Veteran Job Search Tip: There’s No I in Team — But There is an M and an E

9 years ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

Veterans are chronically bad about talking about their achievements – find out why you should.


Cherry Point Marines prepare for transition during Legion hiring fair

Hiring representatives from more than 100 companies attended the Hiring our Heroes hiring fair to assist transitioning veterans in their job hunt at the 96th Annual American Legion National Convention, Aug. 26, 2014. The hiring fair was an opportunity for transitioning Marines to network and meet potential employers.

One of the things I see with 99% of all veterans looking to start a civilian career is the use of “we” and not “I” when we talk about ourselves. This is a concept that’s drilled into us from day one in the service, and when we hear someone use “I” when covering their accomplishments, it tends to rub us wrong. It comes across as bragging, very showy and, for the most part, does not reflect positively on the person saying it.

The analogy I use most is this: Members of the military are much more like the offensive line of a football team than the quarterback. As a single offensive lineman, it’s much easier for someone to sidestep you and get to the quarterback for the sack. When the entire line works together, an impenetrable wall is formed, giving the quarterback time to deliver the ball down the field for a score.

When a team goes on to win the Superbowl, a linesman doesn’t say, “I won the Superbowl.” He instead says, “we won the Superbowl.” The quarterback? Yeah, he sometimes will say “I won the Superbowl” — and therein lies the rub with most veterans when we hear someone talking about their work achievements: We all know that no one does it alone.

The Civilian Workforce Requires a Shift

Unfortunately, this can be a hindrance when looking for a new position as you embark on your career path following military service. This is especially true in an interview, where you’re expected to highlight your personal accomplishments. As in football, each person on your winning team provided a key in the win and can rightfully claim their spot in securing the victory. What we as veterans need to do is learn to talk about our accomplishments and the strengths we bring to the table.

You want employers to feel they are making a great selection in hiring you. Highlighting what you’ve done on an individual basis is a key for success.

It is possible to do this in such a way that it doesn’t make your stomachs turn or send you into cardiac arrest, and it’s something you need to do on resumes, in your elevator pitch and in the interview. Interestingly enough, this aversion to talking yourself up is also something that applies to most people — even those looking to hire you — so don’t worry; you are not alone in trying to crack this code.

Let’s look at a step-by-step process you can use to highlight your skills without turning yourself or others off:

  1. Don’t Use the Dreaded “I” on Your Resume
    • With resumes, don’t use personal pronouns when describing what you did — a mistake veterans often make in writing a resume. Instead, start with an action word such as “directed,” “managed,” “created,” or even go with something related to the position such as “responsible for” or “tasked with.”
    • A couple of examples:
      • Directed 30 personnel in the construction of a school in Iraq on schedule and with a budget savings of 12%.
      • Responsible for ordering and maintaining perishable and nonperishable medical supplies for medical facility in excess of $4.1 million.
    • Since this is your resume, you need to highlight achievements attributable to you, but do so in a way that comes across as natural.
  2. Awards Can Often Help
    • Most of us have received citations and awards, and you can use them to highlight your achievements and create bullet points demonstrating what you’ve done.
    • For example, an ARCOM writeup might say:
      As Senior Enlisted Advisor for a command of over 190 total workforce, demonstrated unparalleled leadership and mentorship that culminated in spectacular achievements, ensuring the highest standard of professionalism and readiness.You might simplify this to, “Served as senior advisor to division director for 190 personnel.”
    • Or, instead of…
      Displaying unparalleled leadership and managerial abilities, she flawlessly led 93 sailors in the on-time completion for over 4,900 maintenance actions onboard 177 tended ships, saving the Navy $4.5 million in outside contractor costs.…you could say, “Managed 93 personnel, resulting in $4.5 million in operational savings.
  3. Use Your Bullet Points in a Personal Sentence
    • Once you’ve finally come up with some bullet points you can use on your resume, you’ll now need to do the unnatural: put yourself into the sentence. I know you were told you take the “I” out as a first step, but now you’ll need to insert it back into the conversation since, for interviews and elevator pitches, it would sound odd to refer to yourself in the third-person.
    • In each of the examples above, you can now insert yourself into the description — and, let’s face it, the toughest part is coming up with the bullets. So, you could say, “I directed a team of 30 to build a school in Iraq, which came in on time and 12% under budget” or “I managed a large team of 93 while I was in the Navy, which resulted in $4.5 million in lowered operations costs.”
  4. Build and Practice Your Elevator Pitch
    • An elevator pitch is a 30-second summary of who you are, what skills you have and what you’re looking to do. You can use some of the examples you’ve come up with above in your pitch. An important thing to remember is that you may something in mind, and it may seem perfectly clear, but once you begin talking, it becomes a difficult tongue twister. You have to practice — not just mentally, but verbally as well.
    • Start with a mirror and say it out loud. Next, get 10 folks together and deliver your elevator pitch to each person. By the time you get to the final person, you’ll find you’ve tweaked your pitch, and you should be delivering it in a manner comfortable to you.
  5. Practice Interviewing
    • Like practicing your elevator pitch, you need to also practice interviewing. Workforce centers, college career offices and even veteran service organizations can be good entities that offer mock interviews. You can also find neighbors who are often very willing to help. The key is to feel comfortable with what you’re saying.

Finally, I Would Also Offer This:

I’ve had the good fortune to meet a number of Medal of Honor recipients over the years. You’ll never meet more humble vets. With them — and just about every other service member I meet — I hear the same thing: “I didn’t do any more than the person to the left or right of me.”

While that may be very true, the person to your left and right is saying the exact same thing. This means they are referring to you. So own it!


*This article was originally published on Every Veteran Hired.


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