Job Searching in the Civilian World – It’s Not About You

You used your GI Bill benefits and earned your degree. Congratulations! The next step is getting a job, but having been in the military for three to six years (or more) and then school, you may be a little rusty on how to go about doing that in today’s competitive job market. The key to finding a job is thinking like a salesman and selling yourself.

Whether you know it or not (or even like it or not), you are a product and to sell you have to show how your product is better than the other competing ones out there. If you get into that mindset, applying for jobs will be easier. Getting to a job offer is a three-step process:

  • the cover letter
  • resume
  • interviewing.

Each step in the process has a distinct purpose. The cover letter should create an interest in the interviewer so s/he wants to read your resume and know more about the product – you. Your resume should show your qualifications for the position (how you are better than the competition) and get you an offer to interview. Ultimately, how you present yourself at the interview will, or will not,  generate a job offer.

The Cover Letter

Because your cover letter is your resume’s sales page, you want to generate enough interest by leaving the reader wanting to read your resume. With only eight to ten seconds to grab the reader’s attention, you need to set yourself apart from the other applicants; a great headline will do just that. Let’s assume you’re applying for an Administrative Assistant job.

The Headline

What do all great sales letters or ads have in common? A great headline called a “hook”. Right after the salutation, you want to insert your hook, such as “Is the lack of an organized office wasting several hours of your boss’ day?” You will be able to determine what kind problem the company is trying to solve from the information in the job posting. So your headline is the company’s problem phrased as a question.

The Benefit

Next, write the benefit you bring to the table to solve the problem; something like “My computer and organization skills are a valued asset because I can streamline and automate office administrative procedures, thereby ensuring my boss can maximize his time doing what he’s good at.”

The Example

Now, give an example of how you used this benefit: “When hired into my last position, the office was in complete disarray. I used my organization and computer skills to organize all the files, create a customer database and streamline office procedures, thereby saving my boss several hours a day.” Focus your example on:

  • the need of the employer;
  • how you can solve their problem;
  • creating the desire to read your resume.

Using an example leaves the interviewer wanting to read your resume to see what skills you have that may help them out.

The Call to Action

This is one thing that will set you apart from most applicants. Very few are bold enough to include a call to action. End your cover letter with something like: “At your convenience, I look forward to speaking with you next week about coming in for an interview. I am available Monday through Friday between 8:00 am and 3:30 p.m.” Employers like decisiveness.

The Resume

How do you sell a product or a service? You advertise. We already established you are a product trying to find a buyer, so, why does your resume read like a biography and not like an ad? And what do all great ads start with? You guessed it – a great headline.

Scrap the Objective Statement

“Desire a challenging career utilizing my strengths.” Boring – how many times during a day do you think a hiring manager reads that headline? Frankly, a company could care less about what you want – they want to know how you will solve their problem.

Eliminate the Objective Statement in favor of a Summary of Qualifications or a Highlights section showing your major skills and accomplishments.

Summary of Qualifications

Located right under your contact information, at the top of your civilian job resume, this section is a short synopsis of what you do and your skills or core competencies you use to do it. The synopsis is in paragraph form and a Summary of Qualification for our Administrative Assistant could be:

Eleven years providing office administrative and clerical support, including handling confidential information. Skilled in word processing and accounting software, including MS Office Suite. Accustomed to meeting tight deadlines. Excellent telephone, filing, interpersonal and organizational skills. Experienced in meeting planning and travel arrangements.”

References Available Upon Request

Of course they are and that is why this statement is no longer used at the bottom of resumes. Employers assume you have a list of references available and besides, what are you going to say if an interviewer asks for them, “No”? Of course not – you will give him/her a copy if asked. Instead, leave it off your resume and use the space in your two-page to further market your skills.

The Interview

Congratulations, the cover letter and resume did their job. Otherwise you wouldn’t be at this stage of the process.

Do your homework

Through research, learn as much as you can about the company before your interview. The more you know, the more intelligently you will be able to converse about the company in the interview. Search websites for company information such as:

  • the products or services they sell;
  • if they are publicly or privately held;
  • their competition;
  • how many they employ;
  • if their market is local or global.

Think about how your skills can benefit their company, thereby making you the ideal candidate. Work this information into your answers and questions that you will ask. Keep the focus on your skills, including soft skills you learned in the military such as teamwork, organization, managing and communication.

Dress for Success

For interviewing, dress up one level up from what is required for wear on the job. This usually means wearing a modern business suit that is clean and wrinkle-free. Don’t forget about your shoes. They should be clean and polished.

Arrive Early

Make sure you know where you are going for your interview and how long it takes to get there. If you are not sure, drive the route a day or two before your interview at about the same time of day as your interview to see how long it takes. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early.

Body Language – It Speaks Louder Than Words

This is more important than most people realize. How you:

  • shake hands;
  • sit;
  • use your hands;
  • and make eye contact, all speak volumes about you without ever saying a word.

Your handshake should be firm, but not crushing. Make eye contact and small talk during the brief time you are shaking hands. Sit straight with your hands flat on top of your legs. Make direct eye contact when answering or asking questions keeping your answers to between 30 seconds and two minutes.

Civilianize Your Responses

You did it on your resume and cover letter, and you need to be prepared to do it here. Employers want team players, so work in a few examples of how you contributed to a military team project, but describe it in civilian terms. Avoid military jargon and terms; it just confuses hiring managers about your ability to do the job.

The sole purpose of an interview is selling yourself. Verbally match your military skills to the civilian job requirements and demonstrate how you can benefit the company. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them!

Marketing Yourself

Marketing is a learned skill focusing on how to play people’s emotions into buying products or services. Civilian job-searching and advertising share many similarities, however, most job-searchers never make the connection. Think like a marketer or salesman and you will score job interviews!


Photo thanks to Francis Storr under creative commons license on Flickr.  Audrey’s note: this picture may not be entirely relevant, but I sure do think it’s funny, and amazing that some business owner out there has the decency to recognize a small way to help the bigger picture.

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