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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Transition Class: Attendance Required, Results May Vary

The following is my review of the Transition, Goals, Plans, Success (TGPS) Seminar that I attended last week.  It is offered as a snapshot of one evolution of the course offered at one location.  Individual experiences may be different than mine and I would love to hear about them.  My opinions were included in the end of course feedback forms, but I also believe they are also worth sharing with a larger audience because I believe a dialogue on this subject can be helpful to many individuals transitioning to the civilian world, as well as those involved with developing and delivering the TGPS curriculum.  Again, I would love to hear the thoughts of others on this subject, so feel free to comment.

Getting The Ball Rolling

In order to attend you need to have your command fill out a few forms in order to grant you the time off, and you also need to get a DD Form 2648 and have it filled out and signed by your career counselor. I’m not exactly sure the purpose of this form, other than for the government to have documented proof that they asked you about the various topics that may pertain to those separating.

Forms Completed? Check Class Attended? Check

Forms Completed? Check
Class Attended? Check

I’m not saying that the websites listed on the DD 2648 are bad or the information they contain isn’t important, but don’t show  me a website, ask me if I want more information on a subject, and then refer me to the same website.  I’m busy and my career counselor is busy, too. This seemed like a waste of both of our times.

OK, I thought, maybe this will be of use during the course, but, alas, not so much.  The coordinator made sure we all had them.  She collected them and made copies for her records, but that was it. No feedback from anyone. The form was used for nothing more than an admissions ticked to the course.

We also had to do an Individual Transition Plan (ITP)  which was also turned in and returned to us during the week. The coordinator had to make copies of these in order to document that we had used the form.  Now this form isn’t quite so bad.  I can actually see how it could be of value to someone unsure of their future direction, so I won’t knock it just because it wasn’t effective for me personally. I just bring it up here to show that it’s yet another form whose true purpose is to exist with my signature on it, not to necessarily be useful to me.

The decision to attend the course also has a second order effect in that by simply asking to attend, you change the way you are perceived at work. While this may happen to some more than others, it does happen and should be considered before making the decision to route your requests.

This is particularly of concern for those leaving the military by choice, as opposed to those who must leave for medical or administrative reasons.  More than one participant in my class talked about being marked in the bottom category of their peer group once the command knew they were planning on separating or retiring.  Dropping one person down because they are leaving allows a command to move someone else who is not separating up into a higher category.  So, if you’re not 100% sure you will be getting out, this is a legitimate issue to consider before routing the request to take a week off and attend this course, because nobody will go back and alter your previous promotion recommendation just becuase you changed your plans.

The Audience

This, in my opinion, is the single greatest issue that prevents the course from actually preparing individuals for success outside of the military.  Our class had a wide variety of participants and based upon my conversations with others, this is the norm.  For example we had:

  • Two Physicians still on active duty, both of which had already secured employment following their separation.
  • One pending retiree who was going to be a stay at home dad.
  • Multiple individuals with technical (in this case Intel/Computer Networking) skills that were seeking positions in the same field. Some had qualifying degrees, others did not.
  • Two individuals with less than 30 days remaining on active duty attending for the first time.
  • Four individuals with months remaining taking the course for the second time.
  • Multiple individuals exploring complete career changes.
  • At least one individual seeking a career in the field of talent acquisition, training and development, or technical sales, who also blogs about helping veterans position themselves for employment.

The program coordinator said it best when she stated, “In this group, some of you are perfect, some of you are paralyzed, and many of you are somewhere in between.”  She was absolutely right.  Unfortunately, the course cannot be all things to all people.

The primary purpose of this course to ensure everyone ATTENDS, not to make sure everyone gets a job or even increases their level of knowledge or preparedness.  Even if that were the case, I don’t think all of these goals could realistically be achieved in the current model.  While breaking the course into smaller, more focused,  groups would encourage more peer to peer learning, doing it this way would be much more inefficient, and would probably lead to a lot of people “finding their way out of attending”.

The fact is, just as there were some individuals who didn’t research the service before joining, there will be many that don’t research the civilian world before returning.  We may not be able to make them prepare, but we can certainly  make sure that they sign a roster stating that they attended a class. The DOD theory seems to be that it’s better to inconvenience the prepared rather than to allow the unprepared to exit without having had the opportunity to learn.  This is probably the best choice given the current situation.

The Course

The real shame is that this need to check the box for everyone overshadows some significant progress in the program. The actual three day course put together by the Department of Labor (DOL) is pretty decent. In my opinion, it’s exactly the kind of information people need before exiting the military. The topics are relevant and the textbook is well written.   The slides had just enough information to act as a springboard for discussions.

The Workshop designed by the Department of Labor is a great program.  Effective delivery of the information is the key.

The Workshop designed by the Department of Labor is a great program. Effective delivery of the information is the key.

A good course often can’t overcome a bad instructor, however, and unfortunately many in our class felt our instructor was less than stellar.  He spent way too much time telling personal stories about his career and family experiences and not enough on the actual topics in the course.

It became obvious that there were certain topics in which his knowledge was no deeper than the slides. For example, the curriculum referenced a statistic citing 83% of employers plan to hire through social networking and referrals yet he had no working knowledge of critical platforms such as LinkedIn.  On another occasion he spent 45 minutes on a family story about his son, and then covered federal hiring practices and the General Schedule (GS) pay scale in three minutes to ensure we got out of class on time.  It turns out that our instructor was more motivational than informational.  

Of note: Aside from the three day DOL course we also had some individual classes by other presenters throughout the week.  The class on networking and social media (Presented by Chrissa Dockendorf from ClearedJobs.net) and the dressing for success class were both received very well by almost the entire class.  The financial prep class was also solid with some good info for just about everyone in attendance. The week ended with a long brief on VA benefits which was complicated, but kept everyone’s attention. We ended the course with a panel of employers and recruiters that were there to answer questions.  They also added a lot of perspective on the civilian job market and validated the information about social media and networking that had been previously offered.

What It Means

The best advice I can offer is to take control of your own career, and do so early.  It is my intention to go over the topics in the Department of Labor course with future blog posts because I believe they are spot on as far as establishing a transition plan.  I’d also love to start a dialogue with others getting out, or who have recently gotten out, because I believe we can all help each other succeed on the outside, just as we do on the inside.

As I’ve written about previously, preparation for your civilian career needs to start the day you get in. You never know when you’re going to get out of the service. You may be “asked to leave” for many reasons, some of which may be out of your control.

On the other hand, you may get the honor of serving until retirement, in that event, the more you know about the civilian world, the more at peace you’ll feel when you take the plunge and decide to begin the process of hanging it up.  If you end up “taking one for the team” at eval time, it will be less of an issue, because you’ll be more confident that you are making the right decision.

There is nothing presented in the TGPS course that is not  already available through multiple sources.  You can learn and prepare yourself now without any formal announcement that you plan on leaving the service. Remember that nobody is responsible for your post military career except you.

Others are tasked with providing you with information and their success may be measured by a sign in roster and some checks in a bunch of boxes. The part of this process where something actually happens, like getting a job, that’s on you.

Transition Risk Management Requires Parallel Planning

Slow is smooth,

I took a big step towards retirement last week by submitting my request to attend TAP (Transition Assistance Program) in August.  The course is designed to assist service members in the transition process and members are allowed to attend as soon as 24 months prior to retirement and you can attend multiple times. Unfortunately most do not take advantage of these opportunities. My intention is to attend here at Fort Meade and then take another class closer to my retirement date.  Hopefully by that time I have a better idea of where I might end up.

As I’ve noted before, the process of transition can be nerve racking, particularly if you’re not sure which area of the country you want to end up in.  For us it’s really come down to either Maryland or North Carolina.  For this reason, I am planning to do the second TAP class in Camp Lejeune (NC) if necessary.

I’ve gone through my military career working on the premise of parallel planning, and this situation is no different.  In the military we got ORM (Operational Risk Management) drilled into our heads……now it’s time for some Transitional Risk Management or “TRM”.

During my career I often counseled my Sailors to “Do what you can, when you can” when they were frustrated with the pace at which they were arriving at their personal goals.  I told them it was about what you did with the opportunities in front of you.  The key was to be ready for them and not let them slip away without taking action.  At the same time, not to lament the opportunities that were not currently in front of them.   I still stand by the advice. And right now, all I can do is plan, network, and lay the groundwork that will enable me to capitalize on future opportunities.

My parallel planning involves looking at both locations.  Each has its pro’s and con’s, and I need to be equally prepared for either.

My TRM plan focuses on the following topics (listed in no particular order).

Job Prospects For Me

Baltimore/DC has a great deal of organizations and I believe I could secure a position in the general fields of staffing, training, or another HR discipline.  I took the assignment to recruit physicians in Baltimore for a number of reasons, one of which was because of the opportunity to establish a good reputation in the civilian sector.  I like to think I’ve done that.  I’ve been active in local community events and have a number of advocates in the area.

Traditional employment opportunities for me in Jacksonville, on the other hand, are a little more limited, with government contract work being the most likely option.  To be honest, though, there are relatively few of those jobs that I would be interested in.

I, like probably everyone else in the world, want to do something that I have a passion for.  For me, that happens to be setting people up for future success.  This may be through staffing, or training, or even some opportunity yet undiscovered.  My hope is that by thinking ahead, I can avoid having to take “any job that pays the bills”.

I am also looking at opportunities in Wilmington, NC which is a 30-45 minute commute from Jacksonville.  It’s a bigger market that Jacksonville, but not as big as the Baltimore/DC area.  I also don’t have an existing network there (yet).

Finally, while Jacksonville, NC does not offer as many opportunities to for civilian employment, it does provide a better climate for starting my own small business.  After living there for ten years, I still have a strong network and see potential for success in that arena (another story for a future post).

Job Prospects For My Wife

This transition is more than just mine, it’s a transition for the entire family.  My wife is a registered nurse and has recently started working in a new position as an office manager for a physician’s office.  For the first time in a long time, she has a Monday through Friday schedule.  Just as with any great position, this was something that she was offered through solid networking and establishing herself as a smart, hardworking nurse.  Her business background and pending completion of a Masters in Nurse Education made her a great fit for the practice.  She absolutely loves the people she works with and would hate to leave.  At this point, her current job is certainly one of the biggest reasons we think about staying in Maryland.

On the other hand, once she completes her Masters in Nursing Education, that degree carries more weight in a rural area such as Jacksonville than it does in Maryland.  MSN’s are literally a dime a dozen around here, and she has no desire to pursue a PhD at this time.  It is good that she also maintained a good network in Jacksonville in the event we head back there, In addition, opportunities exist for her in Wilmington with many of the same issues (good and bad) facing her as were mentioned above for me.

Food and Shelter

Retirement pay is the same no matter where I live and the estimated $2,000 a month I will get will go further in NC.  In fact, that money will more than cover the mortgage payment on the house we already own in North Carolina (and really like).  We are currently renting in Maryland, and although we don’t particularly want to remain in this home after the lease is up, we have been ecstatic about the community.  Schools have been great, people have been great, and there are a TON of things to do here.

Without an actual job offer, however, it’s impossible to estimate how much money I would be making, and therefor very difficult to house hunt. The fact that our VA loan is tied up in the house in Jacksonville, NC makes purchasing a new home a bit more of a financial challenge as well.  Renting would likely be our best option at first, but one thing about retirement that we are looking forward to is settling down. Renting would not really do that for us.

The Way Ahead

So we trudge on with our parallel plans.  I continue to network in the Baltimore area like this is where I will stay and continue to keep up with the happenings in North Carolina as if that is where I will go.  I attend the job fairs here and subscribe to job boards with email updates for the Wilmington/Jacksonville area.  My wife continues to work hard at her position, not only on a daily basis, but also in helping to craft long term solutions for the office.  The key is to work at each job like you plan on keeping it forever.  If we stay, she remains at a thriving and successful work place. If we leave, she walks out with terrific references and an impressive resume that lists accomplishments as well as responsibilities.

I think the best thing about living and working here, is that we have both learned a lot through our professional relationships. The mantra of “work hard and be nice to people” is always good advice. It got  my wife the great job she has now and is positioning me for similar opportunities if we remain here.  In the event we return to NC, the experiences will have made both of us smarter, more well-rounded, professionals.

GWR-11x14-Serenity Prayer (1)

My plan is to retire from the Navy in the summer of 2014. Doing so would allow me to take terminal leave (use up all my saved vacation days) and, in effect, stop working for the Navy around April or May.  Since I still haven’t requested a date, I could still conceivably move it up if the right job comes along, however. One thing is for sure, we know the next year will be a roller coaster.

Whenever I get frustrated about the things I don’t yet know I just fall back on something they repeated over and over in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Class, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”.  That saying keeps me moving forward. The Serenity Prayer keeps me sane.  I have to believe that slow and steady will win the race.