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Step One in any career search: Know yourself

shutterstock_105088013Emily Drake, Employer Outreach Specialist with the National Louis University Veterans Program, shares important career search and networking tips for student veterans.

Knowing your audience is arguably one of the most important elements in any successful transaction — asking someone out on a date, negotiating a merger or acquisition in the board room, requesting a raise at work and, of course, determining how to approach a potential employer.

When it comes to networking, many students figure out who they should meet, what events they should attend and how to use LinkedIn to connect virtually afterward. It’s the dream of any career counselor to witness this in action. However, students need to make sure they’ve mastered one step before they can approach someone with confidence even before getting to know their audience:

You must know yourself: What are the core strengths you can contribute to an organization?

The reality is it’s hard to introduce yourself when you aren’t sure who you are, as a prospective employee or a person, and why you’re awesome. Further, getting to know yourself in a vacuum is ill-advised. My refrain with our military-connected students is that the job search, networking and advancement process is not meant to be done alone — so why would you try?

“Tell me about you.” It’s the prompt that starts nearly every conversation in my office. The answers vary, but it’s always interesting to see where the student starts. Some lead with family, others with the first time they deployed or, still more, the fear of not finding work and failing.

You will get asked this again, and again, and again in the job search. I urge you not to leave your answer to chance. There are thousands of resources to aide in the process of crafting your authentic and applause-worthy response. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  1. If you were on the cover of TIME, what would the headline be? Maybe “Project Manager and Veteran Committed to Social Justice” if you’re looking for a role in a nonprofit organization. This is where it starts — and where the rest of your response will flow. For more on creating your headline, visit Careerrealism’s YouTube channel. This video is a must-watch for any student veteran.
  2. We often say you are a Company of One. I know what brands like Apple and Nike stand for — I know what to expect when I buy their product. You may not be a Fortune 100 company (yet), but think seriously about the impression you want to leave and your unique value proposition. NLU offers guidance on the “how to” of writing a branding statement that may be helpful.
  3. Know who you know. So often I work with students who tell me that they don’t know anyone in the field that they are pursuing. Chances are, though, that someone you know does. As a veteran transitioning to the civilian workforce, make a list of everyone you know (within reason — not every relative or friend is a good spokesperson for your Company of One). Make sure they know what you have to offer (branding statement!) and what you’re looking for — you want to arm people with information to advocate on your behalf, and be clear and precise.

This journey can seem daunting — confusing — and altogether frustrating. If you feel that way, you join the majority of us who can easily delight in why our partner or child or friend is fantastic but struggle to do so for ourselves. The Career Development Office at NLU is here to partner with you to get started. We specialize in assisting veterans transitioning to the civilian workplace — or looking to move up within their current civilian role. Whether you are an NLU student veteran or not, I hope you remember this important message: Know yourself and why you are awesome. Following this simple step will take you farther than you realize.

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