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.

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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=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/reenita/4892984424/”>Reena Mahtani</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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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.

Accenture’s Military Career Coach: It’s Good To Go

The military Transition Assistance Program is often referred to as the class where you learn about the stuff you should have already done.  In order to avoid this feeling those of us that know we will be leaving the military need to start working on these skills well in advance.  One website I recently discovered that looks to have a ton of information to assist in the transition process was put together by Accenture, a Fortune 500 Management Consulting Firm. accenture military career coach

The Career Coach website is certainly extensive.  The information is broken down into ten categories and in each category content is provided through both print and video methods. It’s a wealth of information, but much like TAP Class, it’s the kind of stuff that will seem overwhelming if you wait too long to access it.

The first three topics: Planning, Networking, and Building Your Online Brand are particularly relevant for those of us still a ways out from retirement/separation.  Here, for example, you will find information about how to set up, and effectively use, LinkedIn to build a network.

Think of this as predeployment training plan for the next stage of your life.  Just as no unit should go into harms way without an extensive “work up period”,  we should not move from one career to next without doing the same.  To paraphrase our old boss Donald Rumsfeld; You retire with the network you have, not the network you wish you had.

One of the advantages of retiring from the military is that you can network and look for new jobs without having to hide it from your current employer (an issue for those in the civilian world).  Starting early and putting in the work bit by bit are keys to success.   We must remember that in terms of transitioning; slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Accenture’s Career Coach is an excellent road map for success.  Kudos to them for developing this tool.

NOTE: Accenture’s Military Career Coach, along with the social networkings site Rally Point was recently featured in a FoxNews story.

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: https://www.rallypoint.com/static_pages/why_join

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.