This article by Nina Semczuk originally appeared on Task & Purpose, a digital news and culture publication dedicated to military and veterans issues.
Here’s a career truth I didn’t believe until I experienced it myself: Quantity will not help you get a job. The “spray and pray” method of blasting out resumes and cover letters to as many jobs as possible is a recipe for wasted time and frustration.
I know because I’ve been there, and have had dozens of friends, family and acquaintances in the same position. You tally the total positions you’ve applied for, the hours spent uploading resumes and filling out page after page of digital applications, and you realize you’re no closer to landing an interview than you were before you applied.
Instead of a free-for-all, you’ll need to be methodical about your approach. These steps will get you started:
Choose your target
When I left the Army I felt like I was qualified for at least a dozen different careers. I had served as an intelligence officer but had handled logistics as an executive officer, management at three different levels, gained human resources skills as a platoon leader, and had teaching experience from a number of additional duty roles such as physical security and information security officer. While the military may make you the consummate jack-of-all-trades, the civilian world usually prefers skilled specialization.
This means you have to pick a focus. If you want to get into sales, you’ll need to strategize your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn for any possible sales experience. If you’re aiming for logistics, you’ll need to craft your cover letter to highlight all relevant logistics skills and projects you have under your belt. Having a target (even if you’re not yet 100% sure about the career) helps if you need a portfolio or work sample, certifications or schooling, or volunteer experience to get your foot in the door. Once you a choose a direction, it’s easier to see what your next step may be. If you leave every career possibility door open, you can become paralyzed with indecision and too many choices. On a practical note, you also confuse recruiters and hiring managers when you seem like you’re desperate for any job. It’s also hard to help someone when it seems like they don’t know what they want. Get focused to get started.
Find an in
Many of the people I served with moved on to roles in corporations, such as PwC, JP Morgan Chase, USAA, and American Express. It’s not exactly a surprise how they landed there; large companies generally have a diversity hiring initiative or even a whole, separate veteran pipeline. Use these to your advantage! Any leg up is worthwhile, especially for your first job post-military. It can be so hard to get a human to read your resume and recognize the value you can bring to an organization. When a company actually spends the money and time to recruit veteran candidates, you know you’re already a few steps ahead.
For those who don’t want to work for large, established companies, use any network you have or can find. Maybe it’s your alma mater or former commander. Perhaps it’s a local meetup group in your town. Finding personal connections can get you one step closer to the job you want. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice or help. If you know someone in the industry you want to work in, ask to sit down for coffee and a discussion about what skills you need to success.
Imagine throwing a hundred basketballs at the hoop in a pitch-black gymnasium versus taking aimed, measured, controlled shots from the free throw line with the lights on. That’s the difference between pounding out applications blindly and sending them off at every chance you get and taking a calm, strategic, and patient approach to the job search. The more you know about the industry and career you want, the easier it is to focus and hone your skills to fit the role. Sure, this method takes more time, thought, and energy, but it gets you infinitely closer to the career you want versus shooting off random shots with a hope and a prayer.
Nina Semczuk served as an Army officer from 2011-2016. She earned a B.S. from Boston University prior to military service and now lives in New York and works as a writer and editor. Find her work on SmartAsset, The Muse, The War Horse, Fast Company, and at ninasemczuk.com.
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