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.