Part I: Using Story as a Veteran's Job Search Tool

05/01/2013 11:31 am ET | Updated Jul 01, 2013

Envision, just for a moment, that there is work for every veteran. We have stuffed the charts, graphs, theories and platitudes of unemployment into a giant national closet. Stopped the blaming and sanctimonious posturing. We did it. There are now jobs for Vets. Assume all that's true.

So now, in this new reality, all we'd need to do is match the right person to the right job. Sounds simple, right? Sprinkle in some resume writing, add a touch of interviewing, and flavor this new stew with networking. Presto! The distinguished national hero, the person who put their life on the line for their country, has found work. As a country, we've all done what we all know is the absolute right thing.

Except for the fact that it hasn't worked. Because even if there were jobs available for every veteran, the way we currently find work will keep us from finishing our mission.

It's important to understand that our stated mission to employ our heroic armed forces after they have served doesn't just mean creating jobs. It also means connecting each individual person with a job. And that is a system that is not just in trouble -- it's also dangerous. Because unless you pull back the curtain and look backstage, that system looks fine. Big whirring human resource machines, equipped with measurements, and cubicles and power points and everything. With all of that, the system as it is should work perfectly, right?

But consider this all too common scenario: right this moment, on a Tuesday afternoon, Jessica, an HR assistant of six months, a very polite young woman of 23 with a degree, is sitting in the third cubicle from the window on the 18th floor of a building in downtown Chicago screening resumes. She has a quota of 300 per day. Up on her computer screen flashes a veteran's name: Jon Blumenthal. She checks the employment dates. One year since he was honorably discharged. She briefly scans the rest of the resume. There are a minimum number of matches with the key words on the job description. Her software confirms that the "key word match" is not 100 percent.

Jessica has no clue what would constitute a perfect "fit" for the job. She only knows Blumenthal's words don't match the exact same words on the job description. He wrote a cover letter that made her laugh out loud and impressed her. But there is no key word match. She then sees three months when he was looking for a job full time. Three months out of work. So she presses a command on her keyboard and a rejection letter is on its way -- to a veteran who would have been perfect for this job.

Jessica's actions took 30 seconds. But Jessica is not the problem, anymore than the waitress is the problem when the kitchen is running behind. Jessica makes her numbers. She does her job well.

What's missing here is Blumenthal's story. Not the dates and times of his service, not the facts that are the stuff of resumes -- his story.

In the glassed-in office in the corner of the floor where Jessica sits, the HR Director is proud of her operation. If someone said to her, "We need an applicant's story here," she'd be mystified. She sees herself as a business person. She has no time for a "story." She needs efficiency. Her operation screens data and follows up by doing interviews. That's the way it's supposed to happen, and it does. She doesn't see the problem either. Everyone is working. She makes her budget.

And Blumenthal did what everybody says to do. He sent a resume over the Internet.

But his story is so much more than his resume.

He was twice decorated for acts of bravery that go beyond anything Jessica has ever seen in a movie. He has had the sands of an Iraqi desert burn in his nose in a way that made him think the desert wind would never stop. He is a master motivator, disciplined and loyal beyond belief, and deliberative in his problem-solving as only one who has had to look for buried explosives must be. A stunning human being who any company would clamor to get on board, if only they knew him and heard his story.

But none of that was on the resume just screened out by Jessica. Nowhere was there a place in the system for Blumenthal to practice the first of The Five: Tell Your Story.

Tell your story is not a command or a one-size-fits-all action step. It's not magic or a guarantee, It's a principle, one to be used with whoever you can use it with. Who, what, where, when, how and why to tell your story will be different for every vet. None of The Five are common levers that you pull and out pops a job. That's how most books on job hunting are written. That old-line thinking says the way we find jobs is rational. That we can all do it the same way.

When, as we all know, we can't.

Embodied in Blumenthal's story is the stuff that makes him such a perfect fit for the job. And a resume is not a bad thing. Facts, dates, and the correct spelling of the word "Iraq" are all important. But they are not enough. What's missing is the unique human story that any top level recruiter will tell you is essential to determining a solid fit for a job

Think back to the last job you had. Somewhere, maybe during the interview, but maybe even earlier, when you were first finding out that there was some chance of work, somewhere you told your story. Or some part of your story. You talked about something you did that made a difference. Not data -- your story.

Think of your story as the currency of your work search. And, in this case-the case of finding work -- the more of your currency you spend, the better. Think of telling your story as being the way you connect with an employer's need.

Vets -- you already know your story. Perhaps you are uncomfortable talking about yourself; trained to think about your unit, not yourself. So the challenge becomes to convey the extraordinary things you've done and will continue to do. Because it is your unique story, not the data on the resume, that will help lead you towards work. There is power in your story. But only if you use it.

Employers -- find a place in your operation for the story to be heard. There are ways. And people who will help you find them.

"Telling Your Story" is not the only principle. There are four more from the book that we will summarize in the coming weeks. But "telling your story" is where it starts. Nothing happens in hiring without the applicant's story,

In fact, the power of the story can be a key to what finally finds the veteran work.

Use it.

Next Week: Part II of THE FIVE Principles for Finding Work: Adding Music as a Job Search Tool.