Brian Ekerman knows what to look for in hiring veterans because he is a veteran himself. Ekerman is a Veteran Career Counselor at PeopleScout, a leading provider of recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) services to help companies with their hiring needs. The company serves the airline, financial services, telecommunications, retail, utilities, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and transportation industries. It has recently implemented a new Veteran Talent Exchange Platform built specifically to facilitate the placement of U.S. military veterans into jobs that are well-matched to their skills and interests. PeopleScout is a founding member of the Veteran Employment Advisory Council (VEAC), and works with companies like WalMart, GE and Capital One to connect qualified veterans with employers.
Currently, Ekerman is locating veterans for the WalMart Veteran’s Welcome Home Commitment Program, which aims to put 100,000 veterans to work for WalMart over the next five years. PeopleScout is sourcing veterans for both the Find a Job program, which places veterans in stores in entry level positions, such as cashiers and stock clerks; and the Find a Career program, which sources veterans for management and other types of roles. To apply for the program veterans must have been honorably discharged within the last twelve months and meet additional program requirements.
Ekerman spent six years in the Army Reserves as part of the Army Corps of Engineers as a Horizontal Construction Engineer. He left as a Sergeant in the Army Reserves in 2011, and has been with PeopleScout since May of 2013. Prior to PeopleScout, Ekerman founded and operated a dance studio and entertainment company from 2004 until 2011. “My training in the military helped me hone my operations management skills, and stay disciplined while running my business,” Ekerman mentions.
Ekerman believes hiring veterans, especially newly-transitioned ones, makes good business sense because it can save money. He finds that candidates who come straight from the military tend to have higher pass rates on drug tests and background checks than their civilian counterparts. Core traits such as discipline and focus also come into play. “A veteran can pretty much do anything. They don’t say no, and they find a way to get the job done,” he says.
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Secure the basics. Although he acknowledges that there is no one “right” way to write a resume, it should not be over two pages, and the spelling and grammar should be correct.
Use bullets. Ekerman looks at thousands of resumes in his line of work, and is more drawn to the ones with visual appeal. He believes a resume that includes white space and bullets will get more attention than one that says the same thing, except in paragraph form.
Quantify. “Companies want numbers and want to know about your efforts: how much money you saved, or by what percentage you increased productivity or efficiency,” he says.
Blind test. Even if you know what you meant when writing your resume, someone else may not. Therefore, you may think you are communicating your skills and experience better than you really are. Ekerman advises “blind testing” the resume by giving it to a stranger to see if they understand what you are trying to say. “Friends and family may be able to spot errors, but they also may not want to hurt your feelings,” he says.
A resume may be the first step in outlining your skills, but interviews are where you sell yourself.
Do homework. Ekerman encourages candidates to find out all they can about a company first, and not simply visit the company’s own web site. “That’s just where they put all the good stuff,” he notes. Check other sources and news feeds as well to learn more.
Plan ahead and know your audience. Ekerman advises tapping the same skills used to plan a military mission when preparing for an interview. This includes researching who you’ll be talking to. Are they on LinkedIn? Look at their background and see what they have done. “A key part of any military leadership training is knowing your audience,” he points out. “You’ll have a better chance of success if you speak their language.”
Don’t disqualify yourself. When Ekerman asks candidates to describe their retail experience, he often hears, “Well, I’ve never worked in a store.” “First of all, that’s not the question I asked,” he notes. “Then I explain that doesn’t mean they don’t have retail experience. If you supervised, did inventory control, security, or placed orders, you have retail experience. It may not have been in a store environment, but the skill sets are the same.”
Follow up. In a world of email, voicemail and texting, Ekerman believes a good, old-fashioned snail mail thank you note, mailed promptly, helps anyone stand out. “Have your own stationery. Ask for a business card in the interview. Have the note pre-written and stamped, then address it and drop it in the mail on your way home,” he declares.