Earlier this month I attended a veteran transition workshop provided by General Electric. The two-hour course was presented free in conjunction with the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair held at M&T Bank Stadium. I found this event to be an excellent experience and something that I encourage every transitioning veteran to take advantage of sooner, rather than later. This was much better than the Transition, Goals, Plans, Success (TGPS) class I attended in August.
The GE veteran transition workshop was truly professionally. It packed all the relevant info into two hours, and then offered ample time for individual question and answer sessions with actual GE employees.
No matter what you hear about TGPS, it’s still mandatory, so there is no escaping it, and to be fair, it wasn’t so much that the information was bad or irrelevant, it was just inefficiently presented.
The GE seminar should NOT replace TGPS, particularly since only TGPS addresses VA specific issues, while the GE workshop focused solely on employment. It is, however, an outstanding opportunity that should not be missed. I recommend attending this program sooner in your transition, rather than later.
The presentation I attended was facilitated by Mr. Chip Cotton and other members of the GE Veteran Network from the Baltimore/DC area. Cotton is a former Navy Supply Corps Officer now working as a program manager in the Energy Research and Development Division. In addition to the four other military veteran employees, they also had on hand a member of the GE Human Resources team who was available for questions and offered insight on the hiring process in general.
The program began by providing an overview of the GE Veteran Network and a little bit about how life on the corporate world is both similar to, as well as different from, the military. For example, I was impressed (and a bit surprised) when they mentioned the amount of ethics training that GE provides its employees. One of the GE gentlemen went so far as to comment that he gets more now than he did while in the Navy. For anyone who’s sat through some serious General Military Training that’s saying a lot. They also spoke about how qualities like timeliness and reliability are so valued by civilian organizations because those characteristics are not as prevalent on the outside as they are in the military.
The introduction to GE as a corporation was as impressive as it was succinct. It didn’t take up much of the time in the overall program, but it absolutely set the positive tone that GE is a diverse, professional organization, composed of good people. All the presenters genuinely seemed very happy about their company.
From there the presentation moved onto tangible skills about managing the transition process, developing a resume, interview skills, and the hiring process in general. Most of the presentation repeated information that I had heard before (well before TGPS Class) but, just like in the TGPS course there were a great many people in the audience that seemed to be hearing it for the first time.
That shows me that there really aren’t that many secrets out there, people just have to be proactive and search for the advice. In that spirit I’d like to pass along some things that were covered.
Chip Cotton talked about how many veterans fall into one of two categories. Either they downplay themselves because they think the military only taught them “how to blow stuff up” or they have an inflated opinion of themselves and believe they can just jump into any organization and fix everything. Cotton said organizations aren’t looking for Superman they’re looking for people to do specific jobs. Each organization has a mental picture of the kind of individual they are looking for and they put that into the job description. The goal of the applicant, according to Cotton, is to tell the story of “That’s me. I’m the person who can fill that need.”
Even those who may feel like their military experience doesn’t readily translate to a civilian position shouldn’t be too quick to sell themselves short, he said. If you think you don’t have any skills at all, dig deeper into your military job description you’ll find that you did more than you thought. That being said, he also stressed “honestly knowing yourself” and if there is a direction that you want to head that requires more training, you may have to go out and get it. As to the “Superman Complex”, he said it’s better to be humble. You’ll come off better if you stay focused on the job description for the opening at hand. Once hired going above and beyond is a nice perk that may, in fact, take you far. Just don’t roll into an interview with a pompous attitude.
Cotton also talked at length about the Hiring Process. “Resumes don’t get jobs,” he pointed out, “they get interviews.” Transitioning veterans need to understand the hiring process not just to boost our chances for success, but also to maintain our sanity as the process drags on.
Initially, the goal of a busy HR department is to take all the applications/resume’s and narrow a big group down to a manageable group. As an example, this may mean winnowing down a hundred applicants to just ten in order to consider which of those will ever even get a face to face interviews. All this in the hopes of hiring one person to fill the open position. In order to make things efficient large organizations use computer based Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter the initial group. Cotton spoke about the need to ensure your resume reflects the key words in the job description as much as possible to give yourself a better chance of making it past the first cut. (Just recently, I came across a terrific article about ATS and how they work. Check it out to learn more.)
Unfortunately, many will find themselves on the outside looking in if their resume is not included in the initial pull from the ATS. We have to understand that if the organization can still find three really great candidates out of those first ten, the system is working just fine as far as they are concerned, no matter how many equally qualified people never really got looked at by a real person.
From this stage the hiring organization will determine who from that smaller group should get a closer look. Many will do phone interviews first of all ten, for example, before ultimately deciding which three to actually interview in person. This is another cost-effective measure that allows the organization to further narrow down the field without expending too many resources (time in particular).
Hopefully you make it through the phone interview and get called in for a face-to-face meeting. Now it’s on! Many people, including those at the GE session, indicated that at this stage, even if they have an obvious favorite based on the resume, companies will expect that anyone in the face to face interview round would ultimately be a safe hire. This is the place to really shine. We do that by not being afraid to brag about ourselves a little, so long as it’s in connection to the job description. Telling short stories about what you’ve done helps connect you with the interviewer, but it’s good to make sure your stories have some structure. Cotton mentioned the STAR acronym (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) as a method to ensure your answers remain relevant and job focused. It’s good to have a stable of these stories in your toolbox, and have practiced telling them to other people in a mock interview format.
At the same time, remember that you are also interviewing them, so be prepared to ask questions. Cotton pointed out that this is an excellent time to inquire about how other aspects of the job such as how success is measured or about growth opportunities in the organization.
Another great tip was not to assume one job is the same as another job in the same field. Different organizations have different needs and different working environments. The same job title (Computer Programmer, Outside Sales, Project Manager, etc.) at different companies can have subtle differences in the job description. Knowing exactly what you’re applying for can help you tailor your resume. Should you get to the interview stage the more homework you’ve done on the organization and the specific job, the greater your chance of success.
The final thing he spoke about was the need to have a strong network. I’ve written before about the fact that you have to develop your network before you need it. You do this by getting out and meeting people in your field and having well-developed electronic footprints on platforms such as LinkedIn and American Corporate Partners. Building and maintaining relationships is the critical component to any job search, attending smaller workshops like this is just one of many excellent ways to do so.
Overall this GE Veteran Workshop was terrific. I went in search of validation to what I had previously learned and that’s exactly what I got. Even better, I got it in a well-organized format from a group of military veterans who genuinely cared about the success of everyone in attendance. It was well worth my time and I thank GE and their Veterans Network for putting this on.
Learn more about the workshop as well as the career fairs at http://www.uschamber.com/hiringourheroes.