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What Employers Want

I get a lot of e-mail from frustrated job seekers. Most of it is a riff on a single theme: in essence, the messages say, "I've spent the last two, three, four or more months sending out resumes to employers, and I've yet to get a single interview." It is, of course, hard not to be moved by such communications -- job searching is the loneliest and most humbling of experiences even when things go well. Without any sign of hope, it can be painfully debilitating to anyone with a sense of pride in his or her work.

I am also troubled, however, by something else in these messages. They reveal that many of us simply do not understand what employers want. We seem not to know what the recruiters in direct employers and staffing firms expect of job seekers. And that missing piece of the puzzle is the real source of much of the frustration in today's job market. We have to fill in that bit of knowledge if we want to see our fortunes change in the search for a new or better job.

So, what do employers want? What do they expect from those of us in the job market? I think they're looking for us to demonstrate six personal factors. They are:

Realism. Employers and recruiters expect us to make a frank assessment of our true capabilities -- not what we would like to be able to do, or expect to be able to do at some point in the future, or might be able to do with a little training and coaching, but what we can actually do right now. In addition, they also expect us to apply only for openings with requirements that correspond to what we can actually do right now. They are put off by candidates who persist in treating their job search as a pipe dream or a treasure hunt because that wastes their time.

Effort. Recruiters are overwhelmed today with resumes (often from unrealistic job seekers). Every opening generates a tsunami of new applications, and there simply isn't the time to give each the scrutiny it deserves. So, recruiters use an array of "identifiers" to isolate the resumes on which they will focus. One identifier, of course, is the keywords that are contained in a candidate's resume. While that will identify those who are potentially qualified, however, it often yields more applications than can be carefully evaluated. So, recruiters use a second identifier: the initiative a candidate shows in pursuing their job opening. In other words, if we submit our resume and sit back and wait for the recruiter to find us, we're likely to wait a very long time. On the other hand, if we submit our resume and then use networking, online and in the real world, to find another way to get our resume brought to the attention of the recruiter, we're much more likely to get noticed and be considered. Yes, it takes more effort, but that's precisely what recruiters want to see. For a further explanation of this "two step approach," take a look at the newsletter archive on my site, www.weddles.com.

Accuracy. Employers want your resume to be a detailed and absolutely correct description of what you've done in the workplace and how well you've done it. Most recruiters subscribe to the view expressed by Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, in his latest book, Winning. Welch says that the best way to determine a person's ability to perform in the future is to look at their performance in the past. For that reason, recruiters want total and complete accuracy on our resumes.

Self-knowledge. Employers also expect us to know where we can be successful and where we can't. In other words, they want us to figure out which organizational environments will enable us to feel comfortable and thrive and which will not. Research shows that the #1 reason that people fail to work out, once they're hired, is not their inability to do the work, but their inability to fit into the culture of the organization.

Objectivity. Employers expect us to get the facts, to do our homework on their organization and its employment opportunities. They want us to know (and be able to discuss) what they do (i.e., their products and/or services), where they do it (i.e., their industry and marketplaces), with whom they compete, and their track record. They correctly believe that having that information is essential if we are to (a) make an accurate assessment of the fit between our qualifications and temperament and the requirements for a specific opening with their organization and, (b) provide an accurate description of what and how we'll be able to contribute on-the-job to the organization's success.

a Non-casual outlook. Employers expect you to take your search for a job and their employment opportunity seriously. At every point where they interact with you in the employment process, they want you to convey the sense that what is happening is important and that you are treating it with the maturity and conscientiousness it deserves. To do so, you should dress in attire that is appropriate for business and/or follow the norms of traditional business behavior when:

  • attending a career fair,
  • interacting with employers during campus visits,
  • meeting a recruiter at a professional event,
  • sending your resume through the mail,
  • exchanging e-mail messages with a recruiter,
  • talking on the telephone with a recruiter, and
  • visiting an employer's facility and interviewing.
If you show recruiters all six of these personal factors -- Realism, Effort, Accuracy, Self-knowledge, Objectivity and a Non-casual outlook -- you'll give them every REASON to take the next step ... call you up and invite you in for an interview.

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Peter Weddle is a veteran as well as the author or editor of over two dozen employment-related books, including the recently released The Career Activist Republicand Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System, one of the most innovative career success books in print. Both are available at Amazon.com.

Peter Weddle's Website

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