How to crack that cold equation? Just a little face time, says unemployed veteran Ruty Rutenberg, who believes that simply standing eye-to-eye with a hiring manager allows former service members to naturally radiate the ocean of intangibles that can only be absorbed in combat.
"That presence, that aura about military people is very tough to see online in a resume, where (HR executives) are only looking at lines of text," says Rutenberg, 29, who served as an Army medic in Iraq, riding in Black Hawk helicopters. He's been searching for his "mainstay" career for about a year. "Online, it's tough to tell a person's emotions, let alone a person's energy.
"But when you get to be right in front of these people and interact with them, there is no trepidation for veterans in those moments. We've been in stressful situations that people can't fathom, that they've only seen in movies," Rutenberg said Tuesday at a job fair in Los Angeles sponsored by Got Your 6, an entertainment-industry-backed, national veterans campaign. NBCUniversal is a partner in that movement.
On Wednesday, Hiring Our Heroes — a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that aims to get veterans back into the work force — is hosting a hiring fair at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City.
Both events are part of the Got Your 6 "veteran hiring week." Such events, Rutenberg believes, are critical for companies with spots to fill and veterans with bills to pay: "One of the things the military ingrains in us is how to be present and confident in the moment, really in any moment." Click here for a list of upcoming Hiring Our Heroes job fairs.
Still, owning that moment may require a touch of coaching, say some career counselors, who have spotted common, repeated flaws in the resumes and in interviewing skills of ex-service members.
Humility 'can be damning'
On paper, the mistakes typically involve the use of jargon: cumbersome acronyms, technical descriptions, and — to many civilians — the complicated system of military ranks. Is a "specialist" special?
"They feel: 'I've earned this rank. I want to make it prominent on my resume.' But that's one of the biggest complaints we hear from employers. They don't understand what 'sergeant first class' means," says Shareem Kilkenny, co-owner of Veteran Career Counseling Services. She operates VCCS with her husband, Kester Kilkenny, an Army veteran who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"What I have to get them to understand is: How do I translate their ranks and skills into the skills that employers are looking for? It might be better, for example, if a resume reads: 'Worked under extremely stressful conditions,' or 'Worked in a deadline-driven environment' or 'Dealt with constant change.' ”
In addition to reading like a foreign language, militaryspeak may just get a veteran's resume tossed, warns Elizabeth Hruska, assistant director of career and internship services at the University of Minnesota.
"This can be a barrier to a civilian employer who needs to quickly understand the basics of you and your qualifications — and (emphasize) quickly: Employers tell us they spend only 10 to 30 seconds on that initial resume once-over," Hruska says.
While many veteran candidates may try to pitch themselves as the ultimate team players, some are prone to selling themselves short due to that group-first mindset, says Jason Dozier, veteran transition specialist with Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit dedicated to creating job opportunities to veterans and their spouses through personalized employment training.
"Military members are very team-oriented, and the word 'individual' can be a euphemism for those who fail to be a productive member of that team," Dozier said. "And so tasks and accomplishments are more likely to be framed as 'we' rather than as 'I.' Humility is a great virtue, but it can be damning if you're looking to be competitive in the job market."