Employability Skills for Veterans

Employability Skills for Veterans
You know how to take an engine apart, toss the pieces in the air, and reassemble it upside down and in excellent working order within 2.5 hours. Wonderful; but you can’t get a job.

You know the facts and figures behind every great commercial venture of the past century and think calculators are for wimps. Impressive; but you can’t get a job.

Your paperwork is immaculate, you could teach lawyers how to cross their T’s and dot their I’s, but you can’t get a job.

What’s wrong?

Your technical know-how is beyond blemish. Maybe it’s your employability skills that need help.

Employability skills are those qualities which help you work with others: basic academic skills, higher-order thinking skills, and personality. Yes, you learned all those things in kindergarten. But unless you can apply them to your post-military career, you might as well drag out your kinder-mat and take a nap, because you’re not going to get hired in this highly competitive job market. Employers no longer need simple automatons, they need (and are willing to hire) team players, consensus builders, and stake-holders.

Basic Academic Skills
You may remember them as the three R’s: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. No, we are not going to point out that only one of them begins with R.

Ask yourself: How well do you speak? You are judged by what comes out of your mouth, and you often do not get a second chance to set a good impression.

Ask yourself: How well do you write? If you need to improve your handwriting, do so. Buy one of those Second Grade handwriting books and practice forming the letters as if it were an art lesson. How is your spelling? If you don’t know how to spell thermonuclear device but you know how to spell bomb, write bomb. Employers are far more impressed with correctness than they are by eloquence.

If you need to brush up on your key-boarding skills, do that. Oh, and BTW, texting is not acceptable on any job applications.

Ask yourself: How good are your basic math skills? Practice your addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts on your fingers, toes, and little slips of paper until you can do them in your head. “Measure twice, cut once” is a good ‘basic academic skill’ which can help you keep a job.

As a veteran, you should already have these skills, but sometimes things happen and you forget them. So, re-learn them. Do what it takes to get a job.

Higher-Order Thinking Skills
Did you ever know someone who could multiply multiple digits in their head but couldn’t figure their way out of a paper sack? They had no “higher-order thinking skills.” These are the skills one step beyond the basics. This is where you take what you know and apply it to real life. Learning, reasoning, being creative, making decisions, and solving problems are all higher-order thinking skills.

In the Bible, the story of the three talents is an excellent example of the difference between basic and higher-order thinking. One servant took the one talent and hid it in the back yard and when asked for it, returned just what he’d been given. The other two servants took the one talent each and creatively increased the money, one by a little, the other by a lot. Today’s employers want to know, if they give you a little, will you be able to return it in great amounts.

They also want to know how much supervision you would require. Can they give you a task and feel secure that you can solve the problem? Are you high-maintenance? Are you worth the salary, work space, and medical benefits they will be expending on you?

Given a rock and a hard-place, can you build a castle?
OK, so I’m getting a little carried away.

Basic Academic Skills tells the employer if you can go from point A to point B. Higher-Order Thinking Skills tells the employer HOW you will go from point A to point B and if you would then be capable of going to point C.

Personal Qualities
A manager of one of my local Publix supermarkets was walking two potential applicants through the store. He intentionally walked them down a row of shelves and past a wad of trash he had placed on the floor earlier. The highly qualified applicant made brilliant comments along the way about the quality of the products lining the shelves and the current market prices of the commodities. The other applicant silently bent down and picked up the trash.
Guess who got the job? It wasn’t the dweeb with the basic and higher-order skills; it was the one with the “personal qualities”.

Ask yourself: Are you responsible and self-motivated? Confident without being a braggart? In control of your emotions, addictions, prejudices, and mouth? Do you give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay – on time, on task, and team-spirited?

Ask yourself: Do people know more about your terrible boss or your terrific boss?

Look at yourself in a mirror. Really. What impression of the company will a customer get by looking at you? People come up to me and say, “You look just like a school teacher.” Never once has someone walked up to me and said, “You look just like a brain surgeon.” That’s because I dress the part of a teacher. (I’m not really sure what a brain surgeon would wear.) When you were in the service, you had a uniform. Guess what? You still do. Every job has its own dress code. Whether it’s ‘jeans on Fridays’ or ‘power suits for the weekly meeting’, you choose to dress the part, or not. And this personal quality tells the employer (and the employees and customers) whether you think belonging to the team is worth it or not.

It’s a tight market for jobs out there. Unemployment is higher than it has been since the end of the Great Depression. Veterans are out of work, even with all the assistance provided by the VA and the exit programs. Veterans are highly skilled, basically well-educated, and on the whole can think their way out of a paper sack. But you must have the third part of the employable skill: the personal qualities.

Remember when you had to be a part of your squad and you left no man behind? That’s the greatest ‘personal quality’ there is. Show that attitude during your next job interview. Don’t dazzle them with your technical knowledge; dazzling just blinds them for a brief time. Astonish them with your employability skills: the three R’s, and thinking above and beyond the three R’s. And then assure them that you are willing to loyally defend their company as you did your country.

You’ve served our country with distinction; I know any company should be proud to employ you. It’s a tough market out there, but you’ve been through boot camp. Do what it takes to get a job.

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