In my two years as an employment specialist for the VA, I have helped hundreds of Veterans and transitioning Servicemembers find jobs in the federal government as well as the private and nonprofit sectors. From mentor to career counselor to employment-resource provider, I have worn many hats in my role helping Veterans navigate their professional crises.
Recently, I was the Veteran in need of employment support.
Due to an organizational restructure, I found myself in the same space as many of those I have helped. So what did I do? I took my own advice and exercised some of the strategies and tactics that I encourage Veterans to use when conducting a job search. From updating my résumé, to tapping my personal and professional networks for job leads, I used a multi-pronged approach to quickly find a new position, so I wouldn’t become an unemployment statistic.
More than five years ago, the overall rate for Veteran unemployment was over 8 percent. To address those concerning statistics, the White House launched an initiative to improve employment opportunities for transitioning and disabled Veterans within the federal government. Current numbers prove the effort worked. According to December statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Veteran unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, down from 4.8 percent a year ago, and the lowest since May 2016.
But if you’re a Veteran facing unemployment, those favorable numbers mean little if you can’t pay the bills. So, here are some strategies to help your job search:
- Update your resume. Tailor your résumé to include some of the language from the job to which you are applying. Don’t do a word-for-word cut and paste from the job description to your résumé. It will turn off most hiring managers, and may even hurt your chances of being hired. Instead, tweak your résumé to include some of the key words from the job description.
- Network, network, network. Reach out to everyone you know personally and professionally and let them know you are in the market for a new job. I contacted recruiters, employment specialists, friends, and even family members to ask for job leads.
- Apply for the job. This may sound simple, but you have to go beyond reviewing the job, talking about the job to others and actually apply for the job. I dedicated myself to applying for at least five jobs per week. Some weeks I missed this mark; others, I exceeded the goal. I spent many late nights tailoring my résumé for each job to which I applied. I even applied for jobs I was not 100 percent sure I wanted, but my goal was to create as many options as possible for myself.
- Clean up your social media accounts. We leave a digital footprint each time we post content to a social media site, so present your best online image to a prospective employer. Remove inappropriate content that could negatively impact your hiring prospects, and share subjects that show your professional expertise. Many companies use social networking sites to research job candidates as well as to query your mutual online connections about your background.
- Take care of yourself. A job loss is a professional crisis, but it can affect your overall wellbeing, so look for ways to maintain your health — physically, emotionally and mentally. In my case, I exercised a little more, ate healthier meals and reached out to friends and family to provide comfort and encouragement.
- Tap all of your resources. A multitude of online resources offer career advice, lists of job fairs and tips to find employment. Here are a few that I used in my job search: www.usajobs.gov; vaforvets.va.gov; https://www.fedshirevets.gov/job/index.aspx; https://www.dol.gov/vets/; https://recruitmilitary.com/; https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/events/hiringfairs; and https://www.dol.gov/vets/.
A 21-year Air Force Veteran, Sonya Harris-Ladjevich is a national employment coordinator for VA’s Veterans Benefit Administration’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Office. In addition to her recent job as a Veteran employment specialist with VA’s Veteran Employment Services Office, she previously served as an administrative officer with VA’s Office of Human Resources Management and as a program specialist with the department’s Office of Nursing Services.