Once, my blackberry buzzed with new e-mail entitled "Strong Recommendation" ... it was from an old Navy friend and recently retired post-command O-6. "Chris, I rarely recommend anyone, but this guy was one of my top JO's and a superstar. Could you please take a look at his resume?" With nearly 20 open positions at my company, I was delighted to receive the Captain's e-mail and, potentially, find a great new candidate.
Double-clicking on the attached word document from my desktop, I strained to read the no-white space, compressed-margin, seven-point font curriculum vitae of this apparent rock star. The Captain was right, he had been a top performer in his squadron and then had gone on to fly for the airlines. In fact, his entire resume was filled with numerous accomplishments in the field of aviation. Although I was impressed with all he'd done in the 15 years since he graduated from college, I was hard-pressed to find a match with any of our 20 diverse job openings (we're still a bit small to need a corporate pilot). As I set down his resume, it struck me how many people neglect to craft their resumes and cover letters to match the needs of prospective employers. I picked up the phone immediately to see if I might be able to provide a bit of navigation assistance to this accomplished aviator.
While searching for a job, we often spend a great deal of time trying to better understand ourselves and identifying the characteristics of work that we would find most satisfying. However, when applying for a job your focus must shift to the employer. In employment, like love, the best match is found when both parties want each other - but it is always better for you to have the option rather than be on the receiving end of a rejection.
A key first step to winning an interview is to empathize with your prospective employer. It's critical to step back and candidly review yourself, your resume, and your qualifications and ask how you can best package and position yourself to meet the requirements for that job.
Your resume must "match the hatch." One size fits all only applies to ball caps and life jackets. Although time consuming, your resume and cover letter needs to be customized to meet the needs of the open position. In our increasingly specialized world, it is a mistake to believe that just because you have strong general management / leadership experience that employers are ready to place you in senior jobs in marketing, finance, product management, engineering, etc. If you think you can accomplish the role as articulated, you must ensure that the person reading the resume and cover letter can see the applicability of your credentials to the requirements of the particular job. You must translate your experiences (both military & civilian) into a credible story about why you are the right candidate for the job. I do believe it is worth applying for the job even if you don't meet all the specific requirements for the opening. In that case, however, you must do an even better job in communicating why you can get the job done.
During an interview, put yourself in the shoes of the HR professional or hiring manager. Ask yourself, "What do they really want to hear?" For the most part, they are just trying to answer one simple question, "Will this candidate be successful?" Fortunately, as a veteran or retiree, you likely bring maturity, motivation, passion and integrity to the interview - and have already passed the first couple of hurdles. Generally, the two big remaining questions from employers during the process is whether you have the technical competence to succeed and whether you will be a cultural fit.
Employers want you. Believe it or not, sourcing new employees is an extremely time consuming, expensive and distracting task for managers. Posting jobs on national job boards or purchasing classified advertising is not cheap; companies only do it because they have an acute need to source talent. Job postings are written to clearly articulate the nature of the work and the characteristics of the ideal candidate - and within that prose is the key to winning the job. I can assure you, employers want you to believe in you - you simply must assure that you will be successful in the role.
As I hung up the phone, I felt confident that our wayward aviator was going places. The Captain had been right, he was a superstar and his job search issues were more a matter of translation and packaging. With the economy heating up, the war for talent is on. Companies are increasingly looking for candidates that bring integrity, leadership and diversity to their talent pool - and veterans fill the bill in spades. It's just up to you to do the selling.