Brian Ekerman knows what to look for in hiring veterans because he is a veteran himself. Ekerman is a Recruiter Consultant at Pontoon Solutions, a global talent management company, and has worked as a veteran career counselor where he connected veterans with jobs in the airline, financial services, telecommunications, retail, utilities, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and transportation industries.
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 had a varied career ever since. Ekerman founded and operated a dance studio and entertainment company from 2004 until 2011, and has worked in multiple facets of business and marketing. From event marketing to search engine optimization, ecommerce, recruiting, and media/public relations, he noted, “At some point in my career, if it has to do with marketing, I’ve worked on it, and fancy myself a jack of all trades marketer.” He is also a frequent guest lecturer on search engine marketing at Columbia College in Chicago as part of its Interactive Advertising course.
“My training in the military helped me hone my operations management skills, and stay disciplined while running my business,” Ekerman noted. He 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.
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.
Do homework. A resume may be the first step in outlining your skills, but interviews are where you sell yourself. Ekerman encourages candidates to find out all they can about a company first, and not simply visit the company’s own website. “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.