Most people today certainly know who the U.S. Navy SEALs are . . . one of the most elite warrior groups in the U.S. Armed Forces. You don’t become a SEAL simply by raising your hand at morning roll-call and volunteering to join. You have to earn the title SEAL, by successfully completing an unforgiving, extremely grueling and highly demanding training course. That’s at least part of the reason why the “wash-out” rate among SEAL recruits is the highest of any of the elite fighting groups, about 80 percent!
At the risk of gross hyperbole—and with due respect and apologies to all the other elite fighting groups in the U.S. Military services!—it’s the U.S. Navy SEALs, and the challenges and crucibles involved in becoming one, that serves as perhaps the best, most appropriate analogy for today’s job seekers.
In order to even be considered for becoming a SEAL you must first prove that you are an exceptional sailor in the U.S. Navy. Then, you must complete the extremely challenging training course in order to actually become a SEAL. And, during SEAL training, instructors continually do everything possible to eliminate as many recruits as they can, as quickly as they can. Why? Because they are looking only for those recruits who will be able to “cut it” when the going gets rough! In other words, the SEALs are looking only for “the best of the best.”
Notwithstanding the fact that you, as a job seeker, are of course far less likely to be put in harm’s way in the workplace than would be the case for a U.S. Navy SEAL, there are actually many implied parallels between what it takes to get hired for one of today’s open positions and what it takes to become a SEAL.
To even be considered for hiring in today’s extremely competitive job market, you must first be perceived, i.e., “branded,” as being among the exceptional (read: elite) candidates vying for any given position. Then, you must prove your “mettle” by being able to successfully negotiate (and survive!) all the “obstacles” that hiring managers and other “screeners” are going to be throwing in your path during the various stages of your candidacy, e.g. , the telephone interview, the face-to-face interview, etc. Then, and only then, will you have a genuine chance of being named the candidate of choice by a hiring company.
Brutal? Unfair? You bet, but that’s still the way it is in today’s job market and it’s unrealistic to expect it to appreciably change anytime soon! Those who are still expecting the job market to revert to “the good old days” of just a few years ago are likely to be disappointed, very disappointed, I’m afraid.
Only the ‘best of the best’ considered in today’s job market
Now certainly, all the news isn’t bad. Despite what you hear and read in the media, virtually each and every day, companies still are hiring! Critical positions are being filled, everyday. Significant to note, however, is the fact that only candidates who can be branded “the “best of the best” are likely to be considered for one of these open positions. So, the question then becomes . . . How do you brand yourself as being among this elite group, “the best of the best,” and therefore be in a position to capitalize on one of today’s job opportunities?
First, as a job candidate, you must brand yourself as a true, elite “warrior,” someone who has the training, experience (and endurance) to get the job done and done right! You have to be someone who truly considers himself/herself as indeed being among the elite group of candidates—and then have the evidence to prove that you deserve to be among that group.
As we’ve already seen, even to be considered for becoming a SEAL, you have to have exhibited previous exemplary performance as a “common” sailor in the U.S. Navy. Likewise, to become a viable candidate for virtually any position within a major corporation today, you also will have to have exhibited previous exemplary performance. How can you demonstrate that? As is the case with all job candidates, of course, your entry into the job market is your résumé, and it is in your résumé that you must clearly—and quickly!—demonstrate your previous exemplary performance.
I had a professional ask me recently, “How do you have an interesting and outstanding resume?” My response: “Well, first you have to have done interesting and outstanding things!” I wasn’t trying to be flippant, just to be honest with the professional.
Each and every business day I receive résumés from candidates who have in fact done some very interesting and outstanding things in their careers. Yet they continue to brand themselves as being simply ordinary, run-of-the-mill people! Let me use just one recent example to illustrate my point here. This is how one recent candidate outlined his previous exemplary performance in his résumé:
OEM and Major Accounts
- Acquired new business with several large national corporations, including Company A, Company B and Company C
- Appointed to position of Project Manager, HealthCare
- Continued streak of $1 million+ sales years
- Sold team 8 leading loyalty contract
The overwhelming majority of the time (99.9%), in our recruiting firm, we would simply hit the “delete” key on a résumé like this. Among other deficiencies, it is weak, lame and doesn’t even make much sense. (What, for example, does “Sold team 8 leading loyalty contracts” even mean?!) The only reason we called him is because he happens to work for a company that would be of interest to our client company.
When I called this candidate I was (like the SEAL instructors) ready to do everything I could to get him to “ring the bell three times,” which is how SEAL recruits signal that they are ready to quit training. I wanted him to admit that, in truth, he simply wasn’t the right candidate for the position I was trying to fill for our client company. I wanted to demonstrate to him that he wasn’t really among the elite candidates. However, when I pressed and challenged him, he surprised me by pressing back with examples of exceptional accomplishments and achievements that I knew would make the client company want to pursue his candidacy.
As a result of our telephone conversation, here is how we revised his résumé, in order to clearly—and quickly!—illustrate his accomplishments and achievements:
- Landed a multi-year, multi-location, MRO contract worth over $2,000,000 for XYZ University at the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses.
- Developed and closed a $2.3 million sole source multi-year agreement with ABC company for their Detroit, Taylor and Kansas City locations.
This candidate is now going to be presented to our client company. Still, it’s important to remember that, if he hadn’t had the great fortune to currently be working for a company in which our client company had an interest, he certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even be considered! That is, even though he proved to be worthy of being considered among the elite candidates, on his own, he hadn’t been able to effectively make his case!
Don’t you make that mistake! If you are in fact among the elite candidates in today’s job market, then be prepared to have to prove it. And, unfortunately, if you can’t prove it, then you probably should get ready to “ring the bell three times!”
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.