9 Tips for Job-Seeking Veterans

Here's how to parlay your military skills into a career in corporate America

Many veterans are returning home after risking everything only to struggle to find gainful employment. According to the US government’s October 2012 employment figures, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II Era vets is 9.7%. For the youngest vets, ages 20-24, that number climbs to 14.5% – compared with 12.1% for non-veterans. For veterans ages 25-29, it’s 11.5%, compared to 8.7% for non-veterans.

However, Jim Camp, a Vietnam vet, and president and CEO of the Camp Negotiation Institute, asserts that returning veterans have the very skills US businesses want – discipline, leadership, resiliency, teamwork, loyalty, accountability, and self-motivation, among others. The Camp Negotiation Institute, which teaches negotiating techniques, has more than 400 students from 24 countries enrolled in its credentialed Team Member courses.

According to Camp, one of the main issues is the veterans aren’t taught how to interact in a business setting, such as a job interview.

He offers the following advice:

Do impeccable research on the company and position before the interview. Read recent business articles, visit the company’s website, and study press releases and annual reports. Write down everything about this company so you’ll feel well prepared. “When I left the military and just before I went off active duty, I was a fighter pilot and I decided I wanted to be an airline pilot. So, what did I do? I started researching all the airlines,” he says. “I didn’t have a formal invitation and they hired me because I had done my research. Now, a lot of young people don’t know to do the research.”

Don’t be needy. “How many times have you seen someone interrupt because they needed to be heard, or they lean way forward in their chair and they talk loud and fast because they’re needy and afraid they’re going to lose the opportunity?” asks Camp. “So, what I’m trying to help people discover is how to relax. Your whole emotional structure changes and the reactions of the other party are much more positive from a person who wants to work with them but does not need to work with them.”

Don’t try to impress them with your dress, attitude, or speech. It will backfire. Be honest, direct, and authentic. Look decent and be comfortable in your own skin. “I want a genuine human being to talk with. I don’t want a flash,” asserts Camp. “I don’t want a dandy. I want them to represent themselves as a solid good human being, not someone trying to pull a fast one or being slick.”

Find out what your interviewer wants by asking questions. Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer what are the challenges in the position you’re discussing. Camp suggests asking what the interviewer would suggest focusing on first, should you land the job.

“That kind of a person is an engaging person who is eager to fit into a spot.”

Your aim is to discover the company’s problems, issues, and needs so you can position yourself as the solution.

Ask “what, how, and why” questions to help YOU direct the dialogue. These get your interviewer spilling the beans, and they won’t be able to answer with a simple one-word answer. More information about them is more ammo for your side.

“Teaching and really helping these veterans to learn how to ask questions is a paramount skill,” says Camp. “In most difficult negotiations, how those questions are asked are critical so that’s a very important point for the veterans.”

Get them revealing what a “good fit” means to them. Find out what the interviewer considers are the traits of the ideal candidate and determine how you can fill that demand. Ask what a good fit looks like.

“If you fall short on one of those skills, ask them what training you could take on your own time to gather up that skill as you fit into that spot,” suggests Camp.

Don’t volunteer too much information. You might think your previous working environment is relevant, or that your family life is important, or that your hobbies are character revealing. But telling too much gives your interviewer fuel to make assumptions and draw conclusions about you.

“Talking about your last working environment doesn’t serve any purpose for you, or if you’re a hunter and it’s one of your favorite hobbies and the interviewer doesn’t believe in blood sport, you could really get a black eye.”

Focus only on what you can control. The only thing you can control in the interview is your behavior and your responses. Focus on listening carefully — taking notes if necessary — and on controlling your behavior and words.

“It’s all about your behavior, what you say, how you say it. Those are the only things you can control. You do that with really great preparation so the whole idea is that with preparation on what you control yourself, you have a much better opportunity of performing well,” says Camp.

Present yourself as the solution. Answer questions in such a way that you are always keeping your employer’s requirements and goals in mind, not yours. Your answers should reflect how you fit in with this employer’s aims and enhance the employer’s objectives.

“What we want to do is outline the solutions or outline the problems to be solved. Then we want to take from our list of personal traits that we gathered from the military, the discipline, the work ethic, the importance of training, planning, problem-solving,” says Camp. “We want to plug those traits in as solutions to the problems that get uncovered.”

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