- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

You had me at Hello

by Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

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Article sponsored by URS

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Do you remember the blinking, light-up tie that Bill Cosby wore in an episode of “The Cosby Show,” the television series from the 1980s?

Craig Griffin has seen someone sporting one of those at a career fair.

placement firm for military veterans“Things that are over the top may be your attempt to make sure people remember you. And, nine times out of 10, they will remember you, but not in the way you want,” says Griffin, senior vice president of operations for Bradley-Morris, Inc., the nation's top career placement firm for military veterans. “That kind of thing will more than likely lead to a road filled with pot holes.”

So what type of introduction will make recruiters salivate to schedule you for a sit-down interview? Surprisingly, it’s not as difficult as you may think:

1. Dress in business attire.

2. When you greet a recruiter, lean forward, extend your right hand, introduce yourself, look the person directly in the eye and say, “Can you tell me more about your company?”

Yes, it really is that simple, Griffin says.

“That’s as good as it gets,” he adds. “The simplest, most classic, most traditional ways are classic and traditional for a reason: Because they work. If you get that part right and that’s all that you do, 99 times out of 100, you’ll still be in good standing when it comes time to having a discussion of substance.”

So what goes through the mind of a recruiter when he or she meets you for the first time, given you’ve followed this simple rule of thumb? Here are a few more tips to grab them from the get-go, from Griffin and Vicky Oliver, author of four job-smart books, including “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions.”

Greet every recruiter as a potential employer, even if you think you’d never work for them. There are two types of job fair attendees: One goes with the intent to meet as many recruiters as possible, regardless of the companies present. The other knows that particular companies will be there and focuses on niche industries while ignoring everyone else.

Griffin suggests shaking as many hands as possible and acting equally interested in them all. You may be a military policeman and think that you should only hit security companies like Wackenhut, but Home Depot may have security needs and job openings with competitive salaries in your desired geographic area.

Prepare an elevator speech. A good elevator speech lasts for about a minute and captures a unique selling proposition “as memorably and as charmingly as possible,” Oliver says.

Your points should enhance the skills you picked up in the service, particularly those that can translate readily to civilian life. These include communication skills, organizational skills, management skills and leadership skills. If possible, depict your job in the military in terms that mirror a job on the civilian side.

“It really helps if the candidate has done their homework on the types of opportunities that exist. Find others who have made the transition and pepper them with questions about what they do on a daily basis at their jobs. Then try to weave that information into the pitch,” Oliver says.

Suppose you have a background in civil engineering and did revitalization or built schools on a deployment. At the job fair, you discover a regional construction company or civil engineering firm. Give a snapshot on your background, how your education relates and how all of it might relate to that firm’s mission, Griffin notes.

If you’ve done your homework, say so. Recruiters are flattered if you say, “You’re one of the people I wanted to seek out,” says Griffin.

“As a recruiter, I feel obligated and pleased to share more about my experiences and background with this person. I will offer some texture to my organization, a placement firm for military veterans, as well,” he says.

On the flip side, if you don’t know anything about the company, that’s okay too. “Express a general and sincere interest. Take the initiative to say, ‘Hi, I’ve never heard of your organization. Can you tell me what you do? From there, you might discover other tie-ins with the recruiter, like that the company is based in Atlanta, which also happens to be your hometown.

Realize that recruiters are taking notes as you mingle. Sure, you’re standing in a sea of people, all vying for the same amount of attention. But don’t worry that your basic blue suit and firm handshake will be lost in the crowd. Your job, Griffin says, is to make sure you dress traditionally and meet-and-greet professionally. The recruiter will take it from there.

“We take notes on the back of the resumes. Sometimes I’d be seeing 200 to 300 people in four to six hours. So to remind myself that this person presented himself well, knew about the company, seemed good to talk to and had a sharp background, I’d jot it down,” he says. The same night in their hotel rooms, recruiters will go through their resume stacks and determine who will get the callbacks, he adds.

“If you had proper attire, a professional handshake, looked me in the eye, it demonstrates someone who is taking the process seriously. You’ll have my attention to continue the process.”

Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.

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