5 Career Tips for Veterans Exploring the Workforce

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Oscar Castro works as a Leidos QTC Health Services Talent Acquisition Insights Recruiter. He was in the military for 25 years and worked as a mechanic and U.S. Army Recruiter. In 2013, he retired and began working as a corporate recruiter. 

Recruiters are company representatives to external and internal candidates. As much as we are looking to hire, candidates are looking to work somewhere they feel comfortable. If they aren’t comfortable with their recruiter, that is enough to deter them from the job. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into my position: rapport building, negotiating, advising, consulting, and maintaining communication.

Every recruiter’s approach is different. These tips have worked well for me, and I pass them on to any job seeker—especially Veterans adapting to civilian life.

1.) Apply not to what you are qualified to do but to your next-level career opportunity.

A lot of people, including Veterans, contact me through LinkedIn and say they don’t have any job skills. But Veterans bring great attributes to the table, such as learning on their feet and maintaining and operating new technology. I always say, “Let’s not focus on what you can’t do, but what you can do.”

Ask yourself about your next career move—is it supervising staff? Taking on bigger responsibility? Say you’re a manager and you want to move into a regional management position—that’s what you look for. Not what you are currently qualified for because if that’s the case, stay where you are at.

Read the job description, and if that’s what you think should be your next career move, know this: many hiring managers are looking for potential. Is this person potentially the right candidate? Nobody knows you are the right candidate until you’ve worked it.

2.) Know that you will only be considered for one position at a time.

For any single position, we have quite a number of candidates that apply. Let’s say 100 people apply to one role. As a recruiter, we might have 25 to 30 open opportunities. Out of those, we have to manage 100 people per opportunity.

I tell a candidate that I can only consider and promote them for one job at a time. We do this to avoid conflicts between hiring managers if they want to hire the same person.

I determine the best position for a candidate by looking at their qualifications and deciding what position best fits their qualifications. I want to send them to the most viable position that they could possibly be hired for.

2.) Prepare for the interview. Research and network. Reach out to those that are already doing that job.

Prepare: If you are selected for an interview, we will talk in detail about the hiring panel or manager, our process, and the interview format. I want candidates to be prepared and know who they are interviewing with.

Research: Do you have the skillset for the job? If not, research what it will take to make you successful. All companies now provide so much information online about their values, mission, and what kind of candidate they are searching for. In an interview, you can reply that you’ve done the research and are willing to learn the skills that you might not have yet.

Network: Reach out to people in the department you’re applying to. If you reached out to a recruiter like me on LinkedIn, you’re already networking! Look for employees on the company’s website or LinkedIn and email or message them. Let them know that you are interested in the position and want to know what their role is like. In an interview, you can bring up that you connected with someone already.

4.) During and after the interview, pay attention, observe, listen, and don’t talk yourself out of a job. Prepare one or two questions of your own. Follow up with the recruiter—they are your connection to this opportunity.

During: Simply listen. A lot of times, hiring managers will give you the answers to what they are looking for. They might ask you a random question, and along with answering that, you can reiterate what was said earlier.

Pay attention to your environment. If you take cues just from listening, saying something such as, “you mentioned that Excel is very important,” and here is where you can emphasize that your skills are advanced and you can teach others.

But remember—talking too much can be a double-edged sword because you can talk yourself out of a job. There’s an old story about a vacuum salesman who continues vacuuming a customer’s house—after the customer has already agreed to buy it. You need to strike a balance and be an active listener.

After: You will most likely not be hired on the spot. Put a reminder on your calendar to follow up with your recruiter within one to two days. If you call them, you want to be gentle; they may have 30 other hiring managers they are taking care of. If you haven’t heard anything within a week, sending them an email is a way to show you are still available and interested in the role. They may be between decisions, and it will show your interest. That’s happened countless times.

Questions: Ask pertinent questions, such as, “What skill level are you searching for?”, “How soon are you looking to hire?”, and, “Is this a new position, or did someone leave the role?”

5.) During the offer stage, negotiate everything.

Everything is negotiable. I especially want to stress this for Veterans who may think that because they have healthcare through Veteran’s Affairs (VA) or a 401k, they don’t need to negotiate.

But even the schedule is negotiable. For Leidos QTC Health Services, a lot of positions run on a 12-hour clock. Our focus is to service customers across the nation. Even if you are in Texas, you might serve people in California or Florida. It requires you to start your shift at 7 a.m., but that means you’d leave work at 3 or 4 p.m. It all depends on your time zone, who you are servicing, and what you’re going to do for a living.

Now, your recruiter is your main point of contact and the middleman negotiating everything. But there is a restriction that they are put under; they can only hire a certain number of candidates at a certain salary and will keep them within budget.

This depends on the recruiter, but for me, I think candidates should treat recruiters as family members. Be comfortable enough to have these uncomfortable conversations. This is a critical time to negotiate and having that relationship is key.

You can build that relationship and rapport through small talk. Be personable. I often talk to candidates about the weather—it really is that simple. Those conversations open up lines of communication where people are a little more honest. Especially when I ask about someone’s skill set, they are more comfortable.

Leidos QTC Health Services supports our Veteran employee community through our Military Alliance Group, a professional network of Veterans, military spouses, and supporters.


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