Civilian Candidates Transitioning from the Military

Today’s blog is mainly going to be a post to promote awareness. In the past, I have participated in discussions surrounding the struggles of military employees transitioning into the civilian workforce. HR professionals talked about the situations they were coming across and different programs they had in place to help these individuals. Military employees talked about their concerns when it came to transitioning. I knew that it was a hard situation but it wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how bad it could be for someone who didn’t have help or guidance.

A friend of mine stopped by my house on Sunday because she was getting discharged from the Air Force soon and she wanted some help updating her resume in preparation for civilian job hunting. She slapped down her resume onto my kitchen table and all I could say was, “What is this?” The resume was barely half a page long and included a couple of skills written in military jargon. I’ve known her for about four years now and she often talked about her role in the Air Force, so right off the bat I knew that this resume was not even remotely useable.

I asked her where she got the format for her resume and she quickly supplied me with a random printed out package of “information”. After reviewing the details, I soon realized that this paperwork came from the department handling the transitioning soldiers. I was stunned. What they provided was not even slightly helpful in properly preparing these people for the civilian world. It suddenly became clear why so many people struggled.

Some things that these packages “taught” our transitioning soldiers are as follows:

  • Resume: update your resume based off of ERP print outs. These print outs provided very general information that was not sufficient enough to properly showcase their experience. Additionally, the print outs didn’t help soldiers learn how to  the change the military jargon into civilian terms
  • Important things to consider for your job search:
    • Who will this be effecting? Who do you spend your social time with now? How will you keep your social relationships in tact?
    • What are your financial obligations? How much money will you have to make to cover these?
    • What career are you interested in?
    • Where will you network?
    • What type of clothes will you need to purchase for your career?

I get it. Some of those questions are important to think about but is that really all they’re left with? Vague, general questions? More importantly, the package didn’t give examples for any of these questions, nor do they provide any guidance. These candidates have no one to talk to. How is a piece of paper going to be enough to help them prepare for this? Some of these individuals have no idea what career they would be a fit for because they don’t know how their military skills will transition into civilian work. Some don’t even know what networking is or what’s appropriate for the field that they’re interested in. Basically, they’re thrown into a civilian workforce that is foreign to them. It’s hard enough to find a job in our workforce as it is, could you imagine being a job seeker with absolutely no idea how to do it?

Luckily, my friend has me to consult when it comes to updating resumes, networking, clothing, and figuring out career paths. But what about the people who don’t have friends in HR or recruiting? As we hashed out the details, my friend said to me, “I guess this is why there are so many military people going into poverty.” Many of these people sacrificed so much for us. Many of them put their lives and dreams on hold to serve our country. Is this really all we can do for them? It’s just not enough.

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Showing Your Candidates That They Matter

Recently, I was having a discussion about the importance of the candidate experience with a friend. She’s a job seeker and was expressing her stress and frustration when it came to customize every single cover letter, resume, and letter of interest. It’s time consuming and exhausting. In the end, she sometimes only receives a generic e-mail back stating that her resume was received or that the company was going to “pursue other candidates that more closely fit their needs.” And just like that, it was all the interaction she got. Cold, human-less, and impersonal. We make candidates jump through all these hoops, but why aren’t recruiters held to the same standards? Recently, I came across an article on CoderWall and it really got me thinking about the messages we send to candidates.

The article on CoderWall discussed the issues with recruiting tech talent. I’m currently recruiting for tech talent and I know that it’s definitely not easy. This talent is in demand and more often than not, they get to pick and choose their opportunities. But regardless of this industry, the statements made in the article can ring true for any industry. With options like LinkedIn messages, e-mail templates, and automated messages, recruiters are able to increase the amount of people they contact in less time. But just because we have these tools doesn’t mean we should get lazy or abuse them, right?

Stacy Donovan Zapar also wrote a recent blog about spammy messages to candidates, which just continues to show that candidates are sick of our lack of personalization. How can we expect candidates to respect us or even be interested in talking to us when it seems like we didn’t invested a couple minutes to read about their personal experiences? We make them customize their messages to show us how they would fit in our job opening but shouldn’t we be doing the same?

Have I been guilty of shooting out generic messages to candidates in the past? Unfortunately, yes. And I realized that it’s no way to build a relationship. I’m not saying that templates are a bad thing. It could make it easier to include the job details you don’t want to have to rewrite over and over again. But it’s important to leave a section of your message open for editing based on each individual. Read their profiles, research their blogs/portfolios, check out their skill sections, and so on.  When you message them, include the things you researched. Maybe even ask them how they apply that to their current job or side project. There are plenty of ways to uniquely humanize your messages for each individual candidate.

I know that I’m instantly impressed by candidates who take the time to customize their letters of interest or cover letters for a job opening I have. I appreciate what they did and it makes me want to talk to them because they seem like they care. I’m sure that candidates feel the same about our messages to them. So let’s raise the bar and show these candidates why they matter to us.

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How I Changed My Failure into a Win

About a year and a half ago, my confidence took a solid beating. I had lost a job that I thought I was going to have a future with. Then, I got sucked into the tiresome cycle of temporary assignments that just generally wore on me. I was tired of starting over. I was tired of being underutilized. I was tired of having to go through the stressful cycle of job hunting each time the assignments ended. My resume was lost in the ATS black hole and being rejected interview after interview was not helping whatever little faith I had left in myself. I let questions like “what did I do wrong?” or “why am I not good enough?” or “why doesn’t anyone want to hire me?” torture me on the many nights that insomnia took over. Staring at the four walls of my apartment with the feelings of fading hope for the future put me in a dark place. I was defeated.

The negativity I felt about myself was the reason why I couldn’t move forward. Whether the failures or shortcomings were true or not, I let them waste valuable time I could have spent building myself up. Eventually, I let my “like-a-phoenix” mentality take over and I rose from those ashes. This time I was going to be the one telling people who I was and what I could do, not the other way around. I would be the one defining myself. I didn’t want to settle for something that didn’t feel right just so I could be employed on a permanent basis. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation that completely buried whatever little spark I had left. I was meant for more.

My newly found motivation caused me to reevaluate myself. I took the time to remember what I loved about working, my industry, and business as a whole. I considered what I wanted to be known for in the industry (at the time, I didn’t realize I was branding myself). Instead of trying so hard to fit neatly in the box that job descriptions put candidates in, I decided to go rogue. I brought my knowledge and experience to life. I gave it a voice and a purpose.

At first I gained momentum by sharing thought-provoking questions in relevant online groups. I was consistent and kept the conversation going. I made myself available to network with people further. Eventually, these conversations sparked my need to share my learnings. From there, my blog was born and I dedicated time to write to it regularly, sometimes even up to five times a week. I realized that the blog was a good portfolio builder but how was I going to get the word out? Social media was the answer and I ended up coming across a whole new world of business and social learning because of it. Discovering this social side of business changed the way I saw business overall. I was entranced.

The right person saw what I was doing and a few weeks later I landed a job. After achieving the ultimate goal I was aiming for (employment), I would have thought all of the effort I was putting in would eventually die down. Little did I know, all of these things became a part of who I am. What I did while I was trying to regain footing after my failure ended up changing my work ethic. It created my personal brand. It gave me something to be accountable for. More importantly, it allowed me to add value to my employer on a consistent basis.

Doing this has afforded me so many opportunities, personally and professionally, that gives me a sense of pride. I stopped waiting for people to tell me whether they thought I was ready or not and consistently made myself a better person on my own. I’m impressed with how much I grew once I broke through the barriers. I’m ecstatic that an employer not only saw this in me, but I’m also glad that they help keep that fire burning within myself. I’m grateful for my failure because it’s the reason why I am who I am today.

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Clearing the Misconceptions about Recruiters

Recently, a friend forwarded me a snarky blog post written by an individual giving technical recruiters “tips” on how not to be hated by technical candidates. I get it- technical candidates are contacted multiple times a day by recruiters and sometimes with job openings that aren’t relevant to their skill-set. I would be annoyed after a while, too. But as I read through the blog post further, I actually started to see that he was off-base on a lot of points he made and seemingly generalized recruiters into one “type.” After thinking about this, I started to wonder if other people who weren’t familiarized with the recruiting and talent acquisition industry had the same thoughts. If so, then I think it would be best to break them out of this one-size-fits-all mentality about recruiters.

I would like to clear the air about the following areas and help people outside of this industry understand our purpose a little bit better:

  • We don’t all work for commission: Yes. There are recruiters out there that work for agencies that only pay based on certain metrics. But that only makes up a small portion of recruiters. I’ve had people angrily say to me, “Well, what do you care? You’re only doing this to make your commission.” No. Wrong. Whether I hire you or not has no effect on my paycheck. Making a bonus has no part in the reason why I’m contacting you. I honestly reached out to you because I’m trying to find quality candidates for my client and I thought you were a potentially high caliber candidate.
  • We’re not sales people: Sure, sometimes recruiting duties have some similarities to sales functions. But that doesn’t make me a sales person. Some metrics are just to ensure that we are not only finding quality people, but that we’re also finding it in a timely manner. As much as I would love to find the best person ever, sometimes companies don’t have that time luxury. But regardless of this, it still does not make me a sales person. What I love about recruiting is the ability to help people find work and help companies find the person that can make their organization better. It’s about discovering the connection that benefits both parties.
  • We’re not all looking to hire temporary or contract employees: Sometimes companies don’t have the bandwidth to handle the tedious and long processes it takes to source and recruit candidates. They sometimes hire outside help to assist with their time sensitive positions. A good portion of those times, the positions are full-time, permanent, direct hires with the companies. So it may be best to clarify this with a recruiter before writing them off.
  • Trust me, we’re doing our homework: Just like you don’t appreciate having your time wasted by people reaching out to you for completely irrelevant job opportunities, we don’t like wasting our time searching for and connecting with candidates that aren’t a fit. In the blog article I mentioned earlier, the individual said something to the effect that “recruiters don’t do their homework.” I know several recruiters, including myself, that spend hours every day trying to educate themselves through various means. We try our hardest to wrap our heads around the lingo, the details, the expectations, and so on but sometimes we fall short. There is only so much we can learn about a job or industry without actually going to school for it or without actually working in it. It would almost be the same case as when a candidate first broke into their new job or first started going to school for a specific subject. Sometimes you can’t fully learn something until you do it for a while.
  • We take your feedback into consideration: On the same note as the “homework” thing, I’ve had plenty of candidates give me some detailed reasons about why a job was or was not a fit for them. Some even explained a few of the industry terms to me. Not only did I appreciate it, but I also shared it with my team so they can learn. Additionally, if the candidate said they weren’t a fit but gave me details of what they’re looking for, I’d happily pass them to someone who is recruiting for something more relevant. Your feedback does not go in one ear and out the other.
  • We’re not always recruiting for ONE job: We may reach out to you for one job because it seems like that’s what you’re most fitting for. However, there are plenty of times that we are recruiting for other positions or know someone who is recruiting for other positions. Instead of ignoring the phone or email, give us an idea of what you’re looking for (even if it’s passively) so we can hopefully help you down the line.
  • We’re extremely connected with each other: I wish I kept track of how many times I passed along a candidate to recruiters inside and outside of my organization. Sometimes I can’t help a candidate but know someone who could. I’ll try and get that resume to the appropriate person. I’ll try to help even if it doesn’t benefit me or my company. This seems to be pretty common in our industry (at least to me it seems so). I’ve worked with recruiters in different companies and different hemispheres to help candidates and vice versa. But just like a recruiter can positively recommend a candidate to someone, they can also be the reason why a candidate is not recommended. Remember to keep your interactions professional to ensure all recruiters have the correct perception and impression of you and can make those positive recommendations.

There are so many more points I can touch upon but I think this will do for now. Yes, there are recruiters out there that fit the negative outlook that the blog writer had indicated in his post. But it’s only hurting him to shut out all recruiters because he thinks this is how they all are. Recruiting is not an easy job. It involves a lot of research, strategy, and learning. We’re not just looking for ANYONE to fill a position, we’re looking for the RIGHT ONE. So before a candidate assumes that they’re just another random contact that has to be made to meet a recruiter’s metrics and goals, please consider the fact that we may be reaching out to you because we honestly think you could be the right person that our hiring manager is looking for.

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The Need for Digital Vacations

I’ll admit it- I have a problem. I’ve become so accustomed to checking my email, social media, and text messages that I’ve been on autopilot. I’ve been recently catching myself mindlessly unlocking my phone every couple of minutes to check if I missed something. Did my phone beep to indicate a new alert had come through? No. It’s just become the norm in my life. More often than not, I have my head down, focusing on some form of computer screen or smart phone. My brain is constantly working, multitasking virtual discussions and networking. Suddenly, it’s July and I don’t even know what I’ve done in my physical life that was significant. And then I was struck by a term I heard on #Tchat last week – the “digital vacation.”

I was curious. Needless to say, between managing multiple social media profiles, staying consistent with my personal brand, blogging, researching, networking, and creating and implementing social media training for my company and clients- I’m starting to feel a little burnt out. I love this industry and all the things I’ve been able to come in contact with because of social media and digital options but if I see (or even write) one more buzzword, my brain might spontaneously combust. As I got involved in social media, I realized that this is a lifestyle. You need to be present and consistent, otherwise you’ll potentially never make an impact. Over a year of doing this non-stop, and I’m a bit spent.

Then I learned about the digital vacation. As I learned more about the details of this, I started to see more people in my social circles participating in it. How can someone just take a break from this? How can you unplug without putting yourself completely behind? Apparently, it’s not as hard as I initially thought. Here were some suggestions from the wonderful contributors in #Tchat:

  • Set expectations: Inform your networks that you will be taking a digital vacation and that you will be unavailable. This can prevent them from contacting you with something pressing that you can’t ignore.
  • Utilize your tools: there are so many great tools out there that allows you to schedule posts to go out on specific days at certain times. I utilize Hootsuite pretty often when it comes to this. Even if you aren’t physically present on your social media, scheduling posts to go out while you’re on vacation can allow you to maintain your consistency.
  • Create boundaries: find ways to ensure your phone and computer aren’t tempting. Turn off alerts that come to your phone for that week or set a boundary for how much time (or what set hours) you can use your devices.
  • Have a responsible person on your team: the world doesn’t stop turning just because you’re unavailable, and thanks to technology, this is even truer. If your social media and digital presence is especially important (i.e. you are a business, consultant, etc.), have at least one person monitoring that and contacting you ASAP if anything dire happens that requires your attention. Knowing you have this safeguard can make you feel more confident about taking this break.
  • Relax: Need I say more?

I didn’t realize how much my digital life had taken over my regular life until I caught myself clutching onto my phone like a lifeline, terrified that I’d miss something major. I realized that it’s ok to take that break, especially if I don’t want to make my love for this industry turn into something that feels like a suffocating obligation. I appreciate all the tips about taking a digital vacation and I’m going to be trying this very soon.

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The Candidate Experience Faux Pas

SmartRecruiters

Last week on #tchat, we discussed the importance of the candidate experience. A few job seekers and candidates were very interested in hearing what this all meant. Some have been out of the job hunting scene for several years so they didn’t realize how the whole interviewing experience had changed into something more than simply submitting a resume and having a quick interview or two. These days, landing a job is a process and candidates may come into contact with several different people throughout the interview cycle. In the end, a candidate may decide whether or not they accept employment at your company due to their experiences. If this is the case, how do you think your company would stack up?

There are so many scenarios that a candidate can face while applying and interviewing for a job. Is your company an offender of any of these things:

  • The black hole: a candidate applies to a job posting and never hears back from anyone. Several months still pass by and there is not even so much as a generic email letting them know the status of their resume.
  • The disengaged recruiter: sometimes, recruiters are so overwhelmed with candidates that they only have a few minutes to chat to each one before determining if they’re going to move them forward or not. Sometimes, recruiters may realize within the first few minutes of their conversation that the candidates are not a match. In these circumstances, there are plenty of times that candidates can blatantly tell that the recruiter is rushing through the interview, not completely listening, or only half-heartedly conversing with them.
  • “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”: a candidate might make it to the phone interview round or even make it through several steps of the interview process. The recruiters or hiring managers will promise to give them an update, provide feedback, or set them up with the next step and suddenly fall off the face of the earth. A candidate may reach out to find out when to expect an update and the recruiter becomes unresponsive, leaving the candidate to come up with their own conclusions.
  • The unrealistic job preview: candidates may speak to the recruiters and hiring managers about the job, expectations, company culture, and so on, which may have been displayed in a glorified version. The candidate gets hyped up about the opportunity and excitedly accepts a job offer only to discover that it was not at all like it was advertised.

Although there are plenty of other situations that candidates experience aside from the ones listed above, the important thing to remember is that none of these things are good. A candidate experience is crucial when it comes to attracting talent. This experience can even affect candidates other than the ones that have applied to your jobs or have interviewed with you. A candidate’s experience with you can define how external individuals review your employer brand. What’s more, their experiences can be easily shared with others thanks to social media, blogs, technology, and sites like Glassdoor.

So maybe that candidate wasn’t a fit for your job. That’s completely fine, not everyone is going to be. But how did you treat them? Did you leave them feeling positive about your organization or job regardless if they didn’t get it? Do you feel like they would tell others to apply to your company? Would they want to give you referrals?

If they did accept a job after having a bad experience, how do you think they would perform? Would they lose respect for your organization? Would they be disengaged? Would they already be looking for other opportunities, ready to abandon ship once they found something better?

How you treat your candidates matters in more ways than just for those who you’ve directly interviewed with. It affects your organization’s brand and reputation. It affects your internal employees’ morale. It can help or hurt your engaged and interested talent pool. It can aid or hinder your ability to reel in passive candidates.

Being a job seeker is tough these days. Keep this in mind and think of how you would feel if the roles were reversed. It can help you provide an experience that these candidates deserve.

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Prepare for the Interview Battlefield

 

Over the weekend, a friend of mine reached out to me because she was seeking some advice on how to properly prepare for the interview process. She had been out of the job seeking world for a few years now so the current concept of interview loops seemed foreign to her. Even though I studied human resources, talent acquisition, and have been in the field for a few years, I also struggled with this when I was searching for work a year ago. I thought I would have had the knowledge to beat the odds but I soon realized that whatever plan I had initially used during interviews was severely flawed. I began to feel like being a job seeker was like walking into a battlefield with the awareness that everyone is betting against you. It’s tough and winging it these days isn’t going to cut it.

You may never really be able to fully prepare for your job interviews, but it would be unwise to think that you can’t prepare yourself at all. The best thing I did for myself when I was getting ready for a phone interview was prepare organized notes that I could review while speaking to the recruiter. This helped me greatly so I suggested that my friend should get ready the same way I did:

  • Compare your skills/experience to the job description: the recruiter is trying to find out how much of a fit you are for the job role. Look at the job description requirements and duties and briefly write down your own experiences in a way that flows nicely against the description. Many people get caught up in unnecessary details or verbiage when the recruiter asks them about their experience. This can help you get straight to the point and make it easy for them to see that your skills will transfer well to this role.
  • Write down examples: a lot of the time, recruiters will ask you behavioral questions relevant to the job. This is a way to see how you would potentially handle realistic situations that may happen in the day-to-day. Having solid examples, details about the actions you took, and the result will be a great way to show the recruiter that you can handle any curveballs thrown at you.
  • Be ready for the tough questions: of course, you may not have been able to handle every curveball gracefully throughout your career. If a recruiter asks you about a time that you failed or about a weakness, make sure you have an example. More importantly, make sure you show them what you learned from this experience.
  • Don’t forget your accomplishments: there are times where you may have gone above and beyond in your company or you may have even accomplished things outside of your job scope. Sometimes, candidates mix this in when they’re explaining their work experience and this can throw off the recruiter. Having these examples separate can make sure the recruiter will see that you have relevant experience but also that you have the initiative and drive to do more when you have the bandwidth.
  • Have 2-5 great questions: recruiters love it when candidates ask solid questions. However, make sure you have thoughtful questions. Nothing is more irritating than getting asked a question that could have been easily answered if you read the job description. To really wow the recruiter, do some digging and take the time to research. Go beyond their company website and even look into news about them, their blog, or press releases.
  • Keep it organized: having notes is great but make sure you keep it organized. This can allow you to refer to them quickly so you don’t miss a beat in your response.

I loved having notes. Honestly, I’m not all that great thinking on my toes. If I’m taken off-guard, I’ll end up talking in circles. If I take the time to think it through, my nerves of taking too long to answer will force me to respond before I can even think of a good reply. I’ve heard this happening to plenty of people, which is why I strongly suggest taking the time to have these notes prepared. Having this ready may even help reduce some of your stress and interviewing jitters which can allow you to display confidence.

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