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…
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]!
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
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…
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.
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…
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!
New Career Opportunity in Naval Aviation
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
In an effort to improve aviator retention, the U.S. Navy has announced that it’s launching the Aviation Professional Flight Instructor (PFI) program, a move that will allow pilots and naval flight officers to remain in the Navy later in their careers, typically as flight instructors.
The program is intended to provide selected officers enhanced career flexibility, greater stability with assignments, and rewarding experiences training the Navy’s newest aviators. Shortages in the service’s pilot community appear to be driving the program, however, as the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all facing a pilot-retention crisis. The services complete with ample opportunities for jobs with commercial airliners that offer good pay, no risk of combat, and no at-sea deployments to take them away from their families. The Navy also increased bonuses available for certain officers earlier this year.
To be eligible for a spot, a pilot or naval flight officer must have completed or be currently serving in an operational or operational-training aviation department head assignment, have completed a flying tour in aviation production, have a projected rotation date in calendar year 2019, and have at least 36 months remaining before their statutory retirement date.
A naval administrative message, issued September 28, notes that this path is an alternative to the traditional sea/shore rotational career path associated with operational service and for officers who don’t wish to pursue command opportunities. The Navy is currently accepting applications from qualified aviators and flight officers for the first PFI board, scheduled for November 20. The program is slated to start sometime in calendar year 2019.
The Navy hopes the new PFI program will help it leverage enhanced fleet experiences among its ranks and address shortages of critical instructional skill sets of its current aviation professionals. Accepting a position as a navy Professional Flight Instructor will remove the officer from command consideration, but he or she would still be eligible for statutory promotion board consideration. Officers selected to become flight instructors can remain in the program until they choose to withdraw or retire, as long as they continue to meet applicable performance standards.
For program details, eligibility, and application procedures, read NAVADMIN 241/18 at www.npc.navy.mil or visit the Navy Personnel Command Aviation Bonus website at https://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/officer/Detailing/aviation/Pages/Professional-Flight-Instructor.aspx.
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.
Six Growth Industries Experiencing the Biggest Hiring Increases
Contributed by Debbie Gregory
With unemployment at just 3.9 percent, the jobless rate has reached an 18-year low. This is great news for businesses, but the low unemployment rate makes finding a job more challenging for job seekers.
In order to increase the chances of finding employment, job seekers should focus on the industries that are experiencing growth and are adding opportunities.
The August LinkedIn Workforce Report looks at the latest national data on hiring, skills, and migration trends through July 2018.
The industries with the biggest year-over-year hiring increases in July were agriculture (26% higher); manufacturing (12.3% higher); and transportation & logistics (12% higher). These sectors are running strong today, but they are also among the most vulnerable to a trade war escalation.
Next comes corporate services9.7% higher; energy and mining (8.5%); and software and IT services 7.5%).
When it comes to growth based on sales, mining-support services came in at the top spot. Next came heavy and civil engineering construction, beverage manufacturing, personal services and direct sales.
Rounding out the top ten are building finishing contractors, real estate agents and brokers, durable goods merchant wholesalers, fright trucking and architectural, engineering and related services.
MilitaryConnection.com, named a Top 100 Employment Website, is a leader when it comes to connecting prime military and veteran candidates with outstanding career opportunities in both the government and civilian sectors. Be sure to check out the Virtual Job Fair, Live Job Fairs and the Job Board. There is also a multitude of career-related information for job seekers searching for employment after their active military service is complete, including job tips, resume tips, a skills translator, and much more.
And the best thing about using MilitaryConnection.com’s resources is that they are FREE to all users. Register as a job seeker to gain access to the thousands of jobs advertised on our site.
By Debbie Gregory.
Supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Military Spouse Professional Network (MSPN) is a program under the Hiring Our Heroes umbrella. The program aims to have big impact in major military areas nationwide by funneling momentum for military spouse employment into action.
Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones will focus on cities that already have spouse programs, pulling them together to create a one-stop-shop for job opportunities.
“We’ve identified specific locations across the country that have a commitment to supporting our military families, and identified communities where we are able to leverage our Military Spouse Professional Networks,” said Elizabeth O’Brien, the Chamber foundation’s head of military spouse programs.
Military families consistently identify spouse employment as a key concern. Programs like the MSPN help military spouses overcome some of the challenges of maintaining a career while also moving around with their military service member.
Formerly called In Gear Career, MSPN is a collection of locally based, in-person networking groups across the world that look to advance military spouse employment opportunities in their individual areas.
The volunteer-led chapters connect military spouses with other career-oriented military spouses, mentors, and employers. The Network currently has more than 40 local chapters throughout the U.S. and Europe.
If you need to build or update your resume, check out another Chamber of Commerce resource, Career Spark, at https://mycareerspark.org.
If you’re job-seeking, or just trying to remain connected during a time when you’re not working, joining your local area Military Spouse Professional Network chapter can provide resources and the camaraderie of people in the same situation.
MSPB – Prohibited Personnel Practices – https://www.mspb.gov/
The Merit Systems Protection Board protects federal employees from “Prohibited Personnel Practices.” This includes protecting employees from wrongful termination, nepotism, whistleblowing, misclassification, political activity, etc.. The MSPB also administers the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA https://www.mspb.gov/mspbsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=367903&version=368536&application=HTML) which protects non-career uniformed service members by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of military service and ensures that federal agencies comply with their obligation to reemploy the service member after he or she has completed a period of military service.
Our firm represents employees who are fighting adverse actions at every stage of the MSPB process. We have a proven track record of helping employees keep their jobs, getting those jobs back after wrongful termination, and getting discipline rescinded.
EEOC – Discrimination/Harassment – https://www.eeoc.gov/
The EEOC protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on the employee’s status as a member of a protected class. Protected classes include race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Employees are also protected from any action taken in retaliation for an employee filing an EEO complaint. This includes everything from a hostile work environment to non-selection for a position. For our clients who are veterans, this often includes discrimination based on disabilities acquired during active duty.
Contact with the Agency’s EEO office to begin the complaint process must occur within 45 days of the discriminatory event. Claims are initiated through each Agency’s internal EEO office. The Agency then connects the employee with a counselor to discuss the claim and try and reach an early resolution. If no resolution is reached, the employee then may file a formal complaint of discrimination. If the complaint meets various requirements, including timeliness, the Agency is then obligated to undertake an investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, or once 180 days have passed since the complaint was filed, the employee may then request that the Agency make a Final Agency Decision (FAD) or request a hearing with an EEOC administrative law judge. The employee may also elect to leave the administrative process and file a complaint in federal court.
Our firm Brown & Goodkin can assist with these complaints at any stage of the process.
These systems are designed to protect federal employees from bad things that happen to them while employed. Unfortunately, the administrative law procedures are complex and nuanced. While retaining an attorney is not required, we recommend that anyone who is looking to start one of these processes call to discuss their case with our office. We offer a free initial discussion with an attorney who will discuss your situation and see what system will best address your and your family’s needs.