What employers are really looking for

I have been fortunate to participate in no small number of veteran employment panels in which human resources professionals and corporate recruiters share their insights with veterans.  Time and again the same question invariably is posed to the panel:

“What are employers really looking for?”

That really is the million dollar question, and it is invariably answered with a single word:

“Skills.”

It sounds simplistic, but it’s true.  Employers are seeking to fill holes in their organizational chart, and those holes must be filled by people who are qualified to perform the tasks and assume the responsibilities that come with the job.  Those who have served in the military are certainly ready to assume the responsibility that comes with a position within a company; after all, responsibility is what wearing a uniform is all about.  Responsibility to protect and defend the nation and its citizens, responsibility to  comrades in arms, and the responsibility to effectively lead others with both compassion and professionalism.

A sense of responsibility and commitment is part of being in the military, and it doesn’t vanish once they hang up their uniforms.  It is a part of their character.

What veterans and transitioning military lack, however, are skills.

Let me back up a moment to explain what I mean.  In the military each and every man and woman is expected to master not just one, but two sets of skills: those skills that define their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS – such as artillery, administration, maintenance, etc.) and those skills that define their military service.  They can learn everything from how to drive a tank to how to fly a stealth bomber through their technical training regimen, but before they get the keys to an M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank those who sign up must first begin the acculturation and training process that brings them into the martial fold.

They get to go to bootcamp.  Or OCS.

Whether as a recruit or an officer candidate, the privilege of wearing the uniform must be earned through the successful completion of an intense entry level training program.  Regardless of which service a person joins, he or she must go through the crucible of acculturation that forever changes them from a civilian to a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine.  Once the right to wear the uniform is earned the newly minted graduate ships out to their MOS school, which is where they learn how to perform their specific job.

It doesn’t end there.  Throughout  a person’s military career (whether it be three years or thirty), he or she is continually learning about leadership, reinforcing a committed work ethic, and being a member or leader of ever growing teams in addition to increasing their technical expertise.  In short, military professionals are developing their skills continually from the day they join until the day they leave.  The skill sets of those in uniform don’t stop expanding until they get out.

It is the skills that come from being in the military that employers are looking for.  In the words of an army veteran and CEO of a multimillion dollar medical technology company:

“I want to hire people who were just like I was when I left the military.  Eager to learn, eager to work, and eager to be part of a team that is out to accomplish something.  I want to hire veterans because I know they will work hard and I don’t need to teach them how to work with other people.”

In short, the business world is looking to hire people with the skills that come with being a military professional.

The problem is that so many veterans only identify themselves by their MOS skills and as a result they sell themselves short.  They only see themselves as an infantryman, an truck driver, or a bulk fuel delivery specialist, and they present themselves as such.  I don’t know how many times I have heard “I’m just a dumb grunt.  Nobody is hiring grunts in the civilian world!”, but it’s somewhere in the thousands.  And that is the problem.

Veterans need to present themselves to employers as solutions to their manpower problems, and a big part of being the solution are the “soft skills” that those in uniform possess.  Things like commitment, sense of responsibility, work ethic, and leadership.  The corporate executives and hiring managers I speak with are unanimous in their desire to hire people with those qualities, and those are qualities that all veterans (except for the knuckleheaded few) possess.

Veterans and those transitioning out of the military will be more successful in their search for a new career if they can present both the soft skill set that the acquired while in uniform and the skills that meet the needs of the company. The rub, however, is how to learn the specific skills that the employer is looking for.

Those are the skills that I referred to earlier.  Job- or industry-specific skills.

There are many ways that veterans can build their specific skills set, and a great many of those ways are completely free.  Veterans can research the requirements for a job or industry that they like through websites like careerbuilder.com and monster.com.  They can meet with people already in the industry through networking events such as the Marine Executive Association, NavNet, or social networking groups such as meetup.com.  They can participate in local company and industry sponsored programs such as the Business 101  or nationwide programs like the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP).  By conducting research, networking with others, and taking advantage of free industry sponsored training a veteran can tangibly begin to fill the gap in their skills and make themselves more competitive for the great jobs and careers that are out there.

There are a lot of ways to build the skills that employers are seeking.  All you need to do is get started.

It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits Amazon.com.  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!

Orders to Nowhere: The Book!

Coming soon!  The launch date is expected by be no later than November 10th, but hopefully sooner. I’ll post a note as soon as it goes live.

Written over the two years of navigating the often frustrating and always confusing waters of military transition, Orders to Nowhere is finally available in print!

Orders to Nowhere is the essential insider’s guide to military transition.  Demystifying the uncertainty and ambiguity that surrounds getting out of the military, Orders to Nowhere is the comprehensive After Action Report of a career Marine’s transition from the tightly knit military world back to civilianhood.

Tens of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen transition back into the civilian world each and every year. The change from life in uniform to life beyond the military is a significant emotional event for everyone who experiences it. Hanging up your uniform for the last time isn’t easy, and Orders to Nowhere was written to help explain the overwhelming process and make it easier for military members planning to get out, while they are in the midst of transition, or after they become veterans.

Mike Grice is an award winning writer, retired career Marine, and intrepid explorer of the military transition process.  Orders to Nowhere is the journal of his experiences , but it is also the story of every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman who takes off the cloth of the nation and goes back to civilian life.  Written during the author’s adventure through the trials and tribulations of transition, Orders to Nowhere eases the pain by giving an inside look at the widely varied aspects of military to civilian transformation.  Things like:

 -making the decision to hang up the uniform
– telling your boss that you are getting out
– the administration and logistics of moving on
– the emotional roller coaster of transition 
– effects on family
– transition decorum and ceremonies 
– the details of military retirement benefits
– transition assistance classes
– dealing with the Veterans Administration
– VA disability claims
– the Post 9/11 GI Bill
– finding a job
– how to dress like a professional
– writing a resume and cover letter
– networking
– interviewing for a job
– salary and benefits negotiation 
– adjusting to civilian life
– and much, much more

The book contains over 160 lessons learned and recommendations that can help anyone going through the military to civilian transition avoid making costly mistakes.  The path back to “normal” life is anything but normal, and Orders to Nowhere is the traveler’s guide that every member of the military and veteran needs to ease the pain of the journey.

A must for every man and woman in uniform to help make transition as smooth as possible!

The importance of differentiation

There are many career paths that you can take in the military.  The obvious ones include those that involve fighting, but there are a whole lot of jobs that don’t.  For every infantryman who carries a rifle into harm’s way there are anywhere from three to ten or more men and women in uniform who make sure that the grunt on patrol has the ammunition, water, fuel, and everything else he might need.  Every tank has a crew of four, but before it rumbles into the fight dozens of mechanics and ordnance specialists and electricians perform hours and hours of maintenance to make sure that the vehicle is in tip-top shape.  For every naval aviator who catapults from the deck of an aircraft carrier there are thousands of shipmates aboard who do everything from chipping paint from the rusty decks to keeping the nuclear reactors on line to making and serving chow.

Those jobs are all crucial in order for the military to accomplish its mission of keeping the nation safe.  Interestingly, within the military itself, even though all of those duties are important there is a definite difference in the prestige associated with them.  In the Marine Corps, for example, the infantry is considered to the ultimate expression of the service; everything else as they say is just support.  In the Air Force it is the fighter pilots who have ruled the roost for decades, and in the Navy the ship drivers and aviators are those who wield the most power.  For the Army, it is the infantry and armor branches that hold the most distinction.

Unfortunately the most prestigious positions in the military are also those with the least direct corollary to civilian employment.  There are no civilian infantry battalions, fighter squadrons, tank platoons, or aircraft carriers.  There are, however, plenty of jobs in those support areas that are often viewed as second class within the military.  The civilian world does not need artillerymen, but it does need electricians.  It needs truck drivers, and mechanics, and logisticians.

In short, the civilian world needs people with definable and useful skills.

Skills, for example, that an employer can put to work immediately without taking the risk of hiring someone who may or may not know enough about the business to be effective.

Unfortunately, many of the skills that those in uniform who have spent the majority of their time at the pointy end of the spear have developed are not directly transferable to the corporate sector.  Being a leader is great, and undoubtedly the leadership skills that our warriors have gained in Iraq and Afghanistan are first rate.  That is great for the military because leading people to do amazing things is what the military is all about, and the best military leaders we have are those who are dedicated to mastering their craft and being the most proficient soldiers or sailors or Marines possible.

Leadership in the civilian world is leadership in a different context.  An infantryman can demonstrate his leadership through arduous training, bravery, and a consummate grasp of tactics, weapons, and equipment.  By being a first rate infantryman, he can lead by example and inspire his fellows and juniors to shoulder their loads and step out to meet the enemy.  The best leaders we have are those who are the best at what they do: they are the best infantrymen or tankers or pilots or ship drivers.

The civilian world is no different.  The best CEOs are those who have dedicated themselves to learning their businesses inside and out.  They inspire their people to great achievement by understanding their industry and markets and customers and then being able to align the company’s employees to meet their goals and objectives.  They challenge their people and recognize those who excel.  Instead of using medals to motivate their corporate troops, they use other things such as money and stock options and trips to the Bahamas.  They lead by example and are masters of their craft.

It is here that the perception that many military leaders, particularly those in the combat arms, runs awry.  I cannot count the number of conversations that I have had with my peers and friends in uniform in which we talked about how we, the combat leaders, had all the skills that would make us tremendous leaders and invaluable assets to any company that would be lucky enough to hire us.

How wrong we were.

Sure, corporations want great leaders.  Every company does.  They also want people who know their business or have a skill that the firm needs.  Therein lies the rub, and brings to mind a story from my days as a young and motivated Captain:

I once had an officer who was a student of mine at the artillery school.  He was a graduate of the Citadel, which is a renowned military college in South Carolina.  As a cadet there he rose to a high position of leadership in the Corps of Cadets, and he was without a doubt a fine leader.  That said, he was a lousy student.  When I asked him why this was so, he answered that he joined the military to lead men and learning about how to load and fire an artillery piece was interesting but not particularly relevant to his desire to be the next MacArthur.

I explained to him that leadership is not something that you have because of rank or position, but instead it is something that is earned through the respect of those you lead.  He would never be a good leader in the artillery if he did not show that he was a solid artilleryman, and to be a solid artilleryman he had to learn how to load and fire an artillery piece.  People who show up and start barking orders without knowing what they are talking about are idiots, not leaders.

That is the point that so many people in the military miss.  Sure, we all developed leadership styles that inspire young men and women to enthusiastically throw themselves into the crucible of combat, but those styles were largely based on our professionalism and mastery of our martial craft.  None of those same people would have followed us if we didn’t know what we were doing.

The lesson here is that if you, as a military leader, want to bring your talents to the civilian world you will need to more than just be a “leader”.  You will need to differentiate yourself and show that you can do more than just lead.  Can you read a balance sheet?  How about a profit and loss statement?  Do you understand marketing, or finance, or accounting, or any of the countless other things that make the business world run?

The corporate sector has lots of great leaders.  How would you feel, as an infantryman, if the CEO of a company was hired to become your battalion commander and take you into combat?  Would you follow him?  Of course not.  Why, then, do so many military folks drink their own bathwater and believe that they corporate sector is waiting for them to leave the service and take over their businesses?

To be competitive in the job market it is important for each and every person who transitions from military service to find something that they can offer a potential employer besides war stories.  Those who have learned a skill or trade, while maybe not being on the front lines and earning medals for valor, take those skills with them when the leave the service.  That is their point of differentiation that separates them from all of the other candidates for a job.

As a leader, what is yours?

Learning a new skill: Salary and benefits negotiation part 1

In the military one learns a good many things:  How to stand at attention and march smartly about.  How to carry and shoot a rifle, and how to live out of a backpack for weeks on end.  How to fix a tank or fly a jet.  Lots and lots of things.

One thing that you don’t learn, however, is something that everybody else in the business world learns with their first job: how to negotiate.

Negotiation is a very important part the employment process.  When a candidate is offered a position with a company he or she begins the discussion of compensation with the hiring manager, where things like compensation, benefits, hours, vacation time, career progression, retirement plans, insurance, and countless other things that are part and parcel of employment.  In the corporate world all of these items are negotiable, and both job providers and job seekers know it.

In the military the situation could not be more different.  When a young man or woman joins the military they are provided a comprehensive pay and benefits package, but it is one that is set by law and regulation.  There is no negotiation for a better salary or more flexible hours — in fact, there is no negotiation at all.  The pay, allowances, and benefits for military folks are no secret, either.  The pay scale, which is based on rank and time in service, is readily available on the internet as are all of the other  benefits, special pay conditions (such as jump and dive pay), and housing stipends.  When you join the military you get what you get, just like everybody else in uniform.

As a result of the defined pay and benefits in the military those in uniform never engage in the process of employment negotiation, and that can place them at a disadvantage when they hang up their uniforms and enter the civilian world where everything is negotiable.

Everything from the salary you will earn to the amount of vacation you can take to where you can park your car is on the table.  It is up to you, the job seeker, to get the best offer that you can, and if you don’t know to engage in the back and forth of negotiation then you risk leaving valuable things on the table.  There is one guarantee in negotiation: you will never get things that you don’t ask for.

Fortunately, you can arm yourself for such a negotiation by doing a little research and preparing for it.

The research bit can make an enormous difference in the negotiation process because it can provide you with valuable information about the company and what you can and can not ask for.  You can surf the internet (at sites like www.glassdoor.com or www.payscale.com) and ask your friends and contacts (especially those in the industry you are entering or work at the company) about what the average salary for your desired position is as well as the benefits package that the firm offers.

As the job seeker you have leverage in the negotiation up until the point that you accept the job offer and the terms that it contains.  Once you say “yes” the negotiation is over, and you are highly unlikely to be able to change anything.  At that point anything that was left on the table will vanish like a thief in the night.

So what are the types of things that you can ask for?  Here is a quick list of twenty things that many companies will entertain and which may or may not be similar to military benefits:

1.  Performance bonuses.  Can you make more money if your performance merits it?

2.  Flexible hours.  Maybe a four day week with longer workdays?

3.  Work location.  Work from home?

4.  Overtime pay.  How much will you be compensated for working extra hours?

5.  Retirement plans.  What kind do they offer?  How much will the company match in a 401K?

6.  Vacation time.  You received 30 days a year in the military, and the base in the civilian world is two weeks, unless you negotiate for more.

7.  Travel expenses.  Can you get  company car?  Mileage compensation or a gas station credit card?

8.  Non-monetary compensation.  Can you earn stock options or fully valued shares of the company’s stock?

9.  Career flexibility.  Can you create a path that starts in one area of the company and then move to another?

10.  Time off.  How about personal days?  Sick days?

11.  Health care.  Is health insurance included?  What are the deductibles?  Is there an on-site clinic?

12.  Insurance.  You had SGLI in the military at a steeply discounted rate.  Does your employer offer life insurance?

13.  Meals.  Is there a company cafeteria?  Are meals subsidized?

14.  Child care.  Can you bring your child to work?  How about a nursing room for those who wish to nurse their infants?

15.  Tech equipment.  How about a company phone or laptop?

16.  Discounts.  If the company produces goods, can you purchase them at a discount?  Is there a company store?

17.  Memberships.  Will the company provide memberships to a health club or gym?

18.  Travel.  Will you be expected to travel in coach, business class, or even better when you travel?  How about upgrades?

19.  Education.  Will the company pay for you to pursue an MBA or other educational opportunitity?

20.  Relocation expenses.  Will the firm pay for you to move your family to the city where you will work?

These are only the tip of the pay and benefits iceberg.  If you don’t do your homework and come to the bargaining table knowing what you can and should ask for you will get less than you could have.

In my next post we will prepare for the negotiation by rehearsing and doing a little self examination to make sure we do the best job possible at the bargaining table.

__________

Lessons learned:

– Military benefits are set.  Corporate benefits are not.  To get the best salary and benefits possible you are going to have to negotiate for them.

– Not all companies offer all benefits.  You need to do some research to see what the company offers, and then be prepared to ask for them.

– Salary is usually the biggest aspect of the negotiation, but it is not the only element.  Unlike the military, many corporate benefit packages are tailored to the individual employee.

– Use your network of contacts and the internet to research what will likely be on the table during the negotiation.  Don’t look foolish by asking for something the company does not offer, and don’t forget to ask for something that they do.

After the interview: Now what?

So you have just finished interviewing with the company of your dreams.  As you walk out the door you need to remember, though, that even though the meeting part of the interview is over the whole process is not yet done.  You still have some work to do to finish it up.

Or, if you don’t want the job that badly, you can just get in your car, drive home, and have a cold one to celebrate the time that you wasted on the interview and the job opportunity you missed out on because your competition is going to go the extra mile and finish their interview properly.  The choice is up to you.

The smart thing to do is to continue to treat the job interview like a date.  Just as you want your relationship with a pretty girl or handsome guy to get more serious the same can be said about your interest in the company.  You are certainly curious as to how things went during the interview because you to want to step things up a notch and get into a meaningful relationship with the company.  Just like you want your date to call you back the day after dinner and a movie you desperately want the hiring manager to give you a ring with good news.

Even though you have left the building there are still several things you can, and should, do to increase your chances to land a job.  If you don’t do them the worst that will happen is that you won’t land an offer.  If you do the following things, though, you still may not get a job but you will come away from the experience with a stronger reputation and a better understanding of how to become a better candidate for employment.  Here, in my humble opinion (and in the opinions of many hiring managers) are the things that you should perform after the interview:

1.  Make some notes about the interview.  What questions were you prepared for?  What questions were you unprepared for?  What was the interviewer’s name and title?  You should have exchanged cards during the interview, and the back of the card is a good place to jot down the interviewer’s preferred form of address (“Mr. Smith” or “Bob”, for example).  You should take notes while the interview is fresh in your mind because otherwise you will forget those brain-hiccups that you had, and if you forget them then you are likely to repeat them again in future interviews.  I recommend getting a small notebook dedicated to the interviewing process and using it as a logbook or journal to record your post-interview notes.

2.  Send a follow-up note to thank the interviewer for their time and attention.  In the note make sure to use their preferred form of address (that you remembered to write down on the back of their business card as soon as you left the interview) and be sincere in your message.  You should be professional and courteous, but not overly familiar.  After all, you are still making an impression, and a poorly written note will do more harm than good.  Here is an example of a short and acceptable thank-you note:

Dear Bob,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you on Tuesday.  I am very excited about the opportunity to join XYZ Company, and I learned a great deal about the firm during the interview.  Our discussion about the corporate culture and dynamic work environment reinforced my strong desire to join the company, and I think that my skills and experience are a great fit for the _________ position.  I feel that I can be a strong contributor to the firm.

If you need to contact me for any follow up questions or additional information I can best be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx or via email at mike@anymail.com.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Mike Smith

3.  As you close out the interview ask the hiring manager for the best way to contact them in the future.  This is important because it gives the interviewer an opportunity to establish expectations for future communications.  He or she may be open to a call or email or may prefer that you wait to hear from the company before you contact them.  Make sure to pay attention!  You can shoot down your chances at a job if you call them after being asked to wait.  Just follow their lead.

4.  Think hard about your experience at the interview.  Are you going to be a good fit at the company?  Did you learn anything that was unexpected or that is not in line with your goals?  If you did, then do some serious soul-searching in order to decide whether or not to continue pursuing a job there.  Don’t just take the first job that comes along if it is not a good fit.

5.  Be ready for the company’s call.  It may be a letter, an email, or a telephone call, but regardless of how the firm reaches out to you the news will be either good or bad.  This is where character really counts; if the news is good then it means that you have a follow on interview in your future or a job offer letter on the way.  If the news is bad then it means that you will need to look elsewhere for a job.  If the news is good then you need to be humble, respectful, and thankful for the opportunity to work with the company.  If the news is bad, then you need to be humble, respectful, and thankful for the opportunity to interview with the company.  Even though you did not land a job with that particular company it doesn’t mean that you can be a jerk about it; remember, you are building a reputation along with your resume.  If you are obnoxious because you didn’t get the job the word will get out.  If you are respectful, the word will get out too.  The hiring manager who did not hire you may know of a company that is looking for someone with your skill set, and if you make a strong positive impression it may help network you into a new opportunity.

Remember that the hiring process does not end with the interview.  It ends with either a job offer, an invitation for a follow on interview, or a rejection.  You can improve your chances for a job offer by following up on the interview.

__________

Lessons Learned:

1.  Write down your impressions of the interview as soon as possible so that you can learn from it.  You want to make your strengths even stronger and eliminate your weaknesses, and the only way to effectively do that is to learn from your experience.

2.  The interview is not over when you walk out the door.  Hiring managers are people too, and sending a thank you note for their time is a nice touch that will be noticed.  It is a normal part of the hiring process, and if you don’t send a note then you are behind others who do. Send the thank you note immediately after the interview.  If you had to travel to the interview, then write the note and drop it in a local mailbox to ensure that it arrives quickly.  As the saying goes: “Strike while the iron is hot.”

3.  Reflect on the interview.  Did it reinforce your desire to work there or uncover some negative aspects about the job or the company that make you have second thoughts?

4.  Be gracious when you finally get the results of the interview.  This may take a while because the hiring process at most companies takes time, so be ready to wait.  When you get the news, be respectful and courteous regardless whether it is good or not.  Remember, your reputation is always growing, and if the word gets out that you are a jerk it will hurt your chances elsewhere.

Interviewing, Part 4: Military-specific considerations

As you interview for your dream job there are a few considerations that you need to keep in the back of your mind.  Unlike civilians who are free to pursue any and all employment opportunities, you may actually be precluded from taking advantage of some of the prospects out there because of your status as a member of the military.

There are several areas of consideration that can seriously affect your future career and, if you are not careful, cost you thousands of dollars or land you in jail.  This is not an all-inclusive list or discussion on the subject, but instead a look at three aspects of post-military employment that can get you into trouble.

First is the most obvious one: your security clearance.  When you leave active duty your clearance becomes inactive.  That said, if you join a company during terminal leave or accept employment with a firm that requires a clearance before you get out, the company can keep your clearance active by adding you as an employee and sponsoring your clearance.  If, however, you are unemployed (technically, even for one day) after you get out then your clearance will need to be reactivated.  You have up to two years for reactivation, unless your reevaluation date is less than that.  Top Secret clearances, for example, have a five year shelf life.  If you get out at year four, then it is only good for another year.  So you need to be careful on your resume and be sure to list your accurate clearance status (e.g., “Top Secret Clearance active until 2014” or “inactive Secret Clearance”).  You don’t want to misrepresent yourself as having a clearance that has lapsed or expired!

Second is the concept of Conflict of Interest.  In a nutshell, this is a situation in which your work while in uniform places you in a unique position to either profit from your position or have undue influence over the matter at hand.  An example of this is a contracting officer who can influence the spending of government dollars on a particular contract; he may be enticed to choose one bid over another if his future job depended on it.  The same goes if he influences his military connections after he gets out to bias a contract decision.  Not all instances of conflict of interest are as obvious, however.  If you are seeking a job in your specialty area (which is perfectly logical and normal) it is a good idea to get a copy of the job description and show it to a Staff Judge Advocate (military lawyer).  They can give you an opinion as to whether it conflicts or not.  This is a big deal because often the simple appearance of a conflict may create problems whether a true conflict exists or not.  Better safe than sorry….

Lastly, and most interestingly, is the rule against foreign employment.  The Emoluments Clause of the U. S. Constitution prohibits any person “holding any office of profit or trust” in the Federal Government from accepting any gift, emolument, office, or title of any kind from any foreign state without the consent of Congress – and that includes retirees.  In order for you to work for a foreign government you must first receive permission from your service secretary, as in the Secretary of the Navy, Army, or Air Force.  Needless to say, this is not a simple process!  You will need to apply for a waiver from the Secretary in advance otherwise you are breaking the law and the government may come after you to recoup the monies that you received up to the amount of your retirement pay.  Ouch!

__________

Lessons Learned:

1.  Your security clearance is a big deal for many employers because obtaining one costs thousands of dollars, and if you have an active clearance (particularly a Top Secret one) it makes you a more desirable candidate.  Misrepresenting the status of your clearance, however, makes you a knucklehead.

2.  Conflict of interest is a very murky and thorny problem.  You can get yourself, your new company, and possibly other people in a lot of hot water (and potentially legal trouble) if you are not careful.  Talk to your local Staff Judge Advocate if you have even an inkling that there may be a conflict between your current job in uniform and the one you are pursuing.

3.  Even though you are retired you are still considered to be an office holder in the U. S. Government and as such must ask for permission to work for a foreign government.  This can even apply to you if you are not directly employed by a foreign government but your company is; for example if you are in a law firm or consultant company and you receive a share of the profits that are received from a foreign government it is considered to be in violation of the law.  Make sure that you are not going to get into trouble by researching who your prospective employer’s customers are.

Interviewing, part 3: Curveballs and questionable questions

The purpose of a job interview is to determine whether or not you are suitable to join a company’s team.  How the interviewer figures that out, however, can be unusual, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright odd.  It can also be illegal.  You need to be prepared for when the interview goes in an unexpected direction.

You expect to be asked about your experience, skills, education, and training during a job interview.  You may not be expecting some of the tools that companies use in their hiring process to find the best candidates for the job,  though.  Some companies will ask you to take a personality test (to see what you are really like), submit a handwriting sample (to be analyzed by handwriting experts), have your picture taken (so that others who are involved in the hiring process can see what you look like),  or something equally strange.  These questions and tests are perfectly legal, even if they seem a bit unusual.

What about questions that are not legal?

There are some questions that are not permitted, by law, to be asked of an applicant.  Although they vary from state to state, they generally fall somewhere in the following list:

  • Age
  • Gender, sex, or sexual preference
  • Race, ethnicity, or heritage
  • Disability
  • Faith or religious beliefs
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy or children

There are a few more for serving military veterans:

  • Classification of discharge
  • Military related disability status (particularly PTSD)
  • Post-military benefits status (healthcare, pension, etc.)
  • Whether you are in the National Guard and Reserves

Professional interviewers are well aware of which questions are permitted and which are not.  Not all interviews are conducted by professional hiring managers, though.  Many are conducted by small business owners, retail store managers, restaurant chefs, or anyone in business who needs to staff a position in their organization.  These interviewers may ask a question that they shouldn’t without realizing it, but even though they don’t know the law they are still required to follow it.

There is another possibility, too.  The person conducting the interview may be asking you questions that they know are illegal but they ask them anyway.

Regardless of the circumstance, when one of these questions is laid on the table it is up to you to figure out what to do about it.  You have about a millisecond to decide whether you will answer it or not.  How much do you want the job?  That it what it all boils down to in the end.  If you stonewall, refuse to answer, or debate the legality of the question with the interviewer the probability of you landing the job will rapidly approach zero.  However, if you feel that the interviewer is crossing the line intentionally, then perhaps the company is not really a place where you would like to work anyway.

You have to ask yourself the simple question: “Is answering that question worth getting a job with this company?”  If you answer yes, then do as you are asked.  If not, then don’t.  It is a simple as that.  The downside is that you are certainly guaranteeing that you won’t get the job.  Do you have to answer an illegal question or fulfill an odd request?

Nope.  You can say no.  And probably not get the job.  It is up for you to decide.

__________

Lessons Learned:

– Not everyone conducting an interview is a professional.  They may ask questions that they shouldn’t out of ignorance.

– There are illegal questions, unusual questions, and uncomfortable questions.  Regardless of where those questions lie on the spectrum, it is up to you as to whether or not to answer them.

– There are some questions that pertain specifically to serving military and veterans.  Your military and VA benefits are personal in nature, as is any pension of disability payment that you receive.  Disclosing any of that information is up to you, should any such questions come up.

– It all boils down to how much you want to work at the company.  Questions may be asked innocuously, and making a big deal out of it will likely cost you a job offer.

Not so traditional job interviews, part 2: Lunch, Dinner, and Cocktails

There are many kinds of interviews, and we have covered quite a few of them thus far.  Today we are going to take a trip to your hiring manager’s favorite restaurant or bar and learn about just how similar interviewing for a job is with a drink or a cheeseburger in your hand is to a traditional interview.

Just how similar is it, you ask?

It is a little similar.  And it is completely, totally, and utterly different at the same time.

It is similar to all interviews in that the goal of the interview never changes: the company wants to fill a staffing need and you want to find a job.

That’s about where the similarity ends.  The devil is in the details, and there are a lot of details to an interview in a bar or a restaurant.  Trust me.

Why would a company want to conduct an interview outside the office?  There are a lot of reasons, but we’ll drill down into four significant ones:

  • First, you may not be able to get your schedules to align during working hours, and the hiring manager may simply find it easier to interview you outside the normal workday.
  • Second, it may be a small company.  Small companies often don’t have hiring managers, or may not even have managers at all.  Small business owners may be busy running their businesses during normal hours and the only way they can squeeze interviews in is to meet with you for a meal or a drink.
  • Third, the company may still be feeling you out.  The interviewing process is often a lengthy one that may begin with a phone call that is followed by a lunch meeting and then, if things go well, a more formal interview at the firm.
  • Fourth, the company may be seeing what kind of person you are outside the formal interviewing arena.  They want to observe your manners, your social awareness, etiquette, etcetera.  This is particularly the case for positions that place the employee in the public’s view, because the firm doesn’t want to hire a caveman to represent them in the business world.  It is also an opportunity for the company to evaluate how well you will fit into their culture by observing you in a social environment.

Regardless of the circumstance under which you find yourself in this type of interview, the most important thing to remember is that you are being observed, evaluated, and judged from the second you meet up to the second that you leave.  Don’t forget it!

The best way to proceed with an interview at a restaurant is to treat it like a date.  You don’t want to look like an idiot in front of a prospective significant other, and you certainly don’t want to look like an idiot in front of a potential employer.  This type of interview is one where you can really make a knockout impression or have the opposite effect of making the person across the table run screaming out the door.

The choice is yours.

The basics in dating apply to lunch or dinner with a hiring manager.  Dress nicely, just as you would for an interview, show up a few minutes early, and double check yourself in your car’s rearview mirror before you get out of the car.  It is always embarrassing to find out after it is all over that your necktie was crooked or that your was hair is sticking up like Don King’s.

You should also do a little homework about the restaurant before you go.  Look at their menu online, and decide what you would like ahead of time.  The hiring manager probably uses the restaurant routinely and knows exactly what to order and it will be awkward for you if you are stumped by what to order when the waiter shows up.  I recommend that you order a salad because it is easy to eat with a knife and fork (not your hands!) and will not put you in the awkward position of trying to eat the world’s greasiest cheeseburger without making a mess out of yourself in front of your interviewer.

That brings me to a significant point about military people, food, and table manners.  Most military folks view consuming food as a method of calorie loading: we need to feed the machine to keep the machine going.  We eat too fast, talk while we eat, and generally just shovel it in, starting on one side of the plate and stopping when we run out of food on the other side.  Not only is this not a way to impress a date, it is certainly not a way to impress an interviewer.

Remember your manners: be polite to everyone (including your server!), use the proper utensils (don’t eat everything with your spoon because of years and years of experience eating rations with the issued plastic spoon), and SLOW DOWN!  A good rule of thumb is to take a bite, chew it at least ten times, swallow, and then take another bite.  Take small bites and pace how quickly you eat your meal with the interviewer.  You will be talking through the meal, and it is quite embarrassing to try to answer a question right after you shove half of a steak into your gaping maw.  To help with this, try paying attention to yourself the next time you eat alone — I’ll bet you will be surprised at how much the military lifestyle has affected your table manners as you mow down French fries like a belt fed machine gun.

Treat your interviewer with the same deference and respect as you would a date.  Allow them to be seated first, and follow their lead in ordering.  Avoid alcohol and drink sparkling water or iced tea.  Remember, you are being evaluated through the entire process, and if they sense that you are a three martini lunch kind of person then you will likely find yourself pursuing an interview with another company.

Place your napkin in your lap and keep your elbows off the table.  As with a date, it is a good idea to have some topics of conversation ready.  Lunch and dinner interviews tend to be a bit more informal and social, and the hiring manager is feeling you out to see if you are a social match with the company in addition to asking about your skills.  Remember the rules of the military mess: do not discuss politics, religion, or sex. Any one of those topics will be a guaranteed job loser.  Even if the interviewer initiates a conversation on one of those topics do your absolute best to steer the discussion back to the company and your interest in working there.  One thing that may help is reading the newspaper before you go to the interview or listening to the news on the radio in order to have something to chat about when you need to fill some time.

Here are a couple of other do’s and don’ts:  don’t complain about the food (do you want to look like a whiner?), don’t get a to-go box for your uneaten food (you will look cheap), don’t order dessert unless the interviewer does, and lastly do be both appreciative and gracious when he or she picks up the tab.  It is assumed that the company is paying the bill, but it is good form to be thankful for the free lunch or dinner that you just enjoyed.

So there are some tips for an interview over a meal, but what about an interview in a bar or lounge?  That is again similar, but also different.

Think of being interviewed in a bar as the same as running through a minefield in your underwear — it can be both embarrassing and potentially lethal for your career.  You can do just fine, however, if you treat it as an interview the entire time you are in the bar.  My recommendation is to order one drink and nurse it all night.  The best drink to order is a Gin and Tonic because you can just keep topping it off with tonic or soda water and nobody will ever know.  Keep the conversation clean and on topic, and even if the interviewer gets hammered don’t give into temptation to join him down the boozy trail!

You may be interviewed in a bar for the same reasons as you would be for a meal, but now you have the added factor of involving alcohol.  This is a big deal because we all act differently after a few shots of loudmouth juice.  Here how an interview at a bar can change everything:

A prospective employee spends an afternoon interviewing with a company.  He meets people at varying levels of the company and impresses them all with his savvy demeanor and job skills.  So much so, he thinks, that they invite him out for drinks after work.

While having a few cocktails he shifts out of “jobseeker” mode and back into “military” mode, complete with a liberal sprinkling of the “F” bomb and barracks humor.  He had a great time, but was very surprised when he was informed that he would not be working at the company.

The trip to the bar was part of the interview.  They wanted to see what the interviewee was like outside the office, and they learned enough to know that he was not someone that they wanted in their firm.  He blew his shot because he was not savvy enough to see that rule number one of interviewing is that the interview is not over until you start working at the company or they tell you to go away.

Now that is a lesson worth learning.

__________

Lessons Learned:

1.  You are being evaluated the entire time that you are being interviewed, from the moment you walk into the restaurant until the moment you leave.  There are many more things to get wrong in this environment, so limit your possible mistakes by preparing before you go.  Check the restaurant location and menu online before you leave home.

2.  Be ready for some chitchat, but stay away from politics, religion, and sex.

3.  Be polite to everyone.  The interviewer will notice if you are a jerk to the waiter and you will NOT get a job offer.  I guarantee it.

4.  Eat a salad.  Avoid the Monster Burger.

5.  Manners, manners, manners!  Slow down.  Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.  Don’t shovel in your chow like it is the last MRE you will ever eat.

6.  Be gracious and don’t forget to mention how much you enjoyed lunch or dinner in your thank-you note.

7.  If alcohol is involved, order one drink and nurse it.  Keep the barracks language and humor at the barracks.  It has no place in the business world.

Not so traditional job interviews, Part 1: The Phone (or Skype) Interview

So you have sent in your resume and heard back from the hiring manager.

That’s great!

She would like to  interview you as soon as possible.

That’s even better!

Over the phone.

Um, ok, you think.  Sounds good.  That should be easy.

Au contraire, my friend.  Interviews over the phone are not simple and you can certainly screw one up.  They are not easy to get right and take just as much preparation  as a face to face meeting, at least they are if you want to succeed and get the job.

There are countless reasons why a company may want to interview an applicant over the phone, or perhaps over Skype or another video interfacing system.  The company may be on the other side of the country or even the other side of the planet, and a phone call is infinitely cheaper than a plane ticket and a hotel room.  The hiring manager may be travelling.  You may be travelling.  A common reason may be that the company’s hiring process begins with a phone interview to determine whether or not you are worth bringing to the office for a second look.

Regardless of the reason, a phone or Skype interview is still a job interview, and just because you are not going to the company headquarters is no reason not to adequately prepare.  You should do your research, review your resume, and rehearse with someone using a phone or Skype.  After all, you want the job, don’t you?

The heart of the interview is the interaction between you and the hiring manager of the firm.  Having a telephone or laptop screen between you and the person on the other side changes the venue, but the content is pretty much the same.

What a phone interview is not, however, is easier.  Here are a few reasons why:

First off, you don’t get a sense of the company or the interviewer that you would normally pick up by walking through the lobby, meeting a few people, and shaking hands with the hiring manager.  Instead, you are going from zero to sixty in the few seconds between “Hello?” and “Let’s get started.”

Secondly, it can seem deceptively informal and easy.  So easy, in fact, that you may not take a preparation as seriously as you would for a “real” interview.  It is over the phone, so why not do it in your pajamas?  Or over Skype, so all you need to do is put on a nice shirt and maybe a tie, right?  Again, au contraire.

The worst thing you can do in any interview situation is to be unprepared or not take it seriously.  Sure, you can do the interview in your underwear if you want and the hiring manager will never know.  Sure, you can watch Sportscenter with the sound turned down and the hiring manager will never know.  You will know, however, and it will affect the interview.  And not in a good way.  You need to get your mind right, steer clear of distractions, and focus.

Here are some recommendations that will help you have a successful phone or Skype interview:

Most importantly, prepare for the interview in exactly the same manner as you would for a traditional interview.  Get a haircut (they can still see you on Skype, after all, and getting a haircut is never a bad thing), wear your interview suit and tie or blouse and slacks, research the company, and review your resume.  Be ready fifteen minutes before it starts, and clear your mind in order to focus on the interviewer and the questions that you will be asked.

Prepare a location for the interview.  The interviewer is likely in their office, but you can be pretty much anywhere.  That said, driving down the freeway or sitting at your child’s soccer game are remarkably bad ideas for obvious reasons.  The hiring manager is devoting their time exclusively to you in order to determine if you would fit in their company, so the least you can do is reciprocate.

You should find a place that is quiet, has good lighting, and is as office-like as possible.  Sit at the kitchen table as opposed to on the couch, for example.  We are all creatures of habit, and if you are lounging on the couch as opposed to sitting at a desk or table you may well act or sound like you are sitting on a couch as opposed to a desk or a table.  Clear everything away except a copy of your resume and your notepad and a bottle or glass of water.  No distractions!

For a Skype interview you need to go a step or two farther.  What does the background look like?  It should be bland or uninteresting, if possible.  Is the light coming from behind you?  From the front or side?  Remember, the interviewer is going to see you and your surroundings, and if the light makes you look like Bela Legosi in a ’40s vampire movie it won’t help.  Your Twisted Sister poster collection is also not the best background, either.

Back to the interview.  Make sure that the quiet place you have found stays quiet: turn off your mobile phone, the dishwasher, television, radio, and everything else that makes noise.  Put a post-it note over your doorbell telling visitors to not ring the doorbell and to come back later.  Use your land phone line if at all possible, too.  You don’t want to drop the call or have a poor connection because that will only reflect negatively on you.  Have a copy of your resume laid out in front of you, take a deep breath, and call the hiring manager exactly on time.

Close all apps and programs on your computer for a Skype interview.  You don’t want to be distracted by emails or instant messages popping up on the screen during the interview, and the interviewer will instantly recognize that you are ignoring them and reading something else that popped up on your screen.  That is a guaranteed job offer killer.

Start the interviewer by introducing yourself, and then follow interviewer’s lead from there.  Lead off with something like “Good morning!  This is Mike, and I am calling in for the interview…”

From there the interview is similar to the traditional style, except that you cannot really gauge the interviewer’s mood, expressions, or mannerisms.  Skype offers a little insight because you can see the interviewer’s face, but that is about it.

Remember to keep your answers short, in the thirty second to two minute range, and speak slowly.  A big part of listening is seeing the other person’s mouth as they speak, and that obviously is not the case over the phone. Being interviewed is anxious business, and you may unintentionally speak faster than normal which can result in the interviewer not understanding what you are saying.  To help with this, try taking a breath after hearing each question, restate the question to yourself in your mind, and then start talking.  It will make you appear thoughtful (which is good) and articulate (which is also good).  Remember, the hiring manager has done countless interviews, and you want to make a solid impression, not sound like a knucklehead.

The same rules apply for Skype, except remember that you are on camera during the interview.  Sit up straight, look at the interviewer on the computer screen when she is talking and at the camera when you are answering.  Also, be conscious of what you are doing with your hands.  A famous actor once said that one of the hardest things about acting is knowing what to do with your hands, and that applies to interviews as well.  Put them in your lap or sit on them if you need to, because if you fidget or pick at your nails all the interviewer will see on the screen is you fidgeting or picking your nails.  You don’t want to distract the interviewer.

As the interview draws to a close make sure to thank the interviewer for her time and make sure that you close out the call professionally.  Again, we are all prisoners of our past experiences, and if you say goodbye on the phone by saying pithy things like “Later!” or “Out here…” then the last impression the hiring manager will have of you is not particularly professional.  A simple “Thank you for your time today. Goodbye!” will go a long way.

As with all interviews make sure to follow up with a thank you note.  It is fine to send an email immediately, but go that extra classy mile and send a note in the mail too.  It is important, expected, and if you don’t you will be viewed as less desirable than those who do send in thank you notes.

__________

Lessons Learned.

1.  A phone or Skype interview is just as important as a traditional interview.  It is imperative that you treat is as such.  Make sure to thoroughly prepare, get dressed in your interviewing clothes, and be on time.

2.  Tips for preparing an interview setting: sit at a desk or table, sit up straight, use your land line, have some water and your resume at hand, and for a Skype interview check out your background and how the lighting affects your on-screen appearance.

3.  Take a breath, restate the question, and then provide answers in the thirty second to two minute range.  Try not to talk too fast!

4.  Make sure that there are no distractions, and turn off apps, televisions, mobile phones, or anything else that could interrupt your interview.