Focusing Your Brand With Dependable Strengths

Last week I attended a Veterans Job Fair hosted by the Stevenson University Career Center.  The event featured not only the gathering of veteran friendly employers, but also had a two hour “Dependable Strengths Workshop” that was offered immediately prior to the fair.  It was a condensed version of a more in depth course, which is designed to help attendees discover the common threads that have run through their careers.3649-KFOTJF

By determining what it is in your career that you have done, done well, and enjoyed doing, attendees gained clarity and focus on the direction they should be heading in the job market. The Articulation of Dependable Strengths process is designed to help people  break free from job titles and look at the individual aspects of our success.  This is important because there is a relative safety in a job title.  It may be an easy and comfortable way we define ourselves, but it can also become a limiting factors in the job search process.

I, for example, am very proud to be a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy, but am not necessarily looking for work in the health care field.  My “dependable strengths” turned out to be more along the lines of being an individual passionate about organizational success through the empowerment of individuals.  You could say that I’m a “rising tide lifts all boats”, kind of guy. I’m also someone who isn’t afraid of the risks associated with trying new approaches to solve problems.  Once identified, the next step was to look for specific examples of me using these strengths for the success of the organization.

I highlighted the fact that in my current role as a medical officer recruiter I have established a local network of physicians and medical school students in the Baltimore. This network has resulted in an increase in cooperation and support for individuals associated with Navy Medicine in the local area. Most importantly it has significantly advanced Navy recruiting efforts and I have the numbers to prove it.

At another time, I organized and implemented a staffing and operations plan for medical care in an austere environment.  This called for non-traditional solutions to otherwise standard problems such as communication and logistics. It was through the training and empowerment of individuals that we were able to successfully execute the plan. Over the next six months many lives were saved and five of the individuals in our team received meritorious promotions.

A third example occurred as the Chief of Academics for a school house.  The idea of totally revamping everything from the textbook, to the written exams, to the manner in which future updates would be made, was an idea born inside our department, not something directed from above.  As a small group, we had to not only make the changes, but also guide the change process through a lot of other stakeholders. Many of which, by the way, were perfectly happy with the status quo.  The process took many months, and was not without it’s bumps along the way, but in the end the project was completed on time, as promised. It also produced a quality product and greatly enhanced the learning experience of hundreds of students.

As you can see, the strengths I leveraged for each of these examples are very transferable to other organizations, but are not confined to my Navy job classification.bigstock-The-Golden-Brand-2559459

Understanding these strengths is a form of emotional intelligence.  The process of focusing them for the job market is known as “branding” and should be tailored to the specific job or organization as much as possible.  Service members (especially those retiring after 20+ years)  will likely have far too many accomplishments to fit on a one page resume.  It’s advised to establish a “career management document” of the various things you’ve done.  This makes it easy to plug and play for specific scenarios.

A friend in my network recently sent me a link to a job posting at very large organization seeking a “Military Relations Team Member”.  Looking closer at the job announcement it said “USMC experience preferred”.  The resume I built for this position highlighted my many years serving with the Marine Corps. This went against the typical advice of de-militarizing, you resume, by the way. It was, however, highlighting a specific set of experiences that the company desires for this position.

I also had another person in my network, from PKW Associates, reach out to me and ask for a copy of my resume.  She knew I wasn’t leaving the military for a few months, but wanted to keep it on file.  Before doing so, I made a point to do some basic research about her company. 

I looked at the company website initially to see if they had any key words or phrases I should know about. Eventually I clicked on the “What Sets Us Apart” banner.  It seemed like knowing what they viewed as key to their success would be some good intel. There I found that part of their mission and value’s statement is a focus on long term relationships and “alumni placement”.

With that knowledge, the resume I forwarded in this instance took out much of the military accomplishments that were in the previous one. Instead this one focused on recent experiences such as establishing and maintaining a network of previously hired physicians/scholarship recipients for leads, referrals, and overall process improvement.  

The success of this network is one of the things I’m most proud of in my current position. Until I researched the website, however, I had never put it on a resume.  Here was a dependable strength lining right up with an organizations core competency.

After twenty years, and moving from not only one unit to the next, but from one position to the next, I find it particularly difficult to put together a generic, one page, resume. This is why I believe  it is so important to  start this process early. By doing so,  I can continue to refine not only my career management document, but also the skills needed to target my strengths at organizations most likely to appreciate them.

The way ahead for me is to keep crafting resume’s for specific positions and save each one.  Eventually I will have a stable documents that can be used in various situations.  One for recruiting, one for training, another for health care, etc.  The tweaks for each specific job opening will only get easier.

To me, a successful transition from a military career to a civilian position is much more than just finding a job, it’s about finding a position where I’m happy to get up and go to work, even on the tough days.  For twenty years being in the Navy has been a way of life, not just a paycheck.  That passion for the people and job, by the way, is not unique to me, it’s part of the culture.  I’m hoping to land in a position where I find a similar situation.  Using the dependable strengths idea to communicate my brand should help me attract interest from the organizations that are most likely to  produce a good fit.

I’m sure there are organizations out there, for example, that operate on more of a “staff and forget” model, and they may even be successful organizations with good pay and benefits, but it wouldn’t align with they way I operate, and therefor, I would be less likely to be happy about going to work. I’m a big believer in person/organization fit.  The right person in the right situation will produce the best results.   A good resume, that reflects an honest brand, based upon sincere strengths is the first step to finding the right fit.

NOTE: I found a nice article about branding as I was working on this post.  It is titled Five Ways Veterans Can Build Their Brand and is pretty much in alignment of my thoughts and experiences above..


The Flying Trapeze of the Job Search

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls….Please direct your attention high above the center ring…… and witness as Bob Wheeler will attempt to leap  from one swing to another many feet away.  In order to do this he must let go of the first at just the right time in order to catch the other as it sways back and forth through the air.

Please note…he’s actually never even attempted this trick before in his life.trapeze

That’s kinda how I feel right now…..I need to let go of the safety and stability of one career and do it at just the right time in order to catch another one.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years contemplating when I should actually retire from the Navy.  My 20 year mark will be in January of 2014, so theoretically I could end my career in January and with terminal leave (the vacation days I’ve accumulated) I could start working two months prior. I could actually be employable before the end of 2013.  On the other hand,  I could remain in the Navy until the end of my current contract in September of 2014.  This leaves me a virtual exit window of nine months.  Certainly there are a lot of other factors that will go into this decision.  My son will graduate high school in June of 2014, for example. But at some point I need to decide when to let go and reach for the other bar.

The hiring process evolved to support and thrive in the civilian professional market, not to act as a safety net for those exiting the service.  Most job postings that you will find on the internet, are essentially for immediate hire.  They are not long term projections and if it’s posted for hire, no one is interested in holding a position vacant for four months  while I process retirement paperwork.

I was recently engaged in an online discussion this week in the LinkedIn group “Military-Civilian Career Coaching Connection (MC4)” and one gentlemen (prior Marine Officer who’s been in the professional world for the past five years) suggested that the real work of looking for a job shouldn’t start until about 90 days out and should really get kicked up at about the 45 day mark.  It’s really all about filling vacancies, and they may not be sure of a vacancy until about 30 days out, so by the time it’s posted it’s essentially a “hot fill”.

But, while the actually job hunt may not begin until about 3 moths out, active networking can and should begin much sooner. It is essential to build and maintain the network before you need it.  I knew when I took the orders to Baltimore that there would be a chance I would want to work in the HR industry once I retired, so I knew that a reputation for success would be something I would be able to leverage when the time came.  Especially if I was willing to remain in this area (Baltimore/DC).

And…oh by the way…..building a network has a lot to do with helping people out and collaborating. “Networking” is not a dirty word. The things I did to succeed as a Medical Officer Recruiter here were the same actions it took to build a network.   The key was just keeping in touch with people and offering to help them out as well.  It’s created a terrific professional synergy and has been probably the key factor in me finding some absolutely terrific physicians and future physicians for the Navy. Even better, thanks to my network, I have sustainable results.  

To date, many people in my network know that am transitioning soon, but without an exact date.  More than one has offered me great advice about how to prepare and given me a glimpse “behind the curtain” of the civilian work sector. If at some point the network comes to me with a job offer with enough lead time to set up a transition, terrific.  If not, and I’m forced to eventually let go of one swing in the hopes of catching the other, the network can at least act as an advocate for me.

It’s tough to leap from one trapeze to another.  As scary as it is though, it sure is nice to think there is someone on the other bar trying to catch you.


Update: I put my retirement papers in and will begin terminal leave in June of 2014.

RallyPoint: Professional Networking Site For Military

I was introduced this week to a new networking site for military members known as RallyPoint.  This site is like the “LinkedIn of the Military” and is intended to assist people in keeping up with current connections, as well as seeing who is in their extended network at the various units.  I am particularly impressed by the fact that it can (in Marine Corps Speak) drill down to the Company level of units, which is some pretty good granularity.  See the minute and a half video here:

The other impressive thing about this site is the fact that it is designed to assist those transitioning off of active duty.  The following is taken directly from the website:

RallyPoint was founded in 2012 by two military veterans at Harvard Business School to help make military life better. Backed by two of the US military's recent Joint Chiefs of Staff, RallyPoint connects its members and gives them the best tools possible to succeed both while in the military, and beyond. With RallyPoint, you can build out your professional network, connect with other members of the military in a safe environment, and explore career opportunities both within the military (PCS opportunities) as well as in the private sector.  In 2012, RallyPoint won the world's largest startup competition (MassChallenge), and placed 2nd in the Harvard Business School Business Plan Competition. RallyPoint is based out of the Harvard University Innovation Lab in Boston.

RallyPoint was founded in 2012 by two military veterans at Harvard Business School to help make military life better. Backed by two of the US military’s recent Joint Chiefs of Staff, RallyPoint connects its members and gives them the best tools possible to succeed both while in the military, and beyond.

How does RallyPoint help me lock-in a civilian job?

By entering your estimated date of employment availability, employers and recruiters seeking talented leaders with your experience and background will be able to reach out to you in private, long before your transition. Your skills are in demand within the most powerful companies in the world, and we put you in charge of your civilian career search. Your interest in civilian employment is never shared with other RallyPoint members or the military. Only employers will know that you are interested in a position or in learning more, and you are always in control of who may contact you and how.

I can see how this data base, especially once it matures, would be a gold mine for corporations looking to hire veteran talent.  I filled out the information stating that I was available for employment in early 2104 and it compiled my data into a virtual resume.

One thing to remember; communication is what the listener does, so just as with a resume, write it in a manner that the reader can understand.  I made sure I kept my current description written in “civilian speak”, highlighting the skills transferable to the private sector, and avoided military jargon as much as possible.

I’ll keep you posted on the results.

RallyPoint has been featured in a Washington post article,  Time Magazine, and Stars and Stripes among other publications.

Career Transitions And The Road To War

They say the road to war begins the moment the previous battle ends.  Translation- It’s all about preparedness.

"Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead."  - General James Mattis, USMC

“Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
– General James Mattis, USMC

I may be in a growing minority of people who remember a peace time military.  Believe it or not, there was time when there were no constant deployments and multiple tours to kinetic environments.  Sure we went places and did things- but even then it was for exercises, not real world missions.  The primary focus was on preparing ourselves for war, because although while we didn’t know where or when we would be called upon to serve our country, there was really no debating the question of “if”. History has done a pretty good job documenting that.  Eventually we would have to go out and “do the business”, so we needed to be prepared.

Transitioning from a military career to a civilian career is much the same. At first a member of the military may not know when their service will end. Many, including me, joined the service to find direction in life. In 1994 I couldn’t  have told you what I would be doing after the military, I knew medicine had a lot options and was thinking about things like surgery technician, x-ray technician, etc., but I had no solid goal. Before the Navy I had attained a BA in Social Sciences, but I honestly had no idea what to do with it. As I searched for a career, I started to describe myself as being “knowledgeable, but not marketable”. I was smart but hadn’t discovered a passion for any particular line of work.  I suddenly knew the feeling of being thrust from  the safety of an organization (College) without a plan. Because of that, I promised myself, I would not get out of the Navy until I did something.

This is why the road to retirement begins at boot camp (or Officer Candidate School).  Even though I wouldn’t discover my passion for Human Resources until many years later,  I knew that, from the very beginning, I had to look for ways to set myself up for success.  I did this by not only documenting my military experiences, but also by ensuring that I kept up with the parallel career paths in the civilian sector. This way I knew not only how to document my experiences, but it also helped me identify the aspects of the HR profession that we don’t get a chance to perform in the military.  Knowing what I didn’t do showed me the areas in which I need to be proactive.

There is absolutely a cultural gap between the military and the civilian world and it can be a significant barrier to veteran employment.  It’s great that many organizations are seeking to find better ways of reaching out in an effort to attract qualified people.  The process need to work both ways, however.  Those of us leaving the military that can translate our experiences in civilian terms have a leg up .  This requires a little bit of research and we must admit that the true responsibility for our future employment  lies with us, not with the private sector.

All the tax breaks, federal hiring programs, and statements of support are really only designed to encourage organizations to seek us out as a group.  Getting  the job is up to us.  Nobody will hire us just because we are veterans. They will only hire us because they believe we will help their organization succeed.  It’s an HR fact that the greatest sin in hiring is not to have lost out on a good candidate, but to have hired the wrong candidate.  Imagine the concerns you would have bringing a civilian into your work space (or even someone from another service that did a similar job). No matter how smart they may be, you would probably still be concerned about how well they would fit into the culture of your organization.  Civilian organizations, particularly smaller ones without any veteran presence in their workforce, will have similar concerns.  If we accept the fact that we  need to be thought of as a “safe bet” in order to get hired, and not a “patriotic charity case” our chances for success will improve dramatically.

Below are some proactive things we can do throughout our military careers to help us bridge that gap when the time comes.

  • Start looking at job postings early in your career (years before you are thinking about transitioning).  You don’t need to do it every day at first, but even by doing this every so often, you can see what types of skills and certifications are generally required for certain positions.  You’ll probably also see new acronyms that may be unfamiliar to you, if so look them up.  All organizations have their own lexicon, you may find that it’s just a new way to describe what you already do.  Talking in the “native tongue” helps reassure prospective employers.
  • If you don’t know about something- learn about it.  Thanks to the internet, there is no excuse for not having a basic understanding of something. Speaking about a topic you don’t know about is a kiss of death.
  • Join/follow professional organizations early in your career.  The best thing I’ve done was to join the Society for Human Resource Management in 2005.  Although it costs me annual dues, staying abreast of HR issues for the past 8 years has kept me fluent in the “lingo”.  You can also follow organizations for free on social media.  Facebook can be good, LinkedIn is even better.
  • If you get the opportunity to attend civilian conferences as part of your job, make sure you interact with civilian organizations, as opposed to sticking to just other military people.  When you do, ask questions about how things work in their business.
  • Be engaged in your community.  Spending ten years at Camp Lejeune made me very insulated to the civilian world.  Moving to Maryland put me in contact with a much more diverse population.  As I interacted with them I have learned much more about what people know and don’t know about the military.  Learning this has enabled me to proactively address common misunderstandings.

It doesn’t matter if your job in the military has you working with satellite communications, on gas turbine engines, or in human resources, all professions continue to evolve.  It’s much easier to keep up with the civilian/professional world as you go, rather than trying to do a crash course at the last minute.  Too many people attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) only to learn what they should have already been doing.

Note: This post was partially inspired by a letter written by General James Mattis encouraging his subordinates to read and study books in preparation for battle.  I encourage you to read more about that here.