- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Getting Hired in a Competitive Job Market

By Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: USAA

It's no secret that it's a competitive job market. Not only are ex-military personnel faced with the considerable task of making the transition back into civilian life, the current economic climate has produced a challenging recruitment environment in the professional workplace in industries across the board. For job seekers, this demands an impressive resume, great interviewing techniques, and a comprehensive translation of the skills they acquired while in the service into clear civilian terminology.

"There are probably 50 percent fewer recruiters today than there were five years ago," estimates Fred Coon, author of "Ready Aim Hired: Survival Tactics for Job & Career Transition" (Gaff Pub.) and CEO, Stewart, Cooper & Coon, an executive placement and corporate recruiting firm in Phoenix, Ariz. Coon notes that online services such as Monster and CareerBuilder, combined with social media networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, have resulted in job seekers receiving less face time with actual recruiters. Employers are using these services rather than recruiting the old-fashioned way - leaving much of the initial process to be done online rather than in person, presenting job seekers with the task of being much more impressive on paper, or on screen, than before.

Another factor that comes into play in today's job market is that many workers have opted to delay retirement, which means that more qualified people are competing for fewer jobs. The competition is stiff, and Coon underlines that job seekers are under pressure to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) that companies would benefit from if they hired them. "A company now looks at: How big a mountain can this person move, and how far and how fast can they move it?" he illustrates. "The economy is driving these kinds of considerations right now, and because there are so many more qualified people to look at, what's happening is that companies are top-grading." Some organizations are removing qualified people and replacing them with those who are even more qualified in an effort to improve their labor pool and competitive edge.

So how do you show your ROI? "That ROI will come up in the negotiations if you've created added value, which is over and above advertised value," Coon explains. Advertised value is what the company says they are looking for in the ads that they place in the newspaper and on recruitment Web sites. "The job may be advertised at $60,000, and what you want is for them to pay you $80,000 or $100,000. You've got to create value in their mind's eye that you are worth a lot more than what they are willing to pay."

To do this, job seekers must first obtain an interview, which requires that all the steps leading up to it - including the preparation of a solid resume and collateral materials that, in essence, serve as their version of marketing - motivate the recruiter to pick up the phone. "In order to be compelling, you have to know what your branding is, what your value statement is, what your core competencies are, what your key qualifications are, and certainly, what measurable achievements you have made in the other jobs that you have done," Coon says.

This can be difficult for ex-military personnel, who may be uncomfortable about promoting themselves because it feels too much like bragging. "In the military you must function consistently as a team. Nobody raises their hands and says, 'Look at me and how great I am!'" observes Sherrill A. Curtis, SPHR, principal and creative director at the New York-based consultancy Curtis Group LLC. Curtis, who is also heavily involved with the Tip of the Arrow Foundation, a New Jersey-based volunteer organization focused on providing transitioning military personnel with career counseling services, emphasizes that in the civilian workplace, 'bragging' - or self-promotion - is absolutely necessary. "In the civilian workforce, if you are not prepared to step up and brag about yourself and sell your stuff, I don't care what your background is - no employer is going to pay that much attention to you versus a candidate who's in there hitting every point to show their strengths and talents and how they have used them in other organizations," she says. While practically every company advertises that they emphasize teamwork - and it's definitely required - many times it's not so much about playing nice together as it is about stepping up and getting noticed.

First, however, ex-military job seekers must have a handle on how their former post applies to the civilian world. "They aren't so unique from anyone else that's searching for a job in today's economy, other than the fact that they need assistance in translating those military skills sets into civilian job skills sets," Curtis says. Employers - especially those that aren't familiar with military culture - often have the perception that someone from the service might not be able to perform in an office job, for example. "Whereas an employer might be more open with someone, say, from the financial industry: 'I supposed I can put you in the accounting department because you can certainly do that,'" Curtis illustrates. Sometimes, it's necessary to seek outside help to translate those skills one acquired while in the military into language that civilian recruiters can understand.

Part of demonstrating one's ROI is by recounting specific examples related to one's in-the-field experience. "Every single time they have the opportunity to open their mouth during the job interview, if they can punch up their response by relating it to something that they did to demonstrate why they know exactly what they're talking about, and the impact that they had on the organization as a result, the recruiter is going to see confidence, competence and credibility," Curtis emphasizes. "They're going to say, "They've done it. They know what we're talking about. They understand how to apply what they've done to this business' needs, and they're positive and enthusiastic. I'd love to have this person working for me.'"

And, Curtis argues, when you think about it, what employer wouldn't want someone with the skills that those from the service have had the opportunity to learn? "Military people are great leaders," she declares, underlining the focus, initiative, organization and follow-through that's necessary in every part of the military. "They have what every single employer hungers for."


Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.


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