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5 Challenges & Realities that Veteran Job Seekers Face

Career Exploration

As each year passes, job seekers face new challenges and new realities, driven by emerging technologies and ever-changing economic factors. For some veterans, these challenges and realities are even more important to understand because it may be years or even decades since they’ve been in the “civilian” work world. For 2016, here are five challenges and realities that job seekers face. For many veterans, these may present not just the challenges but opportunities to better attack the job search.

Fast-Track Hiring

“Fast-Track Hiring” has emerged as a major trend in the last year. While many organizations may still be practicing a more traditional, and slower, hiring sequence, there are also organizations that are making hiring decisions within days instead of weeks, within hours instead of days. For job seekers, this means that their preparation and strategies must include a “quick response” capability. At times, certainly in the pre-technology world of mostly paper and mailed applications/responses, it was OK to submit an application, mail a resume, and wait. Wait for a response that might never come – and maybe after a week or so follow up. Or send a thank-you note a few days after an interview.

Not today – even if an organization isn’t using a “fast-track” process. If you have an interview, make sure you have the e-mail addresses of everyone you spoke with. Follow up on the same day with that thank you e-mail and that additional information about your accomplishments. Based on the results of that interview, review your LinkedIn profile and tweak the information. It’s almost a certainty that a potential employer will be checking for your social media information. Make sure any references you’ve provided are not just willing to provide references but ready. Contact them immediately with the information you’ve gained from your interview.

Unique Resume Formats

Unique resume formats are nothing new. But technology has created some new options. “Visual” resumes, “Infographic” resumes, and even YouTube resumes are examples. I think the emergence of these options is great as they add new options for effectively presenting a job seeker’s accomplishments and experiences. But the best thing about the existence of these new options is that technology today makes it possible for a job seeker to easily have multiple versions of a resume. Here’s why this is important.

Several years ago, I presented a session on resumes for a college student job fair. After my presentation, a student approached with a copy of a resume that, based on my presentation, might not be considered effective by many HR departments. The resume was divided into four quadrants with quarter inch bright red lines – with the student’s picture prominently placed right in the center of the page. I told the student that I thought his resume was a very “risky” format. He strongly disagreed, arguing his creativity would “stand out.” I challenged him to show his resume to as many of the HR representatives at the job fair as possible and report back to me. He did and reported that 50% of the professionals he talked to “liked it.” When I asked about the other 50%, he admitted that they not only didn’t like but would likely reject him as a candidate because of it.

And this is the problem. No job seeker can afford to turn off their candidacy because of a “risky” format. There are certainly some situations, in the creative arts for example, where demonstrating creativity on a resume is relevant. At the same time, the solution with today’s technology is easy – create multiple versions of your resume. Develop a “Visual” resume if you think it’s appropriate for your target audience. But make sure you have a more “standard” resume prepared as well.

Another thing to consider here is that the growing dominance of using LinkedIn profiles and direct online applications requires job seekers to still prepare their information in a more traditional format. A LinkedIn profile does not have the space limitations of traditional paper but the information is still organized in a traditional resume format.

Why Can’t We Get Over Skills?

I continue to be surprised by the number of resumes I see that focus too much or almost exclusively on lists of “skills.” I’m even more surprised when I see someone recommending this approach in an example or in an online post. I’ve seen too many (almost all) resumes that contain lists of skills – sometimes 20 or 25 different skills. One of my professional colleagues described this situation best when I asked her to review a resume I’d received.

The resume is designed to GET YOU THE INTERVIEW, NOT describe everything plus the kitchen sink. It’s like throwing darts in the dark and hoping you will hit someone. Also, with the time that people probably look at resumes now, it’s time for a regroup.

The real problem with “skills” is that they really don’t say much. They describe what you “have” not what you’ve “done.” I have a definite skill with hammer and nails. But I've done little more than hang dozens of pictures, assembled and repaired some household furniture. I’m not even a good volunteer for “Habitat for Humanity.” I have skills in the kitchen but I wouldn’t even qualify for a tryout on “Top Chef.” Neither of these skills has anything to do with my strengths or my accomplishments.

Listing skills is often confusing. What does it mean if you’re a “great communicator” or a “great problem solver?” In addition, listing 20-25 skills, emphasizing a dozen of them in a summary, may be perceived by a recruiter or HR professional as a “Superman” or “Wonder Woman” resume.

The “Endorsements” category on your LinkedIn profile, if you develop it properly, is dramatically different in two ways. First, these are skills identified by your connections. It’s someone else saying you are good at something – not you saying it. Second, these endorsements are ranked by the number of connections selecting them – not that all-encompassing list. I have a colleague who’s been endorsed for over 30 skills. He has 99+ (the most that LinkedIn shows) endorsements for “public speaking” and 95 for “strategic planning.” He has 1 for “policy analysis” and 1 for “integrated marketing.” If I look at that list of 30 skills I get a clear profile on what his connections, clients and colleagues, see as his skills. That’s meaningful.

Your resume and LinkedIn profile should contain specific accomplishment with measurable results whenever possible – and that should almost always be possible. In each of those accomplishment statements, you can identify the specific skills used. Bottom line: Get rid of that list of skills!

It Doesn’t Get Easier Because the Market Improves

Information on the job market is confusing at best. While unemployment numbers have declined somewhat, worker participation rates remain low, companies in some sectors are reducing workforces, and automation continues to significantly threaten many jobs. So is it easier or harder to get a job in today’s environment? It’s harder because of factors already mentioned, like “Fast-Track Hiring,” but it’s also harder because of other factors.

Organizations are continuing to use different strategies for hiring, searching for candidates via social media. There’s been a steady increase in the use of assessments. Online job sites change and new sites pop up regularly. Traditionally you had to develop a good resume and know how to complete an application form. Now you have to know how to create and regularly work that LinkedIn profile. You have to be better prepared for a video interview, not just a quick telephone screen. You may be asked to participate in a “work simulation,” asking you to demonstrate that skill, solve a problem, or make a presentation.

Plus, as the job market hopefully continues to improve overall, one very important thing happens. Individuals who already have jobs become more active in their searches for new employment. So then the competition from qualified, currently employed individuals increases.

Rule of Three

I’ve raised a point already that is related to my final key point for early 2016. I’ve pointed out that skills are usually not specific and that too often candidates list too many skills. There’s a related issue here, very relevant for veterans with years of multiple experiences. I’ve seen too many resumes from veterans, where like the “too many skills” point, list every position over a 10 or 20-year career with five or six duties for each assignment. As my colleague indicates, TMI, too much information.

Here’s a recommendation that applies to the creation of a resume, a LinkedIn profile, and preparation for interviewing. It starts with “omne trium perfectum," a Latin phrase that many will easily see states that “everything that comes in threes is perfect.” The “Rule of Three” suggests that information that comes in sets of three is more effective and easier to remember. It is considered a fundamental element for storytelling, writing, and presentations. I’ve repeatedly stated in my resume advice that you should include 2-3 accomplishments for each of your positions. In each of those accomplishment statements, identify the 2-3 skills used to achieve the result stated. When you develop, and practice, responses to interview questions, describe a Challenge, the Action taken, and the Result (C-A-R). If you keep descriptions and responses to the “Rule of Three” format, you are making it much easier for your information to be remembered and understood.

Like most things in the world today, change is constant and happening at a faster pace. After decades of fairly standard elements in the career field, for resumes, applications, and even interviews, in today’s world, all of these elements are changing regularly and new technologies and techniques emerge. It’s become a critical skill for job seekers to be aware of these trends so they can be used to their advantage.

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