I recently attended a job fair at Fort Belvoir for veterans and military spouses. I had the great pleasure of speaking with dozens of individuals – all of whom were looking for work in one field or another.
As someone who works with job seekers on a daily basis, and whose mission it is to help them find employment, I encouraged them to share with me why they were there and what they wanted out of a career.
I was simply astounded at how many people spoke to me at great length not about what they wanted out of a career, but about how little they felt they had to offer. Over and over I heard:
- I don’t really have much valuable experience to speak of.
- I’ve only really done volunteer work, but employers won’t care about that.
- I don’t really see myself being able to bring much to the table because I’ve been out of the job force for so long.
I must start by saying that I can totally relate to those feelings. I think we have all felt that way at some point. There were so many times when I was convinced that a particular job opening or certification was simply beyond my reach.
Someone else – someone who was better, smarter, or who didn’t have the constraints of military life – would be the one to snag the job.
As time passed, however, I found that many times the people who got the job were no more qualified than I was. They were also just as nervous or insecure. They just didn’t let the employer in on that little secret.
When searching for a job, confidence is king. Landing a job is as much about attitude and self-promotion as having the perfect skill set. Very few people are comfortable singing their own praises – especially military families who often choose not to advertise their great achievements and the great sacrifice that often accompanies those achievements.
It is critical – however – to value the skills we bring to the table and to be able to let those skills shine whenever we are presenting ourselves, whether it be to prospective employers, colleagues at a networking event, or even your current supervisor. Studies have shown that prospective employers generally form their impression of a candidate in just the first four minutes of an interview. Make sure that during those four minutes, you exude confidence. Here’s how:
#1 Value your military spouse experience because employers will.
Employers often complain about how difficult it is to find those “soft skills” that are so important to career success. Grit, determination, loyalty, creativity, flexibility, resilience. These are skills that military spouses have in spades and that employers value very highly. Highlight those skills every chance you get and, if the opportunity arises, be ready to give concrete examples of that crazy problem you were able to overcome on the fly with no assistance in sight.
#2 Proactively frame your volunteer experience or employment gaps.
If left unexplained, those gaps can make an employer think you’re flighty or uncommitted. You know you are anything but. Take control and be the one to frame the issue. Address it head on by saying something like, “Not only did I orchestrate an international move, but as someone who needs to stay involved, I immediately sought volunteer opportunities to engage with my community and keep my skills sharp.”
#3 Showcase your “chameleon” qualities.
In an increasingly global marketplace, employers are forever looking to hire people who can move in and among all sorts of different cultures, viewpoints, and ways of doing business. How many of us have been dropped in the middle of unfamiliar territory and found a way to make connections and contribute? We know how to find common ground and see the good in others. Those skills make us not only amazing citizens, but incredibly valuable employees. Make sure employers see that right off the bat.
#4 Don’t take yourself out of the game.
A few weeks ago, I dropped my son off for his first day of sixth grade – new school, new friends, new everything. There were hundreds of students milling around and he looked petrified. Remembering my own middle school experience, I reminded him that
“No matter what you think or how confident they seem, know that every one of them is every bit as nervous as you are. Fake it ‘til you make it.”
It is so cliché but I am astounded at how true I have found it to be. We are often our own worst enemies and we sell ourselves short way too often. Meanwhile, it’s so easy to believe that everyone else has it all figured out. The bottom line is that we’ve all made it this far because we have so much to offer. Believe it and show them what you’ve got.