and more employers and reflected on my own years of experience in the U.S. Army.

I often shared my list with job seekers from the military community that I came across, for this list of reasons to hire Veterans is as much for Veterans themselves as it is for business owners and hiring managers. Once employers ‘get it’, there’s not usually a need to go on and on with them. For those looking for a job, however, it’s important that they know how those in the employment assistance arena are advocating for them. They need to know that we’ve ‘talked the talk’, so they can put things in place to ‘walk the walk’, so to speak.

Once job seekers read through my list or any other, they should take inventory of the things that might very well make them the best candidate for the job. They should incorporate those soft skill sets and experiences into their resume, their cover letter, and answers to potential interview questions. That’s how they can communicate what they bring to the table. That’s how they can communicate how they can make a positive and lasting impact to that civilian employer’s workforce.

From the front lines to the assembly lines, much of the training, the challenges, the adversity…those things do, indeed, translate. I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard from countless employers that hiring someone with military experience made a sudden and lasting impact on their workforce.

So, here’s my perspective. I was initially going to say, “this list is in no particular order,” but in fact there is an order to my list. It’s an order that I put together based on nearly a decade of meeting with employers to discuss the prospect of hiring Veterans for their workforce. My Top Ten list includes these elements…

  1. Leadership Experience.
  2. Strong Personal Integrity.
  3. Ability to Work as a Team Member and Team Leader.
  4. Performance under Pressure.
  5. Possession of a Valid Security Clearance.
  6. Strong Work Ethic.
  7. Specialized Advanced Training & Technical Skills.
  8. Flexibility and Adaptability.
  9. Discipline.
  10. Attention to Detail.

When I first penned this list, I struggled with how short it was. I thought that there were many other attributes that were front and center in the people with whom I served…attributes and soft skills that could really make an impact. After taking some time to look through some old award narratives and evaluation reports, and touching base with some human resource managers that I knew, I felt that I could justify a few more.

  1. Ability to Work Efficiently & Diligently in a Fast-Paced Environment.
  2. Commitment to Excellence & History of Meeting Standards of Quality.
  3. Ability to Conform to Rules and Structure.  
  4. Initiative & Self-Direction.
  5. Respect for Procedures and Accountability.
  6. Strong Sense of Health, Personal Safety, and Property Standards.
  7. Ability to Give and Follow Directions.
  8. Hands-on Experience with Technology and Globalization.
  9. Systematic Planning and Organizational Skills.
  10. Accelerated Learning Curve with New Skills and Concepts.

But wait, there’s more. Some of us have more of these soft skills than others. Some of us have spent decades in uniform, others just a few years of an initial enlistment. Different Branches of Service have put emphasis on different areas in different times, and training that the Soldier received in the ‘70s is quite a bit different that what the Sailor received last year. So, I added a few more to the list…

  1. Diversity in Action and Strong Interpersonal Skills.
  2. Emphasis on Safety in the Workplace.
  3. High Levels of Maturity and Responsibility.
  4. Motivation, Dedication, and Professionalism.  
  5. Triumphant over Adversity.

I’m pretty sure I could keep going, but I’m going to stop right here. These are just a few reasons why employers value military experience in their workforce. If you’re a hiring manager, I’m sure you get my point. If you’re a job seeker from the military community, I encourage you to figure out which of the items in this ‘Top Twenty-Five’ list resonate most with you, at least in part because of the path you’ve followed. Be able to make the connection between items on this list and essential elements in the job description and do your best to communicate what you bring to the table…to the person that’s sitting across the table from you during your next job interview. Cheers!