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.

Veteran: Innovation vs Standardization

Back in 2010 Harvard Business Review had a special issue largely focused on things the private world could learn from the military.  One of the articles in that issue that immediately stuck with me focused on the different leadership styles that each service cultivates.  The authors of Which Of These People Is Your Future CEO? essentially separated the services into Ground Pounders (Army and Marines) and Non Ground Pounders (Navy and Air Force).

Harvard Business Review November 2010

Harvard Business Review November 2010

The article took the position that the Army and the Marine Corps cultivates a spirit of innovation, while the other two focus on standards and process.

This is true at the macro 10,000 foot level, but may not always be the case at the individual level.

In general, the ground units do rely on the concept of Commanders Intent much more than the Air Force and Navy. For those unaware, the concept of Commanders Intent is a general mission statement that enables lower level personnel to adjust their course of action based upon the facts on the ground, even if they are not the facts they anticipated finding. (See the video below for an excellent example of a Two Minute example of commanders intent)

The saying “No plan survives contact with the enemy” is certainly a bit cliche, but it’s only cliche because it’s so true. Success in combat is measured by quickly and efficiently accomplishing the mission. Individuals are trained to think about the big picture, process the reality of the situation, formulate, and then execute a plan.

On the other hand, the authors reported that vast majority of people in the other services work in very technical fields maintaining ships and aircraft. These environments stress process.  For example, if your job is to ensure a properly functioning nuclear reactor or to repair the landing gear of an F-16, your boss will not be quick to let you off the hook for “trying something new”.  In this situation, success is defined as the absence of failure. Every time.  Without exception.

Both cultures produce very fine leadership styles based on their environment, but it would be a mistake to only apply them based only upon branch of service.  The Navy also has elements such as Seals and Riverine Boat Units that operate in an expeditionary environment, for example. These units are more amenable to the commanders intent style of leadership. The same can be said for the Air Force Para-Rescuers or ground security forces.  By the same token, a zero defect mentality about safety is as critical for Marine Corps and Army aviation units as it is Navy ships and Air Force aviation.

Personally, I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the Navy, but most of that has been serving in support of the Marine Corps ground forces and I’ve been very happy in that environment. I would not say that my years with the Marine Corps is responsible for my leadership style of commanders intent, but I do think that environment allowed me to flourish the most.  In so doing I was able to exercise the traits that were most natural to me.

Despite my inclination to one style over the other, I still completely appreciate the details of a process and the need for checklists. Organizations need both innovation and standardization.  I  know myself well enough, however, to doubt I would be happy in a job that has, as its primary responsibility, the task of ensuring compliance. Emotional intelligence can be a helpful trait in the job search.

Great things happen when the right person is in the right position.  That is why it’s important that we, as veterans, understand where we best operate then seek out those positions. At every opportunity we should highlight the specific character traits in detail, otherwise we are letting the hiring manager assume we have a particular leadership style and that decision might get made based upon our status as a veteran in general, and may not be entirely accurate.

At the same time, organizations that understand that these differences are not only based on branch of service will have a leg up on finding the right person for the task.  This means digging a little deeper than the HBR article. It means getting to know the intricacies of the job descriptions within each branch. It can also mean finding an exceptional sales leader or an terrific risk  manager. Two positions that require different talents, but both of which contribute to the bottom line success of a private organization.

** EXTRA CONTENT**

The video below is an outstanding example of Commanders Intent.  The clip features the  Battalion Commander of 2d  BN, 8th Marines (my unit) as we went into Helmand Province in 2009. I can tell you that this was certainly not the first time these Marines had heard the idea of bringing the Afghan people closer to their government.  We had spent months training for the mission and that concept was drilled into our heads.

This would be the last time LtCol Christian Cabaniss would physically see or speak directly to most of these individuals over the next 6 months. They would face many decisions that would need to be made on the spot, in an environment in which there was no checklist or algorithm to go by and no time to call back and get their plan approved. Quite a lot of responsibility for a group of people, some as young as 19.

The clip was taken from the documentary film Hell and Back Again.

Sell Your Talent, Not Your Title

There’s a lot of PR going on right now around the topic of veteran hiring.  Private organizations are picking up on the terrific talent pool coming out of the armed forces and many even have specific outreach programs designed to attract recently separated military personnel.  Let’s be clear though, no one will hire us because we are veterans, they will hire us because we have something to offer their company.

If you’re still on active duty, look around your unit (if you’ve recently separated think back to your last one).  Do you believe everyone in that group was equally talented?  We as veteran job seekers can be quick to point out things like “NCO’s make great managers”, which is true.  But can you really say that every NCO you worked for was great? Can you even say that all of them were even adequate?  The same goes with every job and billet in the military. Not every Commanding Officer is an awesome leader. Not every Supply Officer can handle logistics in an exceptional manner. Not every technician is trusted to work on the most critical of equipment.

By definition, everyone in your unit is a veteran.  But not all of them are talented.

Veteran (adj) Talent (n)

In the military we focus on mission accomplishment for the unit, not necessarily the individual. This is why you may see a unit or staff function succeed even despite the obvious inadequacies of certain individuals.  I’ve seen officers that would never survive without their subordinates going above and beyond their job description. I’ve also seen officers put in ungodly amounts of extra supervision (and sometimes even hands on work) to make the mission succeed because they were dealt a lousy hand in terms of NCO’s.

In order to succeed on the job market then, we need to ensure we sell our talents, not our titles. When recruiters are tasked with finding veteran talent, the word veteran is the adjective, not the noun.

The following are some tips on how to do just that.

1- Make sure your resume (and LinkedIn Profile) lists actual accomplishments, and understand that being responsible for something isn’t an accomplishment.

2- Learn about industries that you would like to work in after the military to understand what types of metrics they use to define success. Seek to put yourself in positions to do the same type of measurable work while still on active duty.

3- Keep steady and accurate documentation of your success.  If the success metrics for the civilian world don’t exactly line up with the success metrics of your current billet in the military, so be it. Just keep parallel documentation.  In the end, your performance evaluations can help you build a civilian resume, but they can’t replace it.

The ability to demonstrate our talents is critical to success on the job market.  The best advice is to start early in your career to find ways to put yourself into positions to learn, grow, and ultimately perform, at the tasks valued by private organizations. It’s only when we demonstrate the talent that the adjective “Veteran” gets a chance to work it’s magic.

Reinventing Michael Banks: A Lesson in Empathy

Many veterans on the job hunt get frustrated because they feel like potential employers don’t understand or appreciate their experiences.  While this is often true, we have to remember that empathy goes both ways. Service members also need to find ways to understand the unique constraints that recruiters, hiring mangers, and supervisors find themselves in when dealing with veterans in the workforce.  Bridging the culture gap takes more than just finding newer (and often times louder) ways to tell our side of the story, the empathy that we need comes from understanding where the other side is coming from.

Imagine if a civilian technical representative was assigned to your active duty military team. The person has obvious qualifications on how to run the machinery in your shop, in fact they may know more about it than anyone else. What they lack would be the ability to apply that concept within the norms of your military organization.  How would you feel about this situation?  Would you expect that individual to adapt to the norms of the group, or would you expect the group to adapt the norms of the individual? I think we can agree that if the individual refused to adapt to the group, the group would continue to exist, even without the member.

So it is with veteran hiring. If both sides work to understand each others situation then individual and organizational success is much more likely. In the end, veterans must be prepared to reach out first, and reach out the farthest.  If we do, the hands we find on the other side will be in the best position to offer a strong grip and be the most equipped to help us over the wall that divides our military life from a potential civilian career.

Recently an organization known as WILL Interactive  in collaboration with The Coming Home Project produced a really great interactive video program entitled “Reinventing Michael Banks”.  The best part of this interactive video is that it allows people to take on the various roles of veteran job seeker, recruiter, hiring manager, and supervisor.  Playing the scenarios from different personalities not only allows the participant to make choices about what to do next, but more importantly it  allows the player to hear some of the “thoughts” that go through the heads of each person.

Human interactions are much deeper than the verbal or non-verbal signals we send out.  The more empathy we can have about why a person says or does things, the better we can become at tailoring our messages and actions to best fit for the situation. One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Mark Hortsman, who says “Communication is what the listener does.” In this regard, empathy is a force multiplier.  The object is to deliver the message in all of its intended meaning. The more we know about the receiver, the better our chances of success.

I encourage everyone associated with veteran hiring to spend some time on this simulator. If you only have time to go through it once- please play it from a perspective other than your own.  If you have time to go through all four scenarios, I suggest you play from your current perspective last.  You already know what it’s like to be you……this is about finding out what it’s like to be somebody else.

Click here to go to the Reinventing Michael Banks website and participate in scenario.

http://www.reinventingmichaelbanks.com/

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.