Editor’s Note: This week’s blog is an adaptation of an article Skip Freeman is soon publishing on VeteranCentral.com, a dynamic new website for the veteran community and those who support our veterans, including prospective employers. Skip, a veteran himself, is a distinguished graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, and later was an instructor there. He frequently publishes articles on VeteranCentral that are designed to aid veterans in their job search, and recently joined the site’s Board of Directors.
Most Americans are genuinely concerned about the unusually high rate of unemployment among our veterans, particularly among the younger veterans of our recent wars. As a veteran myself, I certainly count myself among these concerned Americans. But, as a professional “headhunter,” I am also fully aware that, oftentimes, veterans themselves can seriously hamper their job hunting efforts by continuing to use what I refer to as “militaryspeak” during job searches. Let me explain what I’m talking about here.
Imagine this very typical scenario involving, let’s say, a recent U. S. Army veteran interviewing for a “blue collar” position in the civilian job market. The hiring manager begins the interview by asking this question:
“Tell me a little bit about yourself and the experience you gained while in the military,” she says.
The veteran’s response:
“Well, I was in the Army for four and a half years and my MOS was (number),” the veteran says. “And as an E-6, I was the platoon’s senior NCO and responsible for all the troops in my platoon, whether we were in garrison or in the field. I also earned nearly two years of college credit in business administration through ACCP.”
While such a response may—and I strongly emphasize the word “may” here—be easily understood by a fellow veteran (provided he or she just happened to have been in the same branch of service as the veteran), you know what? The typical hiring manager today would have absolutely no idea in the world what the veteran just told him or her! The veteran, in essence, has branded himself/herself right off the bat as an “outsider,” someone who is completely alien to the hiring manager’s “comfort zone” with job applicants. Not a very auspicious beginning to a job interview!
A ‘language barrier’ can immediately become a disadvantage
This example underscores one of the major disconnects that continually exists between veterans seeking civilian jobs today and those who interview them for those jobs: The significant lack of meaningful communication and genuine understanding between the two parties.
As a veteran myself, I am fully aware that, upon leaving the service, we veterans tend to persist (at least for a short period of time) to engage in “militaryspeak.” That’s of course understandable because, while we served, most of our friends and acquaintances were also in the military. So we all tended to speak the same language, and certainly we rarely had any difficulty whatsoever understanding each other. Not so when a former serviceman/servicewoman enters the civilian world, and particularly not so when it comes to interviewing for jobs in the civilian labor market.
As I’ve stated in previous articles/blogs addressing the unique problems veterans face in today’s very tough job market, whether it’s right, wrong or indifferent, it is nonetheless true that it is exclusively the veteran’s duty to do any necessary “translation” for hiring managers. It is entirely up to the veteran to adequately and appropriately explain the skills/experience he/she gained in the military for civilian hiring managers—in terms that the hiring manager can quickly and easily understand and then apply to the position under consideration. Failure to do this, usually, will result in the veteran being quickly eliminated from further consideration.
It’s not a matter of hiring managers today, necessarily, to not want to take the time to try and understand a veteran’s sometimes unique qualifications, either. The truth of the matter is, hiring managers today simply don’t have the luxury of time to devote to that task! They typically are overwhelmed with hundreds—and sometimes, even thousands!—of applications for virtually any of the positions they are trying to fill for their companies. And this is quite often the case even with the smaller companies.
A ‘civilianspeak’ response to interview question
Let’s return to the example I cited at the beginning of this article and analyze how the veteran might have (should have?!) answered the hiring manager’s opening question—this time using (for the lack of a better term!) “civilianspeak.”
Here is an answer the hiring manager could relate to:
“I entered the U. S. Army right out of high school and served for four and a half years, attaining the rank of staff sergeant, which is equivalent to a senior shift supervisor in your company. While serving, I was able to develop and refine my leadership skills by ultimately supervising about 80 men and women. These men and women, by the way, were as diverse as American society, coming from every walk of life and from virtually every background. That gave me a lot of very valuable experience in dealing effectively and fairly with a diverse workforce.
“While I was in the Army, I also earned nearly two years of college credit through what is known as the Army Correspondence Course Program, an online university community that provides soldiers with the opportunity to acquire advanced education. I will complete my degree in business administration, at night and online, within the next three to five years, while working full-time.
“Have I satisfactorily answered your question? Is there anything I can add or clarify?”
Obviously, I have purposely kept this suggested response still rather general, but I hope you can easily see the stark differences between this response, using “civilianspeak,” and the one using “militaryspeak”? The “militaryspeak” response can be expected to result in a total lack of understanding by most hiring manager, who themselves quite likely are not U. S. Military veterans, and brand the veteran as just another applicant who should be quickly eliminated. On the other hand, the “civilianspeak” response should be easily understood by virtually any and all hiring managers. That means, of course, that it is far more likely that, at least at this stage of the game, the veteran will stay in consideration for the position.
Vets have shown the adaptability to succeed
As a result of their military service, veterans have already amply demonstrated that they can adapt to changing circumstances and overcome virtually any and all obstacles thrown in their path. After all, didn’t they rather quickly ditch “civilianspeak” when they entered the military and adopt “militaryspeak”? Well, to be successful in the civilian job market today, they should just simply reverse that process!
If a veteran will take the time and make the effort to learn, and then use in virtually all communications with hiring companies, including during interviews (both telephone and face-to-face), the various civilian “buzzwords” that are associated with jobs they seek, they will soon discover that their “job search” can more quickly turn into their “job FOUND”!
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.