Ancient Military Wisdom Meets the Civilian Job Market – Part 1: Know your “Enemy”…

Ok, what’s hot for people leaving the armed forces? The last round of redundancies, for the time being, was announced on 12 June 2014. The economy is picking up, jobless figures are down and there appears to be growth in the creation of permanent jobs. This could be just clever or incorrect statistics but let’s take them at face value. This adds up to a positive picture for those stepping out into the opportunity packed civilian world.

Does this mean that if you are leaving the Armed Forces that you are going to have it easy? Is your dream job going to drop into your lap? Are employers going to be climbing over each other to offer you a job? It’s probably a no on all counts. You are going to have to work for it and help hiring managers realise what they could be missing out on, many of whom have no experience of ex-forces personnel and even less knowledge of the desperately needed transferrable skills that you have. Of course if the opportunity presents itself, grab it with both hands and don’t let go. However, if you aren’t one of the immediately lucky ones, you need to make your own luck.

So let’s apply some of the ancient military wisdom, of Sun Tzu. How does the quote “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles” translate across the two and a half millennia to the subtly different world of stepping into the career you want in the 21st century? Let’s look at the first half of Sun Tzu’s quote in this post “If you know your enemy…”

So who is your “enemy”? Well, there are two groups to put into this box: the Hiring Manager and the Recruiters.   The Hiring Manager is the person who is ultimately going to say “Yes” to hiring you; Recruiters are a series of barriers to overcome to get to him or her. Neither are technically the enemy but just humour me here…

The Recruiters

Let’s deal with the recruiters first; note this can be in-house or outsourced. They have a role, primarily to save the hiring manager time and filter out as many unsuitable people as possible. This ultimately means that the hiring manager does as few interviews as possible with the best people, because they all cost the manager time and money.

There are a number of challenges with this, particularly for the service leaver. There are not many recruiters out there who can translate military experience into benefits to a civilian business. To be very blunt – some are utterly clueless, due to lack of experience. Those that can are probably specifically focused on the ex forces market, are ex forces, or are at the higher quality end of the spectrum.

Remember, recruitment agencies need to make money out of selling candidates to clients, that’s business and they fill a useful niche. However, consider the busy recruitment consultant faced with hitting their sales target and with fourteen CVs to sift through. Most they can easily understand, there is one (yours) that looks good but is difficult to decipher, and another that also looks good (non-military) and they understand the language. Which CV is going to the client? Probably not yours…

The Hiring Manager

So what are the Hiring Managers like? They have a problem: they need someone reliable to do a job that will add value to the business; they may need to replace someone who has left, possibly at short notice; or they need different skills sets for their business. Vitally, they need someone who will fit in i.e. someone they can work with. Their time and budgets are limited, they may have limited or even no HR or in-house recruitment support, they may have to spend a fortune with recruitment agencies. They may also be inexperienced in recruiting. However, they will want the “moon on a stick” for the lowest possible price!

Help the Hiring Manager

So how can you help the Hiring Manager hire you? Understand their problem, find out about the business, match your skills to the issues and then find out where your other skills add extra value. Make it easy for them to understand your experience and skills, translate your successes into something that they can quickly match to their needs. Find a way to bypass the recruiters, this will save the hiring manager money and time. If you can find a way to get your name known to the Hiring Manager before you CV goes into the CV sifting machine, then you have a higher chance of being spotted.

How does this work? Essentially, the Hiring Manager just says to the recruiters “look out for this person, don’t sift out” or simply “let’s go straight to interview”. To put it bluntly stand out, get noticed!

Get Noticed

Have you ever spoken to someone and thought “they have done some interesting and successful things. I want to find out more,” or “I could work with that person,” or “I could use someone with those skills”? Even if you haven’t, that is the effect you want to have on the hiring manager. Even better is someone who the hiring manager trusts telling them “have a look at this person”.

  • Can you achieve this with CVs and applying to job sites? No.
  • Can you achieve this through social media? To a degree, with speculative approaches, but that’s an area for another post.
  • Can you achieve this through face-to-face networking? It’s an unqualified yes.

If 65-85% of jobs are found by networking, can you afford not to network? I will leave that answer to you.

Suffice to say face-to-face networking is an art that we can all learn. If we want to learn something the best way is to get a little bit of knowledge and then start doing it as soon as possible. That way we can practice, learn from others and develop our skills. The sooner you start networking, the sooner you will find that connection that delivers your dream job.

On that note, thank you for reading this far. The next post will look at the relevance of the second half of the Sun Tzu quote. If you are ex forces in the East Anglian region – come along to the Leavers’ Link networking on the 3rd Thursday of every month at venues in Colchester. Start investing in your future.

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