On a recent webinar I asked about the challenges and opportunities facing service members exiting the military today. The comment was issued that veterans promote themselves as Swiss Army knives, when the marketplace today needs scalpels. The point being made is that employers hire for specific needs and objectives, rather than “I can fix or do anything” type employees.

How to know if you sound like a Swiss Army knife?

During your time in the military, you likely became accustomed to doing whatever needed to be done, when it needed doing. You learned many skills and performed them well. Now, you’re faced with capturing those skills and experiences into a cohesive and focused set of offers you could provide to a company and match up to a specific job description. Are you speaking to employers in a focused, intentional and specific way or are you positioning yourself as a generalist? While it’s great to know many things and have many skills, employers hire for specific talents.

Here’s what a Swiss Army Knife might sound like:

Recruiter: “If hired, what would you do in the first week to establish yourself?”

Veteran: “Whatever you need, ma’am.”

Recruiter: “What problems do you enjoy solving?”

Veteran: “I can solve any problem. What problems do you need me to fix?”

Recruiter: “What about your military experiences qualifies you to perform this job?”

Veteran: “I’m good at solving all problems, building any kind of team and leading all people.”

The veteran here is offering legitimate responses, but the recruiter is seeking specifics. When the recruiter looks at the minimum requirements on the job descriptions, and then matches them up with the candidate’s responses, they might not find enough synergy. As the applicant, your goal should be to show how your skills, experience, goals and talents line up with where the company is today, what the job description requires, and how you can help the company grow.

How to become a scalpel

By being too general and not specific, you risk being seen as generic and not focused. When you’re able to center in on the problems they need solved in a way that’s compelling and interesting, you get their attention.

Here’s how that could look:

Recruiter: “If hired, what would you do in the first week to establish yourself?”

Veteran: “I’d meet with individual team members to learn what their jobs are, what’s

working and what needs addressing. Then, I’d look at the overall business unit to see

how we fit in with the goals and objectives of the overall company vision.”

Recruiter: “What problems do you enjoy solving?”

Veteran: “I enjoy solving problems that have a people and process component. Where

can we increase efficiencies? What are the roadblocks and why are they there? What

can we continue and what needs to change? Then, I like to find the people who are

passionate about solving those problems and enlist them to help me craft solutions.”

Recruiter: “What about your military experiences qualifies you to perform this job?”

Veteran: “In my time in the Marine Corps I held many jobs and responsibilities. What I

enjoyed the most, and what is most transferrable to this position, is the ability to adapt, pivot and innovate when resources shifted, priorities changed, or the goal was modified. In those situations, I show my greatest strengths of resiliency, flexibility and leadership, which is what you indicated is most needed for this position.”

Can you see the difference? The person who is focused, specific and clear is more

understandable and relatable and therefore makes the recruiter’s job easier. As you move through your career, catch yourself being too general or non-specific and see if you can refine your positioning and narrative to meet the direct goals of the person you’re speaking to in order to garner better results.

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