How Student Veterans Can Get a Jump on the Job Search

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(U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Many veterans pursue education after leaving the military. Since 2009, a year after President George W. Bush signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill into law, more than one million veterans have returned to school to get their degrees in the U.S.

And, as of 2014, 96% of colleges and universities in the U.S. enroll veterans, according to the Student Veterans of America and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.

As you ready yourself for your transition into the civilian sector, you might have some experience with the civilian workplace through internships. But even if you have more limited exposure to the civilian work world, consider these tips to get a jump on the job search.

Identify Your Soft Skills Make lists of your strengths, skills, talents, goals and unique abilities. Sometimes, just making these lists helps remind you that you have a lot to offer an employer!

Consider Listing Out:

  • What am I good at? For example: helping people, solving problems, math, writing and entertaining others.
  • What do people appreciate about me? For example: I make them feel safe and protected; I am helpful; I can keep a secret.
  • What issues or causes am I passionate about? For example: helping people in third-world countries become entrepreneurs; mentoring at-risk youth; the history of the English language.
  • What classes, internships or jobs have I had that I really enjoyed? For example: Did I love learning about Native American History or Music Theory?

Define Your Goals

What industry or career would you like to work in? Are you passionate about music, fashion, finance or technology? It's OK to start broad (i.e. "technology"). Do you like innovation and new technology? Are you passionate about the application of technology in the education market?

Non-Negotiables and Blind Spots Consider your non-negotiables (location, amount of travel, income, ethical boundaries). Next, identify any gaps or blind spots you'd need to address before you can pursue that career. For instance, if you want to work for a golf club manufacturer, but don't have a lot of experience in business or playing golf, you might need to work on that before applying for jobs.

Consider Your Reputation

Think about how you're known today, and whether your personal brand and reputation will serve you well in attracting the attention of your target employer after you graduate. If there's work to be done, do it before setting out to interview. You get only one chance to make a first impression.

Make Yourself Findable

As you transition out of college, focus on your online presence. Recruiters and hiring managers scour online profiles to find potential candidates, evaluate them and appraise the consistency in their values and talents. Be sure your online profiles reflect you in a professional, polished and appropriate way to the companies you want to attract.

Conduct Informational Interviews

Informational Interviews are NOT job interviews. Rather, they are meetings you initiate with people who are in jobs, companies or industries you are interested in understanding better.

In an informational interview, you have the opportunity to hear firsthand about someone's experience and insights. Then, if you've done the meeting correctly, you have a new networking contact who likely feels vested in your career success.

Ask for Help

Leverage your contacts, professors and mentors to become your information sources, coaches and references. Ask them to write recommendations about the work you've done in the classroom, in clubs, and in any part-time or on-campus jobs you've held. They can also introduce you to key contacts who might be helpful to your job search and endorse you when asked about your talents and abilities.

Work Your Strategy

Once you've identified the companies you'd like to work for and researched the hiring managers and recruiters, look through the company website to find open positions you might qualify for. Send an invitation to connect with the hiring manager on LinkedIn and customize your invitation to highlight your experience, skills and how you would fit into the company.

Don't be discouraged if they don't accept. They get a lot of invites ... but still do it. Then, send in your application with a custom resume and cover letter. Be sure to look at keywords in the job description, and make sure those keywords are in your resume and cover letter!

The follow-up part of a job search is often the most frustrating. You'll send resumes ... and wait. Understand that you're looking for ONE job, so be patient. It is fine to send a follow-up email inquiring about the status of your application and use that email to reinforce your skills, qualifications and interest in the position.

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