The tide of public support for veterans has swept hiring initiatives across the nation. Companies are looking at veterans as the kind of employees to bring on board. Companies, however, are not going to hire a veteran to merely have a veteran on the payroll — companies want the best person for the job and the onus is on veterans to reach out and grab that opportunity at the head of the line. Veterans still must show that they represent the best person to fill that slot.
Forbes – Companies want to hire military veterans. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good for business. Intel hired the equivalent of more than one veteran every day in 2012 and is committed to being the high tech workplace of choice for America’s heroes. “From an employer perspective, veterans, by training, are a good fit for our culture at Intel. They are innovative, resourceful and reliable. They work well in varied work environments and they bring a focus and discipline that we at Intel value highly,” says Ardine Williams, Intel’s vice president of Human Resources.
That’s welcome news for the estimated one million young servicemen and women who are expected to leave the military in the next five years. Although the employment picture is steadily improving and getting brighter for military veterans, the unemployment rate for young veterans (post 9/11) continues to be high. I’ve spoken to several recruiters who want to help veterans successfully transition from the military to the private sector. Their advice: “help us help you.”
“Job seekers must think like recruiters,” says Chris Galy, director of talent acquisition at Intuit. “Read the job description carefully, understand what pain the hiring manager is trying to solve with the role, and describe specifically how your experience and leadership skills will make that company successful.” Galy told me that too many job candidates are vague, sending the same pitch to multiple companies or hiring managers. “Veterans and other job seekers who don’t have the exact experience often wing it and hope they get lucky. Generally, it doesn’t work.”
Galy is a board advisor to the newly formed Vets in Tech, an organization that helps veterans land high-tech jobs. Many technology companies aggressively court veterans. These include Intel, Intuit, Facebook, Cisco, and many other well-known brands. According to Vets in Tech founder, Katherine Webster, “many returning vets are very highly skilled, but need help translating their military skills to the private sector.”
Vets in Tech held a workshop in June titled, “Secrets from the other side of the interview table.” I had the opportunity to talk to an Air Force veteran and recent college graduate—Garrett Deese—who attended the workshop and landed a high-tech job one week later. The 30-year-old Deese told me how he refined his pitch based on the guidance he received. The first of the following three pitches reflects a typical pitch that recruiters hear all the time. The second is how Deese first pitched himself, and the third is how Deese refined the pitch after the workshop where he learned to connect his experience to an open position as a social media analyst.
Pitch #1 (poor): I’m a recent graduate from [fill in the blank]. I’d like to work in marketing and I’m a veteran.
Pitch #2 (better): “My name is Garrett Deese and I am a highly motivated individual with eight years of experience in organizational structure, function and personnel management. My specific expertise lies in team leadership with a proven record of accomplishment throughout a successful military enlistment. My strengths lie in creative business practices, out-of-the-box thinking, executive decision-making, policy direction and strategic business planning.
Pitch #3 (winner): My name is Garrett Deese and I am a social media specialist with unique skills in social community building, tactical engagement and adaptable response techniques. I help brands define their positioning, connect with their audience in a more authentic way, and make informed metrics-based marketing decisions. With specific training in military communication and situation awareness, I bring a unique global perspective with a proven ability to operate in high-pressure team environments.
Note how the third pitch is much more specific and translates Garrett’s experience to what he can do for an organization. This is exactly what recruiters and hiring managers want to see.
“The key difficulty for transitioning service members is translating their experience and skills into a language understood by corporate America,” adds Intel’s Ardine Williams. “This is a consistent issue with almost every resume I read and with conversations with hiring managers at other companies. If the person screening the resume is not a veteran then there is a high likelihood of zero understanding of what this person can offer a company.”
Ardine shared a resume with me from a Battalion Sergeant Major. This person achieved the highest enlisted rank in the army, which usually means they were an exceptional leader. However, the resume contains so much military jargon that it’s difficult for those with no military experience to appreciate what they bring to the organization. Among the skills this person listed: “Instruct, inspect, and provide combat leadership for over 1500 multination forces in Afghanistan” and “Advise the Commanding Officer while in combat operations in a highly kinetic environment.” It looks impressive but fails to answer the question, how does your experience help us achieve a specific and desired business outcome?
Galy says job seekers need to adopt the mindset of a recruiter. “We have thousands of candidates knocking on our door. And we really want to help veterans. So instead of saying, ‘Chris, I’m a veteran and I’d like a job,’ you should say, ‘there are three jobs I’m interested in and here’s the one that best fits my background. Here’s how my technical and battlefield experience will help you achieve the outcome you’re looking for…”
Melissa Martin, a former employment counselor on a military base, wrote an article on how to use military experience when pitching yourself to a civilian employer. Martin cited my Forbes.com video on crafting an elevator pitch. It’s interesting that she chose that video. I created the video to demonstrate how to pitch a product. Well, when veterans are pitching themselves, they are the product. They must see themselves as a brand—the brand of Me, Inc.. Hiring managers are seeking to solve a problem. Veterans—your leadership, expertise, skills, discipline, and technical proficiency offer valuable solutions to the problems faced by most companies in the private sector. Recruiters want to hire you, but they can’t if they don’t understand you. Help them help you and everybody wins.