You and I both know you are Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all wrapped up in one fine veteran (or spouse) package. You are ready to bring your amazing problem-solving, decision-making and cross-functional, team-building skills into a civilian workplace to save their souls. Or terrify them into submission. One of the two.
By the time you land the interview, you have done all the interview prep you need to show the hiring manager who you are and what you can do. You are pumped when they ask that key interview question, "Why should we hire you?"
Inspired, you say something powerful like, "Hire me so I can use my leadership skills to build teams and solve problems to increase your bottom line."
You hear: Ta-da. They hear: Oh, no. You just said the Kryptonite Answer: Leadership.
Suddenly, you sense your strength (and their enthusiasm for you) drain right out of the room. Which is completely mystifying to any normal person.
After all, when employers talk about why they want to hire veterans, they always say they want your leadership skills -- and your proven ability to show up on time wearing a shirt.
When your veteran friends tell you about why they are valued at their current company, it is usually for their natural leadership skills. You have those leadership skills, too. So why can't you cite them in an interview?
When I interviewed Sultan Camp -- the director of the Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center in Virginia and a Navy veteran -- for our master class, Secrets of Recruiters, he told me that when hiring teams hear "leadership" during the interview, it triggers a negative response in them.
To them, "leadership" is the Kryptonite Answer. It is almost as if they conflate the words "leader" and "boss." They think: We have leaders already. We need someone to do the work. This person is going to be trouble.
To us, leadership is the source of our strength. When we say "leadership" in the military, it is our shorthand. It is the way we indicate that we can shoulder responsibility for other people's lives. For equipment worth billions of dollars. For schedules, budgets, programs and personnel. Leadership is a word that stands proxy for all of the work skills it takes to lead well, something the hiring manager really does need and want.
How to Avoid the Kryptonite Answer
That takes us back to the interview. They will ask: "Why should we hire you?" You will still want to say, "Leadership."
Instead, take a breath. Think through this from their point of view. They have given you all the right answers in their job listing. Which resume verbs did they use in the job listing that make up the components of leadership? Did they use verbs like drive, motivate, delegate, develop, deliver, shape, direct, implement, supervise, assign, envision, organize, plan, prioritize, etc.? Use the same verbs they used in their job listing.
In your answer, first mention how adaptable you are and how you look forward to learning the specific part of the business that this team deals with every day. Then say something like, "In the job listing, you said you were looking for someone who can x, y and z. This is how I have demonstrated those skills in the past [and tell a story that includes a result]. I can bring you the same kind of results while I'm learning the business."
When you get to the job, you and I both know that you might be dressed as Clark Kent or Diana Prince, earnestly learning the job. But eventually the need will arise for your leadership superpowers and you can't help but shine.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
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Transitioning military, veterans and spouses may be qualified for the job, but they are missing the secrets of civilian hiring. Find out everything you need to know with our FREE master class series including our next class You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.