As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated across our country during the second quarter of 2020 and more than 47 million Americans filed initial jobless claims, the MOAA Transition Center team called an audible and shifted our award-winning career transition support programs to an online format. During the last three months, we connected with more than 2,300 veterans and military spouses and helped them prepare for their first civilian job or the next step in their civilian career trajectory.
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Our career-building programs have featured a number of impactful speakers from a range of sectors who shared their best ideas for accelerating a career transition during a pandemic. A consistent theme: It’s important to remember that good companies are always looking for good people.
Some highlights of the discussions during MOAA’s recent virtual events.
- Develop a “greatest hits” list. Your greatest professional successes will be the basis for much of your interview discussion. Recounting the details of what you did, how you did it, how you dealt with ambiguity, and how you brought diverse work groups together to solve problems will be very helpful in standing out among rival candidates during the interview process.
- Prep your bio. Have a one-page biography ready to share with network connections you develop during the job search process, and to introduce yourself in advance of an informational interview with a new connection.
[RELATED: More Career Resources From MOAA]
- Make the most from informational interviews. Limit virtual informational interviews to five questions and 20 minutes. Busy people don’t have time for unstructured discussions with strangers, but they probably have time for a focused virtual meeting with a fellow veteran or military spouse to share challenges, opportunities, and ideas about a particular company or business sector. During informational interviews, pay attention to learning the common acronyms associated with a particular company and sector. The language of business can be confusing to an outsider, so familiarity with company or sector terminology is important.
- Details matter. Pay special attention to these areas before a virtual job interview or informational interview:
- Suit up in professional attire.
- Check technology requirements ahead of time.
- Ensure the background of the shot conveys an air of polish and professionalism.
- Avoid poorly lit rooms.
- Position the computer so the primary light source is behind the screen.
- Close all unused apps, mute cellphones, and disconnect computers not in use from the network to minimize the likelihood of a poor connection.
- Don’t forget to smile and focus on the lens, not the interviewer’s image. Good eye contact and a pleasant smile can help make a personal connection.
- Make multiple connections. Large companies tend to be very siloed. Connecting with one executive or manager may not be enough to generate internal pull for your candidacy. Continue seeking new connection opportunities at your target companies to maximize the likelihood of finding a fit and being invited to interview.
- Bad interview? Don’t despair. It’s probably unrealistic to think you will make a personal connection with every member of the interview team. Many interviewers find themselves unprepared, rushed, or distracted despite their best efforts to be primed for the exchange. Suspend judgement, listen intensely, and do your best to connect your skills and experience with the employer’s needs. A good starting point with an unprepared interviewer may be, “Perhaps it would be helpful if I walked you through my résumé.”
- You hire your own boss. Think about it: It’s your choice to accept or reject an offer. During the interview process, look for signs of a warm and supportive culture such as personal mementos in offices, organizational encouragement for volunteer passions, and a diverse interview regimen that involves seniors, juniors, and peers, as well as people from unrelated professional disciplines.
- About that first offer … Do you always want to turn it down? You’ll get different advice depending on who you ask, but my answer is no. Companies have no incentive to bring you in with a lowball offer; it will only turn you into a flight risk as soon as you realize your mistake. However, it is important to do your research and understand the likely range for the position under consideration. Develop the supporting rationale for why you should be brought in at the top of the range based on the energy, enthusiasm, and experience you will bring to the position.
Career transition in a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty requires an openness to new ideas and new possibilities. How you respond will set you apart.
Steve Jobs was a very successful executive who had his share of triumphs and disasters during his career. His tantrums and offensive critiques were legendary. But his path to success was always focused on the pursuit of perfection. As he reminded an audience near the end of his life, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
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