Career Advice From The Clash and Emily Dickinson

I doubt Mick Jones and the rest of the The Clash had any idea how much their 1981 song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” would so completely sum up the thought process many veterans go through when they contemplate whether to continue on with a military career or take the leap into the private sector.  Of course, that’s the beauty of a good song, it can be applied to many people in many situations.

As much as I have preached the value of leaving the service on your own terms, as opposed to being “politely asked to leave”, I know it can still be scary. Many times I would ask myself the very same question…”Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Punk Rock and Poetry


But in the end, the words of Mick Jones also reminded me that “If I go there will be trouble, but if I stay it will be double“.  Sticking around the service just because you can is often trading the security of today for the opportunity of tomorrow.  There is a shelf life to our skills and experiences.  We need to understand this in order for us to time our departure so that, when we do leave the safety of that predictable paycheck on the 1st and the 15th, we are prepared to market ourselves with skill sets that are both recent and relevant.

For example, I recently spoke with a Navy Operations Specialist who is currently on recruiting duty about his long-term (post military) career plans.  If he planned on getting out now, his experience in working with sophisticated electronic equipment would be, at a minimum, three years old.  Skills atrophy.  Equipment changes.  As each month goes by he becomes a less and less attractive candidate.  Should he stay or should he go?

It depends.

If he wants to work in electronics after the Navy, he should absolutely stay in the service a few more years. He should ensure his next set of orders takes him back to an operational job. Once on that job he needs to understand the metrics for success used by outside organizations and then look for ways inside the Navy to document similar achievements.

On the other hand, if he is enjoying working as a recruiter,  then perhaps he should investigate civilian positions in sales or recruiting.  Positions that leverage his people skills, while still working inside the electronics industry may even be a better fit.  So, if this is the direction he wants to go, that previous plan we had just spoken about is NOT the best option.  Instead he should look at either getting out of the service now and cashing in his recent/relevant experience or staying in the Navy but remaining in the field of recruiting.

His dilemma is not unique. Service members are constantly asking ourselves whether we should, in fact, stay or go.  Sticking around the military might mean more rank and more money, but if the promotions aren’t taking you towards your post-service career goals, then the short-term gain may end up causing long-term pain. Service members need workable post-career plans.

Even with a strong personal career plan, however, there will come a time that requires execution of said plan, and this can be scary.  Being scared of the inevitable is natural. The problems arise when we let the fear paralyze us. Fear of the event can become much worse than the event itself.  Enter the 19th Century Poet, Emily Dickinson to help us out.

While we were fearing it, it came – 
But came with less of fear
Because that fearing it so long
Had almost made it fair – 

There is a Fitting – a Dismay – 
A Fitting – a Despair – 
‘Tis harder knowing it is Due
Than knowing it is Here.

The Trying on the Utmost
The Morning it is new
Is Terribler than wearing it
A whole existence through.

Granted, Emily Dickinson’s poem is about death, not career change, but the point remains.  Military transition ranks right up there with death and taxes on the scale of inevitability. If we continue to be afraid of life outside the military, it will sneak up and hit us unprepared.  I’ve seen this on the faces of those in transition classes who can’t put together a good resume, not because they can’t physically produce a document using Microsoft Word, but because their career experiences don’t tell a coherent story about who they are and what they do.

These are the people who spent their time in the service enjoying the relative safety of the organization but never put together a personal career plan. They avoided thinking about the future, because it was scary and uncertain. And so long as they showed up on time, worked hard, and produced results, life was good.  And it stayed good. Right up to the end.  Then it wasn’t.

This is why it’s so important to begin thinking about life after the military early in your career.  Which assignments to take, which schools to attend, which certifications to seek out, all of these questions should lead you down a path with a clear goal in mind.  This way, when you ask yourself, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” your answer won’t be based on fear.



NOTE: I’m much more of a music fan than a poetry scholar. I found the Emily Dickinson Poem, via an obscure band known as the Amygdoloids, which is actually composed of a group of Neuroscientists from NYU.  As part of my certification course to become a veteran transition coach we were having a discussion about the part of the brain that regulates fear and decision-making, known as the amygdala.  During a more lighthearted tangent  someone mentioned that there was a band named after that part of the brain.  This led me to their song “Fearing”, which was based on the poem above.





What About Bob? My Transition Update.

Ok, so it’s been a month and half since my last posting and I think that’s far too long.  I do have some other ideas bopping around in my head based on the lessons I’ve learned thus far and I look forward to getting those out very soon.  In the meantime, here’s a bit of personal update.

After quite a bit of thought we’ve decided that “home” is North Carolina, so we will be returning to the house we own down there after my separation.  Once this decision was made it meant that the job focus would be in that direction.  It also meant having to say, “No thank you” to at least two organizations here in Baltimore that were actively pursuing my services.  One position was as a recruiter, and another working for a local university.  It was definitely tough to do that, especially since both organizations are true class acts.

This meant both my wife and I would need to focus our job search on a location other than our current area.  Thank goodness for the internet!  I’ve subscribed to a number of job boards which means frequent email updates, mostly about positions that I either don’t want, or aren’t qualified for, but inside those emails are also postings from organizations that are truly in the market for my skills (recruiter/trainer)..

The past few weeks I’ve certainly run the gamut of emotions; frustration at not getting calls, elation at getting a call, anticipation waiting on an answer, excitement as I prepared for the interview, and then a little disappointment finding out that I was not selected for a position I really wanted.  I will say, however, that the interview process both on the phone and in person was very well done by the organization that considered me and I learned a lot from the experience.  But I’ve now learned first hand that second place on a job interview is not success.

In addition to hunting for jobs, I also passed the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification exam  last week.  This involved quite a bit of study time, usually in the early hours before work, which was typically my blogging time, hence the lack of posts recently.  Attaining this certification before I got of the Navy was a personal goal I had set, so for that, I’m definitely proud of myself.

Speaking at the Career Fair with Chrissa Dockendorf on May 8 2014 in Washington, DC.

Speaking at the Career Fair with Chrissa Dockendorf on May 8 2014 in Washington, DC.

I’ve also been afforded opportunities to participate in some formal presentations on veteran hiring issues.  Last month I partnered with a terrific local recruiter by the name of Chrissa Dockendorf  to speak to other HR professionals about ways in which private organizations can better access the veteran talent pool.

This went so well that we did another round of the presentations at a job fair in Washington, DC. This time, however we be spoke to transitioning veterans instead of recruiters. I’m happy to say that both the morning and the afternoon session were very successful. This was my last hurrah working (at least in person) with some really great individuals associated with  I highly recommend them for anyone seeking work in the super-secret, cleared, cyber/intel communities.

My retirement ceremony is also quickly approaching (May 22, 2014) and this has become its own little job.  I’ve completed my final physical, and have all the moving parts in place for a great ceremony.  It’s certainly more work than I realized. My orders have not yet posted, which I need in order to set up my household goods. A delay of much more than another week could end up pushing our ability to completely move our furniture before our lease expires. Even to the end it seems, the military is still “hurry up and wait.”

So as you can see, it’s been a busy couple of months. I do have quite a few topics that I will address individually, many based on the experiences mentioned above, and will do so soon.

Branding Is Not Recruiting


Those are both great slogans for a PR campaign or organizational branding efforts.

They are not, however, great for recruiting or hiring.  This is because slogans attract too wide of an audience.  Recruiting is not about connecting with a group of people, it’s about connecting to the (correct) individual members of the group.

It’s about quality, not quantity. The greater the quantity of applicants, the more an organization needs to find ways to maintain some degree of process efficiency, which inevitably leads to less personal contact between an organization and its applicants, and ultimately, a loss of trust in the system.

This is why many veterans are feeling betrayed by the system.  Organizations initiate a conversation with “we want you”, only to end the conversation with “you don’t meet our needs”.  It leaves them feeling like they’ve been involved in a bait and switch scheme.

To be fair, I really don’t believe private organizations are doing this on purpose. In fact, when I speak with recruiters many of their complaints are centered on the wasted time spent engaging unqualified applicants.  If organizations are truly committed to tapping into the veteran talent pool they should move past catchy slogans and begin targeting their recruitment at those who have the talents they need.

This starts with good job announcements that focus on the specific requirements and individual skill sets needed to succeed.  Identifying these traits early in the process allows people to self-select out of the process, and by so doing, save everyone a lot of time and frustration.

To truly attract veteran talent organizations must understand the various types of people who claim the title “veteran”.

One and Done / No College– These individuals did one enlistment (usually 4-6 years) and have chosen to get out. They are a terrific source for entry level positions despite the fact they do not have a college degree.  In fact, one of the best things a veteran friendly organization could do would be to recognize four or more years of military service as the equivalent to college degree in regards to job requirements.

This doesn’t mean an organization would or should hire someone based solely on their service any more than it means they presently hire people simply because they have a Bachelor’s Degree.

It would mean, however, that if a company was looking for someone that could handle basic tasks, with the aptitude to learn even more, was willing to work for an entry level salary, yet also had the potential to move up the ladder into leadership positions, then understand that you’ve just described a whole lot of young Non Commissioned Officers.

If, on the other hand, the current job description does not require a degree, then engaging this talent pool should be a no-brainer.  The hardest part about attracting this demographic is often based on a lack of understanding about the job. Explaining what the position is, does, and could lead to, should be part of the marketing.  A video vignette of a current employee talking about the position would go a long way.  If that video featured a veteran, even better.

One and Done / With College– This group breaks down into a few subgroups, but essentially the value here is that these individuals have skills and certifications.  The drawback is that they may be older and farther along in life (family, standard of living, etc.) to take entry level work.

Officers come into the military with a degree and are put to work.  Organizations should view those that choose to remain in their career field as potential fits for positions other than entry level. This is particularly true for those in fields like IT, Logistics, and Engineering.

Other vets may attain their degree after leaving the service (Thanks to the Post 9/11 GI Bill).  Again, there is great value here for organizations, especially when they find a veteran who is in school to validate her experiences with a degree. This is the opposite of the traditional model where people are certified before they are trained. This veteran new grad may not fit the “typical candidate profile”, but her odds of long term success are likely much greater than the “typical candidate”.  One great way to target these students is through student veteran organizations on campus, as many of them may be commuter students an less involved on the typical on campus activities.

It should be noted here that there are also many enlisted individuals that also have college degrees and /or advanced training.  They may have had a degree before enlisting or they may have taken advantage of educational benefits offered by the services to complete their degree while on active duty. Often times this will involve online education. One thing veteran friendly can do would be to recognize nontraditional education in the same way they recognize brick and mortar schools, especially when the degree is in the same field as the person’s relevant experience.

Many veterans go to college to validate the experience they already have.

While traditional students seek a degree in hopes of gaining experience, many veterans pursue an education to validate the knowledge, skills, and abilities they already have.

The challenge for veterans is that the standard “new grad” job may not be sufficient to maintain the lifestyle they’ve grown accustom to. The military offers a steady pay check and great benefits, it is an attractive environment to start a family. These extra financial obligations can make it more difficult to transition for those without a solid transition plan. Overcoming this challenge is primarily the responsibility of the veteran, but one small thing a private organization can do is to clearly (and honestly) outline the possibility for future growth in their organization.  Applicants may be able to withstand a couple of years of financial struggle if there is a legitimate payoff in the long run for solid performance.

Careerist- These individuals often have the toughest time transitioning and are frequently frustrated by an organizations branding plan as a being military friendly.  Military careerist, officer and enlisted, will likely have a degree, many have secondary degrees.  They will also have decades of experience.

Finding the right person from this group typically involves similar methods used for lateral recruitment of passive candidates.  Unfortunately, unlike an employee-at-will, these individuals cannot give two weeks (or even 2 months) notice that they will be leaving their present organization. This is the reason standard recruitment methods used to attract higher level candidates become unworkable for finding veterans.

Retiring veterans make the decision to leave the service a year or more before they are actually available for hire.  This means months of not being considered a legitimate candidate because they can’t fill the current opening.

Once they get closer to separation, the race is on to find a job before the paychecks stop. Frustration levels get higher, because they likely have family and financial obligations but at this point there’s no going back.

The positions these individuals seek are not going to be found at the booth of a career fair, yet too often that’s where they end up, talking to a recruiter tasked with finding people to fill lower level positions.

If the clock strikes midnight and the veteran still hasn’t found suitable employment he will be forced into the pool of active job seekers where the focus becomes paying the bills, as opposed to career development

What transitioning careerists really need is a good network. This network should include people inside their industry, yet also outside of the military.  It must be built and maintained well before the process of separation. This enables them to perform a personal “skills gap analysis” early enough to take corrective action.

Helping to build these networks is another area in which an organization can distinguish itself as veteran friendly. Private employers who encourage their members to engage those still on active will not only help the veterans but it will also allow the company to scout the talent pool early and develop relationships with those they would most like to employ once the time comes.

This is not an inclusive list by any stretch of the imagination, many people will fall somewhere in between the categories outlined above. Regardless, a true military hiring program will focus on finding the right people for the jobs that an organization has available, not simply encouraging any and every veteran to visit their website or career fair booth.

The more private industry understands the nuances of the veteran, and the more veterans understand the nuances of the hiring process, the more efficient and less frustrating the hiring process will be for all parties involved.

Our Greatest Strength Is Also Our Greatest Weakness

We’ve done so much, with so little, for so long, that we can anything, with nothing, forever.  

This phrase highlights the strength of the current military member, and at the same time, the weakness of the veteran job seeker.

One of the biggest issues transitioning veterans face as they prepare to move on from military service is the “jack of all trades” hurdle.  Although we prided ourselves on being able to accomplish any task given to us, we quickly discover that there are no listings on job boards for the position of, “Swiss Army Knife.”34912_3901

Yet, if there isn’t a market for this, why do so many veterans end up here?  I believe it’s because that is the only world many veterans have ever lived in.

Think about it. For the vast majority of transitioning veterans the only recruiter they knew didn’t care about what they did, they only cared about what they could do.  Enlisted recruiters in particular sell the organization, not the job.  The ideal applicant will be committed to being a Marine or an Airman, for example, well before they are offered any specific job in the organization.  In fact, there are even opportunities to come in under an open contract. This means you’re hired first and eventually we’ll figure out something to do with you. In the meantime, of course, you’ll get chance to do the much-needed, but not so desirable tasks of the organization.

Eventually, though, the services will find a job field that the applicant qualifies for and then he or she is sent off to training for a series of weeks or even months. Ultimately the service member is then given the opportunity to perform the job.  This cycle, by the way, may be repeated a number of times over an extended career.  Needs of the organization are identified, training is provided, member does the job.  This onboarding and subsequent cross training process is how we end up with so many veteran job seekers with a breadth of technical and management skills, yet no real career focus.

Unfortunately at one of the most critical times of their lives these people can’t answer the critical question, “What do you do?”

Private organization don’t operate like this.  They have specific needs that have specific requirements.  Very few, if any, will have the financial resources to hire people into a long-term training pipeline, and the ones that do, much like the military, will only do so for entry-level positions.

The “move up or out” organizational culture is pretty unique to the military. We as veterans can’t expect the real world to change for us. Today’s job seekers must be able to focus their resume, elevator speech, and personal brand around specific goals.  If you’ve had multiple tours doing different jobs, you may need to get comfortable with multiple personalities.  It’s not fake or disingenuous to portray yourself as a technician to one person and a trainer to another as needed (provided you actually have those experiences).

For those currently in the service, the best advice I can give is to learn this lesson now.  It’s true, the military does provide great training and tons of experience, but as your career moves forward you’ll eventually have to figure out where you  want to be after the military. Once you figure that out you need to make every effort put yourself into positions to succeed in that arena.  Hit the right wickets, get the right education, capture the right data, all  while you’re still in. Then, when the time is right, you can set out on a targeted job search. Believe it or not, keeping up with your own professional career can actually make you a better service member, too.

I’ve always said that you’re better off running towards something than running from something. Many people join the military because they are unhappy with their current life situation. They fact that they then find relative success in the armed forces can provide a false sense of security when it’s time to leave. The process won’t be repeated in the civilian sector.  Only the armed forces are built to make that kind of magic happen. In this regard, the military is as unique as it is awesome.

If you try to run away from the military without knowing where it is you’re going you will end up discovering that there are no private organizations for you to “join”.  You’ll need to be hired. And organization only hire because they have a specific need and they truly believe that you will be the one to perform the needed tasks. If you can’t convince them of that, someone else will.


Networking.  It’s important to the job search the same way planting seeds in the spring time is important to someone hoping for vegetables in the fall.  Like gardening,  it can be harder than it looks.  Once you know how to plant the seeds, however, it makes perfect sense and becomes easier.

Let’s look at the art of networking by breaking it down into three parts: the net,  the work, and the -ing.

NET– This is the why we do it, to build a net. And like any net, a strong network is built with many soft connections, as opposed to just a few strong ones.  Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point talks a little bit about this fact when references a famous study on the “strength of weak ties“.  The author of the study found that more than half of the people he talked with got their job through personal connections (OK, that’s not surprising).  The real important finding was that, of those who found jobs through their network, 16% said that connection was someone they saw “often”, while a whopping  56% said they only saw their connection “occasionally” and another 28% said they saw that person “rarely”.  That’s 83% finding success through soft contacts. As Gladwell put it, ” People weren’t getting their jobs through friends. They were getting them through acquaintances.”


A successful military career will spawn some very solid, deep, long lasting friendships.  These are the relationships that most often come to mind and these are the ones we are the most proud of.

But think for a moment how often the military relies on people leveraging acquaintances.  It’s often said the center of knowledge can be found in the smoking area of a command. Why? Because people from different departments come together and hang out for a few moments, on a rather routine basis.  Next thing you know, the “low man on the totem pole” infantryman is cutting deals with a counterpart in supply to find a more efficient way of distributing the mail.  Or how often, when a problem arises with the computer systems, does the department head ask, “Who knows somebody in the Communications shop?”

This is networking and it’s nothing new. Yet too many veterans just fail to translate this into the job search. Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that the job hunt network is about having a family member/golfing partner/drinking buddy in the organization.  It’s not.  In fact, it may not even be a first degree connection that turns out to be the most critical piece of the puzzle.

WORK– Here is where job hunt networking differs from previous military experience.  To be successful this kind networking takes thought and effort, not chance meetings at the smoke pit, or a buddy in the barracks.  It means having a plan and going to events that bring like minded people together, whether it be professional or social organizations.  Finding these organizations takes a little individual effort.  Often times the events will be in the evening, some may be in the next town over, and some may even cost money. The really good ones may fit into all three of those categories. While it’s true that these factors don’t always fit easily into the active duty lifestyle, successful people will find a way to do what they can, when they can.  You may not be able to make it to every event, but that’s no reason to avoid them all together.

I wrote earlier abut how location of your last duty station can be a great plus. As an example, working here has allowed me to  attend the local “RecruitBaltimore” conference.  This one day event had a cost of $70.00, but it was worth it to take a day a of leave and pay the money to interact with professionals in the human resources field.  In fact it’s been so great that I’ve gone the past two years. I’ve also attended some quarterly meetings of the Baltimore Area Recruiters Network, and traveled into Washington, DC for social events hosted by American Corporate Partners.  All of these events have costs associated with them, whether it be time or money, but the more I participate in them the better I get at judging the return on investment.

 ING– For those grammar lovers, the suffix -ing is used to make a present participle. This means the word represents ongoing action. You’ll notice that in the study there was no mention of people getting a job because of someone they met “one time”.  The more often you attend events, the more likely you are to meet the same people a second or third time.  This is what turns “somebody you met” into an “acquaintance”.  The strength of a weak tie is not based on the sheer number of interactions you have with an individual, but instead it’s based on both the manner and length of which it is maintained.  It’s better to see the same person three times over the span of six months at multiple events than it is to see the same person four times in one month in the same environment.

This is why it’s important to network early and often.  Quick example:

Two years ago I saw a woman by the name of Chrissa give presentation about social media at the first RecruitBaltimore event and connected with her afterwards on LinkedIn.  A year later I saw her name on the schedule to present at our TAP/GTPS course and sent her a message saying that I was looking forward to the presentation.  Afterwards we spoke briefly and I learned a bit about her organization.

Fast froward three months later and while attending the next evolution of the recruiting conference I spoke with Ben, a very weak connection, who finds out that I am interested in veteran issues. He quickly introduces me to the woman named Kathleen. It turns that she is the marketing director for that same organization Chrissa works for.  BOOM-  instant conversation starter and we quickly hit it off.

Reaching back to the Gladwell book, it turns out that Kathleen is a connector.  In the past six months she has not only introduced me to a number of other individuals in the HR field, she’s also invited me to participate in a discussion/presentation on veteran hiring issues to a group of private sector recruiters in March. Completing the circle is the fact that my counterpart on the discussion will be none other than Chrissa.

I’d also like to point out that this multi-year process was not focused on simply “landing a job”.  Professional networking has made me a better  Officer Recruiter.  It’s strengthened my ties all around the area, including many of the local universities we recruit from.  By the same token, I’ve been able to offer insights about veteran issues to members of my network.  Like any good relationship, it’s both genuine and symbiotic.

Networking does take time and effort. But it’s worth it. For those who feel like they may be behind the power curve or may feel like it’s too late, I would say that it’s always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Get out there and meet people.

UPDATE: In November of 2014 I began working full time with Kathleen’s company, ClearedJobs.Net. 

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Career Services For Active Duty Is The Key To Long Term Success

Veteran hiring is an important issue and it’s rightly on the the minds of a lot of people and organizations.  But in reality, it’s only a symptom of a larger disease.  Instead of veteran hiring initiatives, what we really need is better career services programs aimed at those on active duty.  In comparing active duty service members and college students it’s easy to find many similarities, as well as differences.  One big thing they have in common is that, eventually, they will need to leave their present organization in search of gainful employment.  The manner in which they prepare for that jump, however, is in no way the same.

Colleges and universities exists not to produce students, but to produce successful alumni. Students pay a lot of (mostly borrowed) money for an organization to prepare them for the next stage of their life. Good colleges understand this. They know that a diploma only validates the worth of a student so long as the graduates continue to validate the worth of the diploma with their productivity. It’s a symbiotic relationship and the department of career services is the catalyst in this equation.

The military on the other hand exists to harvest your skills while you are inside the system.  Yes, you will be trained to do a job. You will then be given all (or at least some) of the tools needed to perform said tasks and expected to get the job done. That’s how the military operates. It’s mission driven.

Military career planners are tasked with assisting active duty members on how to navigate their internal careers. They ensure career wickets are met, forms are completed, and classes are attended. They let you know if, and when, you can reenlist and, if so, under what circumstances. They must know how their particular service works in order to advise a member how to best navigate his or her individual career. But make no mistake, they work for the organization, not the individual.

This is the reality of the situation and the sooner an active duty member accepts it as such, the better their chances for long term success.  I’ve seen too many  mid-level service members get comfortable with the idea that the skills they’ve acquired will enable them to walk right into a similar job once they decide to leave the military.

Service members should learn early on that value in the civilian world is based upon supply and demand. Not only are there a lot of other individuals coming out of the military with your same skill set, but there are also others that may have attained the same level of proficiency through the traditional education system.

The decision to leave the military (voluntarily or not)  means we  are entering the job market and now must compete for those coveted things we call jobs. Fortune favors the prepared.small_8072539635

This is why smart college students are engaging their career services offices early and often in their academic careers.  Admittedly, not all college students take advantage of this opportunity, but then again not all college graduates are getting jobs either.

Unfortunately for those in the military though, there isn’t a true “career services” center as readily available, even if they wanted one. The closest thing are the various  Transition Assistance Programs, but while these programs have some great individuals working there, the focus is often retrospective.  The task is more about sorting through previous experiences and certifications to try to piece together a plan. Often times this is too late.

What service members need is no different than what their peers need. They need to figure out who they are, where they want to go, and how to get there.  The sooner anyone, college student, service member, or entrepreneur can answer these questions, the sooner they can move forward on their life journey.

I know that it’s unrealistic to expect the military to develop and fund a career services department in the same manner that colleges operate. It’s not the job of the military to do that, and to be honest, I doubt it would be effective, cost efficient, or well received.

This is why it’s incumbent on the service members who truly want to succeed after the military to become their own career services center.  Service members must let go of the notion that this lack of a dedicated career services department is an obstacles too difficult to overcome.   There is very little that a career services center does that can not be done by an individual service member, particularly in the age of the internet.

The most important part of the career services puzzle is to network early and find mentors in fields that interest you.  This means keeping up with people you work with in order to have strong network. It means using the military alumni network the same way universities do, not to ask for a job after graduation, but to learn about a job, career field, organization early.

Early engagement leads to knowing what it takes to get there, and it provides opportunities to become a known entity. When people talk about getting a job from someone in their network, it’s rarely a close friend.  On the contrary, it’s typically from the weak connections, the people you used to work with, or the civilian individual in the same field that you only see every few months.  Strong networks are only built over time,and  luckily that’s one thing the military offers in abundance. It’s up to us how we use it.

I’m not advocating for people to spend their entire military career schmoozing.  Just as the first job for those in college is to be a student, the primary mission of a service member is always to be a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine.  It is very possible, though, to be great at your job while simultaneously preparing for life after the military, especially if you keep up with your industry.

Some of the same advice being offered to current college students is easily adaptable to young service members.  When a career services professional like Rich Grant writes about about how to use Twitter as a networking tool those tips can be just as relevant to the service member as they are to the college student.  When a recruiter like Steve Levy offers tips on how to improve career services at the college level, many of these ideas can be individually applied to the needs of today’s service members. Even better, Levy’s blog has posts specifically aimed at veterans, including a terrific one about active duty people using LinkedIn.

Spoiler alert- he encourages you to get active now, as opposed to waiting until it’s time for transition…..are you sensing a trend?

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The Next Big Thing: Honesty

A few months ago I asked the question, “How Long Will Veterans Be Trendy?  Well, if social media is any indication, the answer seems to be, “Not much longer.” I think we are beginning to see a slight shift in message about veteran hiring, which in the end is a good thing.  I have a feeling the next big thing will be honest and forthright conversation. Stakeholders that are prepared to engage in the right discussions, at the right times, will ultimately be the most successful.

It wasn’t long ago that a Forbes article by Col . David Sutherland talking about the unsung value of veteran Non-Commissioned Officers was making its way around every veteran hiring group on LinkedIn.  This article spawned a lot of comments, many of them from disgruntled veterans who found the article sympathetic to their plight.  While these discussions between veterans may have been cathartic, I doubt they were very productive.

I don’t take issue with the article in and of itself.  Colonel Sutherland’s thoughts were very appropriate for the vast majority of regular readers of Forbe’s Magazine. Sometimes, though, by saying the right thing to the wrong people a positive thought can result in negative results.    I think passing this article around military circles probably did this, at least to some extent. We as veterans don’t need anything  reinforcing a sense of victimhood.

Feeling like a victim can lead to distrust of the system.  I see this not only in the article, Commitment to Veterans- Lip Service, Hype, Or True Investment? by Linda Rosser, but even more so in some of the comments on the article in groups like The Value of A Veteran and Hiring Our Heroes.  Unfortunately, every time an organization markets their commitment to military hiring, anyone who unsuccessfully applied to that company may begin to view them as disingenuous. “Just a bunch of hype”, they may say. Even if, unbeknownst to them, said position was actually filled by another veteran.

On the other hand, the article “Congratulations on Your Military Service- Now Here Are Nine Reasons Why I Won’t Hire You” , by Sultan Camp absolutely exploded in the veteran specific LinkedIn groups.  I’ve been actively preparing for my transition for over two years and I don’t remember ever seeing one article pop up so often, in so many groups, and been shared by so many different people.  This article really initiated some quality discussions (a great example was in the group Military Civilian Coaching Connection).

I think this shows that many veteran job seekers are prepared for the truth. So don’t be afraid to tell us what we need to hear, as opposed to what we want to hear. The former is an integral component of a hiring program, the latter is a marketing and public relations plan.


If your organization is committed to hiring a specific number of veterans but most of those positions are for low skill entry level work, say so.  There are a great number of veterans leaving the service that are, in all honesty, perfect candidates for those positions.  If your organization only has a need for high level skill sets that require specific qualifications, make that known as well.

One of the best methods of risk management is to think to yourself, “How could this go wrong?”  Applying that to a veteran hiring program, one way organizations can (and often do) put themselves in a bad position is by sending personnel to career fairs who have no specific information about open positions.  Throw in a non veteran recruiter, and you have the perfect storm.

My work as an Officer Recruiter in the Navy has allowed me the opportunity to work on “the other side of the table” of many a career fair.  I know that far too often candidates show up to a booth unprepared. Lack of preparation on the part of some prospects, however, should never justify lack of preparation for the recruiter.

If  your organization has job postings on the website that are open, well then, your company rep had better know something about them.  Nothing kills the motivation of a job hunting veteran more than when they put forth all the effort of researching a company, finding job postings, preparing a resume, and making their way to a career fair only to be told to just leave your resume and “go ahead and apply online”.

Even if that recruiter doesn’t specifically work in the field the candidate is inquiring about, that booth rep should at the very least be a subject matter expert in the process.  Advice on how to navigate your companies Applicant Tracking System is better than nothing, and can go a long way in enhancing credibility.

Private organizations need both a recruitment plan and a marketing plan, and these two functions often do overlap.  All candidates want is for organizations to be honest.  If your company’s primary reason for purchasing a booth was to hand out free pens and stress balls in order to promote company awareness, then say so.

Conversely, an organization whose recruiters have specific information about actual positions, should  absolutely advertise that ahead of time.  Telling people what you have open, the skill sets needed, and where to find your booth can actually be a differentiating trait between competing organizations.

In regards to any recruiter /candidate relationship, it’s honest conversation that increases quality interactions over quantity of interactions. And these quality interactions are the crux of any hiring initiative, veteran or otherwise.

photo credit: <a href=””>Reena Mahtani</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;