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Veteran Services: Advice for Job Seekers

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When you leave the military, the biggest question is "what's next?" It's a scary job market right now, but the skills you've received in the military make you highly marketable. The Legion sponsors dozens of veterans hiring fairs each year, and our employment experts also provide tips to writing resumes, networking and making a strong impression in the interview process.

Advice for Job Seekers

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Job interview: Research occupation, organization

Job interview: Research occupation, organization

With appointments for job interviews in place, the next step is to get ready for them by researching the occupation and the organization, creating a résumé and developing questions.

Research. Learning about the organization where the interview will take place is an important part of your preparation. Although you probably do not need as much research for an informational interview as you would for a job interview, knowing something about the organization will make your questions better, will demonstrate your enthusiasm and will create good will. Company literature and websites are good sources of background information, as are annual reports and trade magazines.

Create a résumé. You also may want to write a résumé to bring to the interview. A well-written résumé demonstrates seriousness and professionalism. The people you interview might ask to review this résumé to learn about your experience and education. This allows them to provide more relevant advice. Some of your interview subjects may be willing to review the résumé and suggest improvements.

A few counselors recommend against bringing a résumé, saying that informational interviewers should use the results of the interview to decide what type of résumé to write. If you do bring a résumé to the interview, these counselors suggest sending those you interview a final "replacement" résumé after deciding which career to pursue.

Develop questions. The most critical part of preparing for an informational interview is to think of — and perhaps jot down — the questions you want to ask. Although such interviews are relaxed, with opportunities for spontaneous discussion, they also need to be focused and organized so interviewers gather the information they need.

Before preparing a set of questions, think about what you want in a job. The questions should help you learn if the interviewee’s occupation has those characteristics. In addition, think about any preconceived ideas you may have about the occupation. You may believe that all teachers have the summer off, for instance, or that most scientists spend nearly every day in a laboratory. Asking about these assumptions helps determine whether your ideas are accurate.

Remember that the purpose of the interview is to get a feeling for what a particular type of job is actually like. You want to be able to imagine yourself in the job and to see whether you would enjoy it. You also need specific information about job tasks, working conditions and career preparation.

Try to choose open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." Informational interviewers learn the most if they can make the interview conversational.

The following are examples of possible questions. There would not be time to ask all of these in a single meeting. A good guideline is to choose about 10 questions that interest you the most.

Questions about the job:

  • What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day or in a typical week?
  • What types of tasks do you spend most of your time doing?
  • What do you like best about this job?
  • What excites you most about this job?
  • What are some of the more difficult or frustrating parts of this career?
  • I really like doing ________. Do you have an opportunity to do that type of work in this career?
  • What characteristics does a person in this job need to have?
  • Do you usually work independently or as part of a team?
  • What types of decisions do you make?
  • How does your work fit into the mission of the organization?
  • What types of advancement opportunities are available for an entry-level worker in this career?
  • I read that ________ is an issue in this occupation. Have you found that to be true?
  • Is this career changing? How?

Questions about working conditions:

  • What kind of hours do you work?
  • Is your schedule flexible or set?
  • Are those hours typical for most jobs in this occupation, or do some types of jobs have different hours?
  • Does this career include or require travel?
  • Do you have any health concerns associated with your career?
  • How does this career affect your lifestyle?

Questions about training:

  • How did you prepare for this career?
  • How did you find this job?
  • Do you have any advice on how people interested in this career should prepare?
  • What type of entry-level job offers the most learning opportunities?
  • Do you know anyone in this career who has my level of education or my type of experience? How did he or she get the job? (These questions are useful for people trying to enter a career when they don’t have the typical credentials.)

Questions about other careers and contacts:

  • Do you know of any similar careers that also use _______ or involve _______?
  • I know that people in this career specialize in ______ and ______. Do you know of any other specialties?
  • I think I really like this career. But do you know of similar jobs that do not have this ______ characteristic?
  • Can you suggest anyone else I could ask for information? May I tell them that you have referred me?

Interview day: What to wear, what to do. An informational interview is more casual than a job interview. This casualness is part of its charm. Informational interviews should still be professional, however. Making a positive first impression shows you care about your career. What’s more, if you decide you like the occupation you are investigating, you could end up interviewing for a job with some of the people you meet. And they might remember you and the impression you made.

Dress well. On the day of the interview, dress neatly. A good guideline is to dress how the person you are interviewing would dress on an important workday. Wearing a suit of a conservative pattern and color is the safest choice. For women, skirts should be no more than an inch above the knee, say counselors, and shoes should be polished and have a closed toe. Hair should be pulled back or cut short, and jewelry should be unobtrusive. Be sure to bring a note pad and a pen or pencil, and consider bringing a résumé and a few business cards.

Be professional. As in all business meetings, arrive on time, but no more than 15 minutes early. When greeting receptionists, other employees and the person you will interview, be friendly. Smile and shake hands.

Standard politeness is essential when meeting for the first time. Don’t use first names unless invited to do so. Don’t sit before your host does. And avoid slang, smoking and chewing gum. The goal, say experts, is to be comfortable without being sloppy.

You are leading this interview, so start by thanking your host for his or her time and briefly recounting why you have come. You might mention your goals and interests. Then, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers.

Listening is the foundation of a successful informational interview. If possible, the person you are interviewing should do most of the talking because you are trying to gather opinions and insights. As he or she talks, take notes to remind yourself of important facts and impressions. And be certain your interest shows.

Allow for casual conversation during the interview, but try to stay on track so the most important questions are answered. Occasionally, you may need to guide your host gently back to the questions.

Because you are the interviewer, it is up to you to monitor time and end the interview when you said you would. As the ending point draws near, let your host know. Of course, it is fine to spend more time if your host wants to continue.

Always end the interview by thanking your host and asking two important final questions: Can you suggest other people I could speak to? And may I mention your name when I speak to them? The answers could be the starting point for your next informational interview.

Say "thank you." After the interview, show gratitude for your host’s generosity by writing and sending a thank-you note within a few days. Counselors agree, the sooner the better. This note can be quite brief, a paragraph or two expressing appreciation for the time spent and advice given, and perhaps recalling a particularly helpful piece of information.

Drawing conclusions. Hopefully, you’ll leave every informational interview with new insights about the career you want. By taking a moment to record your thoughts and feelings about the occupation and workplace of the person you interviewed, you will be able to refer back to the interview when making career decisions. Try to answer questions like the following:

  • What did you learn in the interview?
  • What did you like?
  • What didn’t you like?
  • Did you uncover any new concerns about, or advantages, to the occupation?
  • What advice did you receive?
  • Did you discover another occupation you might want to pursue?
  • How was the work environment at this particular organization?
  • Do you think you would be happy in this type of job or in this type of organization?

When evaluating an informational interview, counselors warn interviewers not to let impressions of a particular person or company cloud their judgment of an occupation. It is important not to base decisions on the opinions of one individual. Informational interviewers should conduct at least a few interviews in a particular occupation, and try to confirm the information they find with other sources. Information about earnings or education, for example, can be supplemented with data from Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys or from professional associations.

If you decide you like an occupation, the investigation of it doesn’t have to end with interviews. You can test it further with additional applied exploration, such as job shadowing or other hands-on opportunities. Early career exploration usually means a better-fitting career for you later.

Story courtesy of Military.com.

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