Spraying resumes to hundreds of online job positions and praying to get a response is the chosen strategy for many transitioning veterans. Unfortunately, it's entirely not effective. Before veterans deploy overseas or go on a mission, they study and try to understand everything possible about the enemy, culture, weather, terrain and local populace. When faced with a new mission of starting a new career, many veterans don't take the time to understand the company they are applying to: it's business model, major clients, competitive advantage, or even the process from which they hire candidates.
Having a firm understanding of how companies identify, screen and hire new employees will give veterans the opportunity to improvise, adapt and overcome the unique challenges they face when transitioning into a new career.
Let's say, for example, that the Senior Vice President (SVP) of advertising sales at Company ABC wants to grow his business and is looking to hire additional employees. The SVP is equivalent to a full-bird colonel or regimental commander in the military. He is extremely busy trying to manage and grow his business, so he doesn't have time to search for new employees, just like regimental commanders don't have time to go to high schools and recruit more soldiers for their units.
Similar to how the military has recruiters and administrative personnel to locate, screen and process new soldiers, the SVP has a human resources (HR) department to search for new candidates. The mission of the HR department is to locate qualified applicants based on the hiring criteria given to them by the SVP, conduct initial interviews, whittle the applicant pool down to the best four or five candidates, and then present them to the SVP for final interviews and hiring decisions.
This is where many veterans get stuck. The job market is extremely competitive right now. HR personnel have to review dozens and sometimes hundreds of resumes for one position. They only have thirty seconds, at most, to look over a resume and determine whether the person is qualified for the job. And because most HR recruiters haven't served in the military, they don't fully understand military skills and experiences. Therefore, more times than not, veteran resumes get thrown in the "no" pile and are never considered by the hiring manager.
The trick is to get yourself past HR and in front of the hiring manager (in our example, the SVP of Advertising Sales)—the decision maker—so that you can verbally make your case for the position. That's your goal! HR personnel can say "no" to a candidate, but they cannot actually hire anyone. That final decision is with the hiring manager. If a hiring manager already knows you and thinks you'd be a strong candidate for a certain position within the company, he or she would tell HR that you will be interviewed and HR would coordinate and process the appropriate paperwork.
Let me use a personal example. When I was transitioning, I applied to thirty-four positions through various companies' online job forums. In sixteen of the companies, I was unable to network with a veteran who worked there. Out of these sixteen companies, I received zero callbacks for interviews. The automatically generated rejection emails are still trickling in.
For the remaining eighteen positions, I was able to connect with a veteran employee at each of the companies, who were then able to help "refer" or recommend me for the various positions. I ended up getting called for ten interviews! Veteran employees conducted two of the interviews and I was eventually offered positions at both companies. Employees with no military experience conducted the remaining eight interviews and I received one offer.
Isn't that amazing? Networking with a veteran employee increased my chances of getting an interview from 0% to over 50%! And both veteran employees who interviewed me subsequently offered me positions at the company. Focus your search strategy on developing key relationships with veterans who are already employed at the companies that you want to work for. They understand your service and what you can bring to the table – and they are most willing to help you as well.
Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York. He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.