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.
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?
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sirwiseowl/8072539635