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 Kris@militaryconnection.com 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 Kris@militaryconnection.com!

“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 Kris@militaryconnection.com!

Special Warfare Operator Needed!

Special Warfare Operator Needed!

The U.S. Navy is seeking E-1 through E-5 applicants for conversion into the Special Warfare Operator (SO) and Special Warfare Boat Operator (SB) ratings. Applications are due quarterly; contact Naval Special Operations Enlisted Community Manager (BUPERS-324) for specific deadlines.

Additional information regarding the selection process and application requirements is available at the Navy SEAL website.

For questions about the application process, application deadlines, or about special warfare service, contact BUPERS-324, at (901) 874-2195/DSN 882 or (901) 874-3552/DSN 882.

Hire Vets Act Passes with Budget Bill

Hire vet act

By Debbie Gregory.

In what can only be called a great step forward in making sure that veterans are assisted in securing great jobs, California Republican Rep. Paul Cook’s “HIRE Vets Act” was signed into law.

The bill passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in February and passed the Senate on unanimous consent in March. Rep. Cook had reintroduced this bipartisan bill earlier this year.

HR 244, Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Military Veterans Act of 2017 is designed to promote the recruitment, hiring and retaining of veterans in the corporate sector.

“Veterans who serve this country honorably shouldn’t struggle to find employment and this bill creates an innovative system to encourage and recognize employers who make veterans a priority in their hiring practices,” said Rep Cook.

Through the U.S. Department of Labor, the HIRE Vets Act would allow businesses to display “HIRE Vets Medallions” on products and marketing materials. These medallions would be awarded as part of a two-tiered system, Gold and Platinum, associated with specific hiring and retention goals each year.

To ensure proper oversight, the Secretary of Labor would be required to provide Congress with annual reports on the success of the program with regard to veteran employment and retention results.

While the bill does not address recruitment, hiring or retention of disabled veterans, it is a step in the right direction.

Each year, nearly 200,000 service members transition from active duty to civilian life. The HIRE Vets Act would recognize qualified employers for meeting certain criteria designed to encourage veteran-friendly businesses.

“Our military men and women have the skills and experience that are an asset to employers in every sector of our economy,” said U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R.MO), a member of the Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Best High Tech Jobs for Veterans

techjobs

By Debbie Gregory.

High tech jobs for veterans are a natural transition, given their abilities to take initiative, problem-solve and make decisions, skills that they honed during their military service.

Those who have served are also well-versed in computers.

For employers, hiring military veterans makes perfect sense. If you’re wondering what some of the top high-tech jobs for veterans are:

  • Project Manager is probably the most natural transition point for most service members. They are in charge of the planning and execution of a particular project, and the foundational skills required are quite similar to what many learn in the military.
  • Solutions Architect is a great position for problem solvers. Solutions architects work with their company’s clients processing feedback on their company’s product, and providing solutions based on that feedback.
  • Software Development Manager is a managerial position, a good use of leadership skills. There are a number of responsibilities, but the primary ones are to get a product out the door or deliver results to the customer.
  • Data scientists are in demand, and the position entails knowing how analyze and interpret complex digital data, such as the usage statistics of a website, especially in order to assist a business in its decision-making.
  • Analytics Managers design, configure, and maintain a data analysis tool that allows them to analyze data and make conclusions about it.
  • Software Engineers apply the principles of software engineering to the design, development, maintenance, testing, and evaluation of the software and systems that make computers or anything containing software work.
  • UX Designers enhance user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.
  • Mobile Developers will work in the development of mobile applications.
  • QA Managers monitor software testing processes or test new products.

If you have a technical background, consider one of these great career paths.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Tips for Veteran Job Seekers to Ace the Interview

ace the interview

By Debbie Gregory.

You already know your resume set you apart as a veteran job seeker because you have secured an interview. Perhaps your status as a military veteran aided you in this first step, because employers recognize the value of your military experience.

The one thing your military experience may not have prepared you for is the interview process when seeking post-service veteran employment. Polishing your interviewing skills can mean the difference between getting the job and being a runner-up.

Here are some great tips to guide veteran job seekers before, during and after the interview:

Before the interview do’s: Preparation is key. Know your strengths and weaknesses, your interests, and your career goals. Gear your resume to the particular job you’re applying for. Research the people interviewing you, the company, and the job itself. Know what does the company does, how they compare culturally and financially to their competitors, the company’s history, the requirements for the job, and how your experience matches those requirements. Practice interviewing with friends.

During the interview do’s: Arrive early. Offer a confident, firm handshake. Remember that you are, first and foremost, having a conversation. It’s nerve-wracking and highly formalized, but avoid stock responses. Communicate effectively with your interviewer. Mirror his or her communication style. Allow your interviewer to set the tone of the conversation. For example, if the interviewer seems all business, don’t attempt to loosen him or her up with a joke or story.  If the interviewer is personable, try discussing his or her interests. Often personal items on display in the office can be a clue.  If asked a direct question, answer directly. Maintain good posture, eye contact, as steady a voice as you can muster, even if you’re nervous, and a positive attitude.

After the interview do’s: Make sure the interviewer knows that you’re interested in the position, you know you can do the job, and that you will put forth 100% effort. Thank the interviewer for his/her time, and inquire what the next step is. Be sure to get the interviewer’s business card and send a thank-you letter.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Law Enforcement Jobs for Veterans- Acing the Interview

police interview

By Debbie Gregory.

Law enforcement officers and military veterans have a lot in common: both wear their uniforms with pride; both are a part of a larger team of professionals protecting those who can’t protect themselves; both put their personal safety at risk; and both operate within a rigid command structure. There is a natural path that leads many military veterans to seek jobs in law enforcement when they transition to the civilian workforce.

Some pre-planning can help close the deal after the interview process to secure law enforcement jobs for veterans.

The interview is where you get your sole opportunity to make a good first impression. Preparing your answers to commonly asked interview questions can make or break your chances of getting the law enforcement job you are hoping for.

Why do you want this job? Draw on those similarities between military service and law enforcement: the service to those who can’t protect themselves, the camaraderie, and being part of a team.

What is your biggest weakness? Focus on something that you have worked on to improve. For example, if your tactical driving skills were less than what you were happy with, share some of the details of the advanced driving course you took.

Why should you be hired? Again, call on your military service, stressing that you are a physically and mentally fit candidate. You have good decision-making abilities, common sense, and respect a paramilitary chain of command.

Important don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Just like a civilian shouldn’t badmouth a previous boss, you shouldn’t badmouth those you served under. If you had a particularly challenging officer, focus on what you learned from that person.
  • If you’re asked to tell your interviewer about who you are, resist the temptation to give a chronology of your adult life. Instead, focus on your life experiences as they pertain to the job.
  • When it comes to compensation, don’t give an exact number. You should be familiar with the salary range, and you can say that you expect to be paid the appropriate range for this job, based on the location and your experience.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Guidelines for Obtaining a Security Clearance

security clearance

By Debbie Gregory.

A security clearance is a status granted to individuals allowing them access to classified information or to restricted areas.

A security clearance alone does not grant an individual access to specific classified materials. Rather, a security clearance means that an individual is eligible for access. In order to gain access to specific classified materials, an individual should also have a demonstrated “need to know” the classified information for his or her position and policy area responsibilities.

There are three levels of security clearances: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret, which correspond to the levels of sensitivity of the information that a cleared individual will be eligible to access.

The process to obtain a security clearance must be initiated by a sponsoring federal agency and is usually paid for by the requesting agency.

The determination of whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for a security clearance is based upon careful consideration of 13 guidelines:

(1) allegiance to the United States; any act , association or sympathy that aims to overthrow the Government of the United States or alter the form of government by unconstitutional means.

(2) foreign influence; potential for foreign influence that could result in the compromise of classified information.

(3) foreign preference; any indication of a preference for a foreign country over the United States.

(4) sexual behavior that involves any criminal offense.

(5) personal conduct; refusing cooperation for any required testing, questioning or paperwork.

(6) financial considerations; financially overextended to be at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds.

(7) alcohol consumption; in excess, which could lead to bad judgement.

(8) drug involvement; could lead to impaired social or occupational functioning.

(9) emotional, mental, and personality disorders;

(10) criminal conduct; creates doubt about a person’s judgment, reliability and trustworthiness.

(11) security violations; raise doubts about an individual’s trustworthiness, willingness, and ability to safeguard classified information.

(12) outside activities; especially those relating to foreign interests

and

(13) misuse of information technology systems; compromised ability to properly protect classified systems, networks, and information.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Decisiveness, Tenacity & Initiative Make Veterans the Best Employees

bootcamp

By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to the characteristics that make employees the most valuable, the list is pretty long. But there are a few extra boxes that are ticked by military veterans that help make them among the most valued employees.

Decisiveness

Decisiveness is defined as being characterized by firmness and decision. Those who serve seldom have the luxury of long analysis when it comes to making a decision regarding a specific situation. They are trained to gather intel and understand it thoroughly. From the strength of a decision comes the ability to act. Being decisive is simply the most rational way to take on any problem. You observe the information you have available and then you decide what would be the most successful course of action. If you can’t get more data, decisive people simply make a decision based on the facts available.

Tenacity

Veterans know all about persistence and perseverance. Regardless of their branch of service, these former military members went through rigorous and demanding basic training (boot camp) in preparation for military service.

Initiative

Initiative is defined as an individual’s action that begins a process, often done without direct managerial influence. Anyone who has served  in the military learns to follow orders. But through their training, they also learn that they may be faced with situations that requires them to take action in the absence of orders. If something needs to be done, they don’t have to wait to be told.

So if you are an employer and you’re thinking of hiring veterans, keep in mind that there is value in these potential employees that goes beyond the specialized skills they learned in the military. The very nature of being in the military has given them attributes unlike those that people can gain through any other type of employment.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.