Veteran job seekers have a lot going for them: Growing numbers of companies have robust veteran hiring preferences, while veterans are trained leaders who perform well in high-stress situations, are well-trained in technical areas, disciplined, and possess a high degree of grit.
But most make the same mistake when they begin their job search. They forget to invest time in networking and, more often, informational interviews.
An informational interview is networking with an employment purpose. To translate into military lingo, it's simply a reconnaissance mission for intel gathering aimed at establishing a rapport with industry experts.
Skipping it is like going into a war zone with only a 15% chance of success. That's a tactical nightmare.
According to a 2016 study by LinkedIn and the Adler Group, more than 85% of jobs are found through personal connections and networking. Not convinced? The study also found as many as 80% of new jobs are not posted to job sites but are filled internally through networking.
The message is clear: If you are not reaching out to industry professionals and establishing meaningful relationships in your career field, you're on the losing side.
Here are five ways to begin your job reconnaissance, or informational interview:
1. Never ask for a job.
One of the chief complaints career human resource professionals such as Louise Schopke, the retired former vice president of HR for Bonneville International, has is that people come asking for a job without first establishing some form of personal connection.
"While this may not always be possible," Schopke said. "I do appreciate it when I receive an inquiry that shows the candidate has done their homework, knows our business, and perhaps even has an internal reference because they networked first before applying."
Don't approach someone in your desired industry and say you "need a job." Just don't do this. Ever.
2. Do your research.
Before you fire off a LinkedIn message to some random industry professional, be sure to do your research on them first. Have they written any articles? Have they posted professional career advice on their social media channels? If so, read it.
This will give you what sales industry professionals call a Valid Business Reason or VBR to reach out and contact someone versus a cold call (or email).
People appreciate and take notice when you are familiar with and appreciate something they wrote or accomplished.
3. Make face-to-face contact when possible.
"At least 70%, if not 80%, of jobs are not published," Matt Youngquist, president of Career Horizons, said in an interview with NPR. "Yet most people are spending 70 or 80% of their time surfing the net versus getting out there, talking to employers."
While a face-to-face meeting might not always be possible, there is certainly a case to make for starting with professionals and experts who are local to you.
While social networking sites are a great first recon step, face-to-face beats social media every time when it comes to establishing a personal connection.
4. Gratitude goes a long way.
You've had your first informational in-person interview. Great! Now what? This is where the steps you perform on the back end show you are sincere, authentic and thankful.
A follow-up thank you email is standard. Want to go the extra mile? Send a handwritten thank you card in the mail.
This does two things for you: In a few days, when your contact receives your card, it puts you top of mind again and shows you took the time and effort to make your thank you tangible -- which makes you stand out.
5. Follow up.
Continue to follow up with the contacts you make. Remember their birthday. Don't just check in to see if there are any employment opportunities. Take time to follow their progress and congratulate them on any of their career successes.
So how often should you follow up? Play it by ear but, on average, it's good to reach out to your contacts once every three months to check in. But always have a VBR in hand when you reach out.
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