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Four Job Hunting Lessons You Might Not Learn at TAP

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Dale Carnegie

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Congratulations to the 2014 Top 40 Under 40 Military, featured in this edition of Military Transition News. These military leaders are commended for their service, both in and out of uniform. As diverse as they happen to be, they share many common denominators, including exemplary service, patriotism and strength of character. They also have something more mundane in common: They have attended or will attend the Transition Assistance Program, aka TAP or TurboTap, or, most recently and more accurately, Transition GPS. A bit confused? Visit www.dodtap.mil for an overview, embedded resources and links to each service branch’s iteration of the program.

When TAP first appeared 20-plus years ago, it ran for five hours and participation was voluntary. Now it takes a week and attendance is mandatory, although retirees may opt out. The mission and content of TAP is important, and the value you receive depends on the trainers at your post or base and the amount of effort you put into it.

Regardless of the quality of the service provided and your participation, you might miss out on some critical information, especially in the job hunting and interviewing components of the program. Here are four important lessons to add to what you already know.

1. Self-knowledge

To interview successfully, you must have knowledge about the company and the job. This helps you determine your level of interest and conveys that interest to the interviewer. But that alone isn’t enough. You must also present yourself so that the interviewer can picture you in the job, doing it well and smiling. Your ability to do that depends on knowing who you are and what makes you tick. What are your attributes, skills, traits and personality characteristics? More important, which of these are most appropriate for that particular interview?

In addition to your inventory of skills and traits, you must be ready to discuss specific examples of each when you are job hunting. Merely saying you possess a particular talent or are a military leader is not good enough. You have to be able to prove it, and the best proof is an actual story from your life that illustrates that talent or skill and its positive impact on the mission at hand.

You must also be aware of your weaknesses, deficits, failures and disappointments. Being able to openly and honestly discuss this topic is critical to interviewing success. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has regrets. We all make mistakes. What matters are the lessons we learn, the corrections we make and the resulting self-awareness. Believe it or not, this touchy subject can have a positive impact on the interview.

2. Interviewing Empathy

A few years ago, I was conducting an interview preparation session and emphasizing to the group the importance of presenting oneself in a way that’s appealing to the interviewer. In mid-sentence, one of the attendees interrupted me to say, “Tom, I am sorry, but it sounds like you are advising us to just tell the interviewer what he or she wants to hear.” I thought about that statement for a moment and replied, well, yes, that is exactly what I am recommending, but with one critical caveat – truthfulness.

 

Although it is quite easy to identify and focus on what is important to you, for an interview to be successful, you must also remember what is important to the interviewer. What matters to him? What does she care about? What are his priorities? Why is she interviewing? Hitting those hot buttons will contribute to your success. With prior knowledge of the particulars of the job, the company and the location, you should be able to hit those buttons. That is what I call interviewing empathy.

So you can see that, yes, it is essential to tell the interviewer exactly what he or she wants to hear, as long as it’s the truth. Consider the alternative. What if you fail to emphasize information about yourself that is both true and relevant to the position? That might have been the very piece of information the interviewer needed to designate you as the right person for the job.

3. The Power of Questions

Some of the most powerful tools in your transition toolbox are the questions you will ask throughout the job hunting process. To understand why questions are such an important aspect of your career transition, let’s start with this one: Why do we ask them? There are two answers; one is fairly obvious and the other somewhat obscure.

The obvious reason we ask questions is to get answers. In your job search, there is much to learn about a potential position and a new organization before you can commit to a new career. Why is the position available? What are the responsibilities of the job? What is the potential for career growth? How is individual performance measured? What is the corporate culture? Will the compensation, benefits and location support quality-of-life goals? The answers will help you decide if the opportunity is right for you.

The less obvious yet equally powerful force behind asking questions is their ability to convey interest in the opportunity and the company. Conveying interest is critical to successful interviewing. Just because you showed up for the interview does not mean you are interested in the job. Although you could be the most qualified candidate on the planet, you will not get the offer unless the company knows with certainty that you are sincerely interested. Short of coming right out and saying, “I am interested,” asking appropriate, timely and targeted questions is the most powerful way to express interest. Not surprisingly, a lack of good questions is one of the most often cited reasons for rejection in the interviewing process.

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