As you position yourself for a meaningful career in the civilian workforce, understand that what's written on your resume is not the only set of criteria employers are using to evaluate you. Employers look for job candidates who not only possess the tangible skills, experience, and talents needed for the job, but who also bring a strong work ethic and values that align with the mission of the company.
Employers look for candidates who bring:
- Self-awareness: Do you have a good understanding of your values, skills and goals? Or, are you needlessly defensive and uncertain? Employers want to know that you have a clear sense of who you are, why you are here (at the job), and what you can offer. This is called "personal branding," and employers appreciate when someone has a clear strategy to manage and direct their brand value.
- Personal accountability. The civilian team environment is similar to the military in that individual accountability and responsibility are paramount to group success. Managers look for employees who will do what they say, admit to their mistakes, and ask for help when needed. In the interview, offer examples of times you have shown personal accountability.
- Ability to live up to expectations. This one is similar to #2 in that it involves accountability, but more so, it focuses on integrity. If you make a commitment, be sure to fulfill it. If you can't, employers want to know that you will give ample notice so they can modify the expectations. Being clear about what you can and cannot deliver is critical. For instance, if you claim to be a "people person," be sure you have good communications skills. If tout "analytical skills," ensure you operate from analytical thinking when solving problems and meeting goals.
- Ability to meet deadlines. Goals and deadlines are critical in the military and civilian workplace. Other people and their projects depend on your ability to get things done on time. If you fear this is not a skill of yours, be careful about selling it. Some employees excel at project management and deadlines, others don't. Represent yourself authentically.
- Comfort in asking questions. An employer is looking for a hire that brings skills, talents, and expertise, but also one who will be able to grow in the position, asking questions when needed. If the hiring manager suspects you might be too proud, stoic, or independent to seek assistance, they could perceive that as a weakness. After all, if you don't have the information and tools to do your job (and don't seek them out) you might quit because you feel ineffective. In the interview, show a desire to grow and collaborate and a comfort level in seeking guidance and assistance.
- Ability to communicate. Good communication skills give you the ability to collaborate and build relationships with your coworkers, supervisors, and others across the organization. Employers aren't looking for perfect communicators, just honest, passionate and consistent ones. When asked to explain how your background qualifies you for the job, have clear and focused responses.
- Capability for carrying the brand externally. When you leave work, you don't leave the company brand behind at the office. You represent your employer online, at social gatherings, and in the community. The hiring manager wants a sense of how you will represent the company outside of your job. Do you have skills around discretion, appropriateness, and brand advocacy? These would give the hiring manager a comfort level of your ability to carry the brand externally and represent the values of the company.
- A positive attitude. Studies have shown that people want to do business with people they like. Being likeable often means you have a positive attitude. Are you upbeat, confident, and encouraging? Employers are drawn to candidates with a "can do" and helpful manner.
- Good work/life balance. Believe it or not, employers want to know you have a personal life! They won't ask you about your family or marital status in an interview, but they might ask about your hobbies. If your only focus in life is work, work, and more work, that could concern them. The employer is looking to invest in you long term. They want to know you have ways of relaxing, a support system, and a life outside of work to balance out the stress of your job.
- Passion for the work. If you are applying for a position as a Director of Information Technology for a pharmaceutical company, are you clear on why you are motivated towards that role? Is your only reason "because I know I can do the job?" Employers want to see candidates who are passionate about the work and care about the mission of the company. This is where your advance research and due diligence will prepare you for the interview: You can tailor your responses to recent events at the company, and why you want to be part of making a difference.
- Ability to be a good investment. When companies write you a check for services, they want to know they got their money's worth. Large and small companies alike are managing performance against goals and expectations. Are you a good investment? Will your employer see exponential value from every dollar they pay you? It helps if you are clear on what return on investment you can deliver, helping the employer see your value as an investment.
In addition to skills, expertise, certifications and credentials, employers look for candidates who posses character traits, passion and a desire to learn and grow. These are the candidates whose resumes rise to the top of the pile.