Branding Is Not Recruiting

MILITARY FRIENDLY EMPLOYER!      WE LOVE VETS!

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.

NET-WORK-ING

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.”

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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. 

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/veebl/2346514385/

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?

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

LinkedIn Groups….Who Are You Hanging Out With?

You need to be on LinkedIn…..that drum gets beat into every separating service members head during their transition classes.  Unfortunately, though, LinkedIn is not something a lot of people in the service use during their time on active duty, so it can be daunting to just jump right in.  A lot of people establish profiles under duress, not believing they will do any good.  Without any direction on how to make the platform work for them, their profile sits there in cyberspace with very few connections, only reinforcing the service members original thoughts on its lack of value.

So, what can service members do to break out of their shell and quit being a wallflower at the Post Military Employment Prom?  Just like any other social event, if you don’t already have a date, you need to hang with a group.  And just like High School, who you hang with is critical. Unlike High School, however, LinkedIn recognizes that people are complex, so there is no need to feel like you have to declare your allegiance to one clique. LinkedIn allows you to be a member of up to 50 groups.

The tips below can help you make the most out of LinkedIn Groups.

 First, you need to diversify. There are always certain groups that we will feel more around than others.  LinkedIn has a good number of military oriented affinity groups and these are the ones service members typically join first.  I’m a Navy Chief….there’s a group for Navy Chiefs…..I know I’ll be among friends…..easy choice.  There’s nothing wrong with joining a group like this, but if this is a far as you go, you’re not likely to grow or expand your network much beyond the military community.

To broaden your horizons and really expand your network, look for affinity groups based upon your actual job in the military.  For example, if you’re an electrical engineer, perhaps you’d find some benefit from joining the over 6,000 members of the Business Industrial Network who’s group page states, “Engineers, Electricians, Mechanics, Maintenance Welcome”.  Those currently on active duty can use this to keep up with the current issues of their industry which is critical for ensuring you’re prepared to jump into the private sector.  And if you’re transitioning from the service, perhaps one of over the 200 job postings in the group may interest you.

In addition to industry affinity groups there are a number of groups that were formed for the purpose of assisting transitioning service members, but be advised, not all of these are created equal.  Some are location-based, such as the Fort Meade Military Transition networking Group and the Camp Lejeune Transition Readiness Seminar Group. The Fort Meade group has over 200 members (about 1/3 are recruiters) and over 850 jobs listed, while the Camp Lejeune group has 89 members (only one with the word Recruiter in their title) and zero jobs. I’m not saying that one group is inherently better than the other (I’m a member of both), but it’s important to know the make up of each, in order understand what they offer.

Other groups with a focus on transitioning veteran have a global audience.  Although the following is not all-inclusive, the following are just three in particular that I’ve found helpful as far as actionable advice: Military-Civilian Career Coaching Connection (MC4), Boots To Loafers, and Recruiters 4 Veterans. Sites like these are less likely to have jobs posted, but will instead be more focused on offering genuine tips on the transition process.

There are two ways to find these niche groups. The easiest method is to use the search field at the top of the LinkedIn page and type in key words by either title or location (engineer, recruiter, nurse, Baltimore, San Diego, Austin).  Another way (and I think more effective method)  is to look at the bottom of the profiles of your connections to see which groups they are a member of.  No matter how you do it, being active in even a few LinkedIn groups from the different categories will set you up for success.

Second, you need to participate. You build your network by meeting people, and meeting people on LinkedIn occurs when you join in on some discussions.  See an article you like? Share it with a group.  Did someone in the group post something you find relevant? Share it with your connections.  Have a thought? Add your two cents in the comments section.  These are the things that bring people together.  Participation is the catalyst to check out the profiles of other individuals (which is a great way find ways to improve your own).  This is what leads to connections and allows your network to grow exponentially.

Third, know your audience. Preaching to the choir might be safest way to communicate, but it never really changes anything.  We need to understand our place in relation to the rest of the group and ensure the things we share are likely to benefit those who will see our message.  A great example of this centered around a recent Forbes.com  article about the value of Non Commissioned Officers. The piece has a different meaning when shared with other military members than if it is shared by/with private sector recruiters and hiring managers.

In fact, one of the coaches, (Joseph Paschal) in the MC4 discussion thread put it very well saying, “this article has resonated well on many other veteran sites because it tells veterans what they want to hear. However, it is a grossly obtuse analogy that really does not help veterans because it may lead NCOs (and others) to believe that they can make the case for being qualified for positions simply because they have such solid experience as NCOs (or veterans).”

 Joe wasn’t saying anything bad about the content of the article, but I think his point about how the message was being perceived was spot on. (See the full discussion thread here.)

We need to tell private industry about the military and, at the same time, tell the military about private industry.  These are two distinct conversations and the way we have those conversations on LinkedIn is to be active in many groups, and to share the appropriate message with each.

Veteran participation in industry specific groups helps us all. By sharing relevant articles and making insightful comments we can knock down the walls of misperception.  Even more to the point, we do far more good for our own post military employment chances by participating in the civilian networking groups than we do by simply hanging out with our closest friends telling each other how great we are.

Its time to quit holding up the wall and get out there on the dance floor.

Five Things I Know (So Far)

When I began this blog seven months ago the purpose was to document my thoughts and experiences during the last year (or so) of my active duty time in the Navy.  As we draw down on 2013, I wanted to take some to reflect on my experience thus far.

First of all, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the project as a whole.  I’m particularly grateful whenever I hear from my friends that are still years away from retirement/separation.  The original purpose of this was to provide a platform to capture information in order to share it so that others may  succeed and I hope I’m accomplishing that.

 Back in my second post I described this transition process as trying to pull off a trapeze stunt without having the benefit of practice, seven months later that feeling remains. I’ve committed to the process and let go of the first swinging bar, and look forward to catching another.  It’s not a very comfortable feeling.  It’s a stage we all have to go through, though.

For those that have followed this blog from the beginning you may have noticed that the posts have become more advice oriented and less on personal reflections.  Getting some of my posts picked up by other organizations has been a big reason for this.  My article about the American Corporate Partnership was picked up by their website, and I’ve also had pieces shared by the local job board ClearedJobs.net as well as the recruiter organization RecruitDC.

This success, though very moderate and with zero financial gain involved, has validated for me that my real passion lies in helping organizations succeed by recruiting, training, and retaining veteran talent.  Over the years I’ve come to see that making this happen is a two way street. We as veterans need to market ourselves correctly and organizations should continue to proactively seek out military members for employment.  I’ve seen first hand that there is good stuff happening on both sides of this equation.

I’m also convinced that there is room for improvement.  Hence, some of my posts have offered advice to veterans, and other posts have been aimed at exposing civilian organizations to the unique challenges of engaging a military audience. Working to bridge this gap is what I truly love to do and I look forward to helping individuals and/or organizations succeed by helping to get the right people into the right jobs.

Since it’s been a while since I wrote anything “personal” about my experience, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned.

1 Networking early and often is the key.  I can not stress enough how thankful I am to the many civilian individuals that I’ve come into contact with who have helped me.  They have provided great mentorship and even better they have always been quick to introduce to me to others.  Networking really is exponential and there are a ton of very good people in the world. As scary as it is now, I can’t imagine where I’d be without these individuals. Every success I’ve had in this process can be directly traced back to someone in my network.

2- There are some outstanding programs out there  and American Corporate Partners is a great one.  My mentor has given me a fresh perspective about career paths and the organization has been truly top notch.  I look forward to attending a specific ACP Networking event at the end of January.

One thought that continues to bounce around inside my head is the idea of striking out on my own. I’ve found the Small Business Administration has great information. I have also learned about an organization known as Score that provides local mentors for service members starting their own business. For those that are service disabled and looking to start your own business please check out the Entrepreneur Boot Campthis looks like an amazing program. (I don’t qualify, but it’s worth passing along.)

3- The amount of helpful outlets can be overwhelming. For example, LinkedIn has a ton of groups that offer career advice, many of them are very good, but there are so many it can be tough to keep up.  I was told that these are the key to building your network on LinkedIn and I should pick a couple and be active in the discussions forums. I’ve done that and it’s worked out just as I was told. I’m establishing myself as a “content creator” with “virtual footprint“, but sometimes I know that can get lost down the rabbit hole of LinkedIn.  There’s a lot of people, on a lot of sites, saying the same things,  to the same people.  Sometimes I just  need to remind myself I don’t need to be everywhere, all the time. I can’t read everything on the internet.  I also hope that this blog doesn’t fall into that category of just regurgitating the same information.

4- I know more than I think I do.  In all honesty, having the blog posts picked up by other organizations has been an ego boost. So has the feeling that I’ve become a subject matter expert, at least to some degree, for veterans and recruiters alike.  This has given me a lot of confidence. The more people tell you that you can do something, the more likely you are to succeed, and as an active duty person it’s very nice to get that validation from those in the private sector.

5- I don’t know everything. Despite point #4 above, there are still some things that I need to learn and experience.  Knowing this has led me to ask a lot of questions of a lot of people.  It’s what motivates me to attend professional events and do a lot of professional reading.  I think there is such thing as healthy amount of self awareness and that knowing our shortcomings is a critical component in preparing for the jump from Sailor to Civilian.

Over these past few months it’s become obvious that the transition process can happen very quickly, and yet at the same time seem painfully slow. I’ve always believed that you’re better off leaving the military because you are running to something, as opposed to running away from something and at this point I feel like I have found my focus in terms of what I want to do. For that I’m thankful.

Although the manner and location I ultimately do the work of connecting organizations with veteran talent is still undecided, I remain confident that it will all work out.  Terminal Leave starts in June of 2014 and my last day getting paid on active duty is August 31st, so I still have some time.

I hope that my thoughts thus far have been helpful to at least a few people and I look forward to continuing to share this experience with those so inclined to follow.

Seven months into this project, has anything been helpful?  Is there anything else you’d like to see addressed?  Let me know in the comments section.

Use Your Last Duty Station As A Springboard For Success

Transition.  It’s the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.  In the case of the veteran we know where we start (active duty) and we know where we want to end up (employed), but anyone who thinks they can wait  until their final year in the service to begin planning is setting themselves up for an  uphill battle.  The sooner one knows they will be leaving the service the sooner they can make career decisions that can help to soften their landing into the private sector. Your last set of orders can be crucial.

The location and job description of the service members last tour on active duty has the potential to be tremendous advantage.  While no single location can guarantee success, nor is it an obstacle too tough to overcome, the following factors should be considered as a service member approaches their final tour.  Doing so can certainly make things easier.

1- Do the kind of work on your last tour that you would like to do in the private sector.  The military has knack for exposing us to lots of different situations and using all of our talents.  A military member may be trained to work as a technician on a specific system or piece of machinery, but after doing that job for a number of years you may be asked to do a completely different job for a time period.  Each branch has a genuine need for recruiters, trainers, career planners, etc. but if your plans are to work in the technical field after the military, you will want your most recent resume achievements to reflect that work. Technology changes quick, don’t run the risk of NOT being able to talk smartly in an interview about the latest and greatest issues in your field of expertise.

In a similar sense, operational tours are tougher to retire from, as the nature of your work can be the most difficult to translate.  Although these tours are often the most personally rewarding, spending your last year preparing for and then executing a deployment is filled with some of the most unique challenges the military has to offer.  These are the toughest for the civilian hiring manager to comprehend.  The simple logistics involved with producing and delivering 64 performance evaluations (on time) is quite a bit different in a combat zone than in garrison, for example.  The more your last job naturally translates, the better.

2- Go to where the people are. A network is something you build before you need it and the more you expand that network to include nonmilitary people, the more prepared you’ll be for your transition.  Many veterans make the process of finding employment more difficult because they don’t know how to talk to civilians. Taking orders to a job near a larger metropolitan area can be a great way to break out of the “military bubble” while still  maintaining the security of a steady paycheck.  This can be particularly important if a large portion of your career was spent in smaller, more isolated, military towns.

Organizations like Beers and Careers are prime opportunities for military members to network with their civilian counterparts.

Organizations like “Beers and Careers” are prime opportunities for military members to network with their civilian counterparts.

Networking with civilians in your field is critical to avoiding false assumptions about what it takes to find employment. You will even  find that there are actual organizations dedicated to connecting people, but these tend to exist in the bigger cities.

For example, I recently met a gentleman by the name of Josh Shapiro. He is the founder of one such organization known as  Beers and Careers. His mission is to connect people in similar career fields in low stress, social environments.  The business model is more than just bringing any group of people together, his focus is on bringing people from similar industries together.  These events offer outstanding opportunities for current military members to interact with their civilian counterparts well before they start the actual job hunt and can also help those already out of the military connect with possible employers.

If you’re a service member who feels isolated in your military community, I’d recommend hitting up some events like these, even if it meant making a short road trip.  Take a couple of friends from the shop, get a hotel near the event, see some sights, and then hang out at bar for a few hours. I can think of a lot worse ways of career development.  Believe it or not, your presence at these events is good for all veterans, because not only are you learning about the private sector, those in the private sector are learning about the military.  You are helping to build bridges that will help us all.  So don’t be afraid to tell some (appropriate) seas stories.

I’m not saying that  everyone must have the right job, in the right location, for a successful transition.  The factors  above, however,  should certainly be considered when negotiating your last set of orders.  I also believe  the tips above can  help service members avoid going on the “ROAD program”  (For those unaware ROAD is Retired On Active Duty, and it’s an unofficial acronym used to describe someone who no longer cares about their current job because they are about to get of the service) .  If a service member is working in the same field they hope to eventually find civilian employment , they will be more inclined to produce tangible results. That’s good for all parties involved.

American Corporate Partners Providing Genuine Mentorship

During my visit to the GE Veterans Workshop last month I was turned onto an organization called American Corporate Partners.    The organization puts veteran job seekers in contact with mentors from Fortune 100 companies to assist in their transition. It was founded in 2008 by investment banker Sidney Goodfriend.

American Corporate Partners is a non-profit organization founded in 2008.

American Corporate Partners is a non-profit organization founded in 2008.

I hate buzzwords. They happen when people start to equate talking about a good idea with actually implementing a good idea.  Too often, the word mentorship falls into this category.

By all appearances, however, American Corporate Partners offers mentorship in the truest sense of the word.  I signed up for the program and last week was paired with my mentor.  Please note that I use the word “paired with” as opposed to “assigned”.  This is the key to keeping a mentorship program focused on results.

In order to get to this point I needed to register on the site, which included a thorough (but not too, lengthy) biography section.  Once that was submitted and reviewed I received an email asking for a little bit more information about my career intentions and what I expected to gain from the program.  The next step involved a brief interview with a counselor. At this point we discussed things that I would value in a mentor, in my case, I was looking for someone in the HR field, preferably in mid to upper levels of an organization, similar in age.  (Although they asked, I had no preference in the mentors race or gender, but I think it’s great that they do ask that question, as I know those can be significant issues for many people.)  Once my package was complete it was sent out to their  network to see if anyone would be interested in partnering up with me.  Two days later, I had an offer.

Soon afterward I was given the biography and contact information of Diana Pike, the Human Resources Director at Fox Television Stations in Washington, DC.  Prior to her civilian career, Diana had served 13 years in the Army working with Signals Intelligence. During our initial phone conversation last week we talked about where I’m at professionally, and also a little bit about her experiences.

In our first conversation she gave me some insightful ideas about things I had never considered and we agreed to swap resumes via email to facilitate future discussions. The mentorship program requires at least monthly contact. Her location in DC makes meeting up in person pretty easy for me and we expect to do so soon.

Face to face meetings are certainly great, but the program doesn’t necessarily require people to be close geographically. In fact, Diana said that of her two previous proteges, the one that ended up with the best relationship and outcome, was in Iraq throughout most of the time they worked together.

I had thought about waiting to blog about this until I had been in the program longer, but in keeping with the theme of “fortune favors the prepared”, I wanted to share the information now.  Being that this is a year-long agreement, I think it’s an excellent program to be a part of before leaving the military.  I am excited about the opportunities that American Corporate Partners is offering and am looking forward to developing a strong relationship with my mentor.

The program stresses that it is NOT a jobs program, which is completely understandable. Anyone who thinks that this will directly land them a position at a certain company does not understand how to cultivate and use a network. This is about genuine mentorship, the kind of relationship that enables slow, steady, and sustainable growth.