We must all come to terms with an unpleasant truth: Millions of Americans will lose their jobs this year.
As thousands of businesses closed in a nationwide effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits during the third week of March -- the highest level of seasonally adjusted claims since 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The full effect of the coronavirus on the U.S. economy remains uncertain. But the impact on U.S. unemployment is clear: Many more Americans are looking for work.
Whether you are a veteran actively seeking employment or you’re planning to complete your service in the next year and start the job search, consider these three strategies to enhance your employability.
1. Build your brand in person and online. Reputation and value are two major components of a personal brand, and both take time to build. Establishing a solid reputation with colleagues and employers is great, but you can do much more to create a robust personal brand.
First, practice communicating your value by providing insightful examples of career accomplishments. Rather than just telling a prospective employer, "I’m a hard worker,” tell the story of a time you worked hard to achieve a successful outcome, explaining how the results benefited stakeholders. Better yet, show how you used innovative thinking to solve a problem. Back up your examples with data whenever possible.
Networking both online and in person will benefit your career. Consider volunteering -- a great way to build new connections. One of those connections could become the reference that helps you land a better job. Volunteering rounds out your resume with additional experience.
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” -- Warren Buffett
Your online reputation matters. Not all hiring managers will research you on the web, but many will. According to Workopolis, 93% of employers say they review candidates’ social media profiles during the interview process. Make sure what they find reinforces your personal brand.
On the other hand, having no online presence could also work against you. At the very least, consider creating a free LinkedIn profile to supplement your resume. This allows you to provide additional details to prospective employers about your work history, experience, credentials, interests and accomplishments. Many corporate recruiters utilize LinkedIn to locate and approach qualified candidates.
2. Take careful stock of your skills and never stop learning. When preparing for career opportunities, you must objectively assess your current strengths and weaknesses. Account for both technical, job-specific skills and soft skills (e.g. work ethic, communication, leadership experience, etc.).
Veterans frequently exhibit a range of well-developed soft skills, including:
- A strong work ethic and excellent self-discipline
- The ability to take on difficult challenges without complaining
- Leadership and project management experience
- Depth of character, honor and integrity
Employers desire individuals with these characteristics because technical skills are often easier to train than soft skills.
Of course, the best way to be highly employable is to have the right combination of both!
As you prepare for future career opportunities, never stop building knowledge. A variety of organizations provide professional development. For example, Toastmasters International helps improve your public speaking ability. Also, consider joining a professional association to take advantage of free or discounted training.
Of course, public institutions also offer online degrees and professional education in areas such as business, information technology, engineering, project management and much more. Online education provides the flexibility to earn new credentials on your schedule from wherever you are (and is frequently more affordable).
3. Be concise, organized and specific with your application materials. Hiring managers and committees process a lot of applications for a single job search. The first step to narrowing down a pool of applicants usually involves skimming application materials for minimum qualifications and eliminating anyone who doesn’t meet them.
When applying for any job:
- Clearly and directly address all required qualifications in your materials. Make this information easy to locate.
- Provide succinct, relevant examples of the successful results you achieved in your past work. Back this up with data whenever possible.
- Highlight your military service and explain how it has better prepared you to perform well in the specific job you are applying for.
- Keep your resume concise. Don’t include multiple decades of work history unless asked. Typically, your last 4-6 previous work assignments are adequate.
- Always write a customized, one-page cover letter for every job application that addresses the desired minimum and preferred qualifications.
- Carefully proofread your application materials for typos and grammar.
- If you are missing a qualification, don’t ignore it. Explain in your cover letter how you are addressing the missing qualification. This may include actively seeking the training or experience you currently lack.
If you need help preparing job application materials, don't hesitate to contact your regional Department of Veterans Affairs office or local workforce development organization to see what resources are available.