In 2012, the armed forces transitioned 600+ service members each day. It’s anticipated that as the wars draw down, that figure may reach a daily rate of 800 in the next 2-3 years.
As federal and DOD job opportunities continue to shrink with increased competition for each job vacancy, it’s critical that military professionals be better prepared and understand the civilian job market. Here’s a top 10 list that will put you far ahead of your competition, whether you have less than a year left or just signed up for another tour.
1. Ditch the Laptop
Anyone who knows me understands that I’m a strong advocate of using old-school techniques combined with new-school technologies. Actual face-to-face interactions will trump a LinkedIn connection anytime. Social media makes it easier than ever to connect on an unprecedented scale. However, it should never exclude the personal touch.
Do this simple step sooner rather than later. It’s not difficult; a simple lunch or coffee will do. You’ll be amazed at how receptive people are if you just ask. The primary reason to make a personal connection long before you’re in “job search mode” is because there’s no pressure and you both can be relaxed. That’s a far different dynamic than “I’m meeting you primarily because I really need a job right now.” Don’t just be another name in a database or in someone’s LinkedIn connections; become a real person.
Set a goal of meeting one new person each week. Use LinkedIn’s advanced people search to identify second-degree connections (those you can get introduced to by someone you already know), and save the search results. That way, you’ve got a perpetual “networking list,” and every time there’s someone new you can get introduced to, LinkedIn will send you an email.
2. Understand the Role Social Capital Plays
It doesn’t surprise me anymore. As soon as I accept someone’s request to connect, they immediately proceed to ask for an introduction to someone in my network (before even responding to my offer to speak with them so I can learn more about what they do).
Social capital isn’t something you can cash, but it is something you can build value with. (Click here to tweet this thought.) A Harvard University study shows that 15% of the reason a person gets hired is related their technical skills and job knowledge. 85% is related to people skills. This is important to remember as you prepare to transition, because your ability to forge relationships will make or break you as you seek to build your personal and professional networks. It isn’t enough just to be connected on social networks; make sure you also “like,” comment or share content you find relevant. Write a recommendation for or endorse your connections. On Twitter, retweet or favorite tweets you enjoy.
In person, try hard to remember names. This is the key to effective networking. Nothing is more dismissive than saying “Hey you” or “What’s his name?” If recalling names is hard for you, immediately add the person’s name to the conversation after hearing it. (“Pleasure meeting you, Shawn.”) Don’t be afraid to ask for the name again if you didn’t catch it the first time. Be sure to remember the 30/70 rule: 30% of the time should be spent answering questions about yourself and 70% should be spent actively try to learn about your new connections. Ask open-ended questions in order to avoid those “meh” one-word answers.
3. Help Your Network Connect
Take a look at your social network connections. What is it that they do, and who are they trying to connect with? It should be apparent in their LinkedIn summaries if their profiles are well-written. Then take the initiative and make introductions. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask your connection how you can help them. Who are they looking to connect with? Then, connect them.
If you’re networking in the flesh, you could say something like, “Hey, there’s my colleague, Janet. I think that you two should meet because…” Don’t just make introductions for the sake of doing so; do it when both parties can benefit from the connection. Trust me, doing this simple thing each week will boost your job search and transition ROI exponentially. Who really wants to spend countless hours sifting through job boards and trying to connect via email?
4. Work Smarter
Use RSS feeds, Twitter and Google Alerts to have specific jobs for your preferred companies and locations come to you in real time. This frees up valuable time to get out from behind the computer and actually network. (Remember our first item to do this year?)
Why use these job postings now? Especially when the majority of hiring managers won’t look at candidates who are more than 90 days away from their “available to work” date? Well, you can start identifying some critical things such as any trends in required qualifications and experience that you see consistently in the postings. (Hint: You should position yourself to be a 90% or better match.)
You can also use this “job feed” to get to know more about the job market in the industries or locations you’ve selected. And you can start incorporating the language you see in the job postings into your LinkedIn and other social profiles. This helps your profiles be SEO- and keyword-rich. (Websites such as wordle and tagcrowd are useful in this endeavor.) When you use job posting language in this contextual manner, it allows hiring managers and recruiters to find you.
5. Realize That You Already Have a Robust Civilian Network
One of the beautiful things about social media is its ability to reconnect people. Go ahead and collect all of your military performance evaluations and awards. You aren’t going to use them to draft any experience statements. (Remember “Work Smarter” above?) Instead, grab a highlighter and mark each person’s name on those documents. Then look for them on LinkedIn.
But don’t stop there. Break out all of those old cruise books and military yearbooks. Be sure to look for all of the “super performers” who may have separated after one or two enlistments. My experience has shown me that top performers continue to excel on the civilian side of the uniform. That stellar E-4 or E-5 likely now has five or even 10+ years in an industry, and may even be in a position to hire you (or at least connect you with someone who can).
Also, search for all of your old commands, even the ones that were decommissioned or disestablished. You’ll be amazed at how many people still identify with them. A major advantage of connecting with your peers who may be separating soon is that you can follow their transitions to get a sense of the current realities of the job market and where opportunities may (or may not) lie.
6. Invest in Yourself
Set a goal for how much of your time and budget you’re going to allocate to investing in yourself. The number one thing I hear from participants in our Executive and Senior NCO workshops is that they wish they’d started the process 24 months from their separation date. We all know that “time waits for no one,” and if we don’t write our goals down and commit to them, things simply won’t happen. If you fail to plan ahead, you are the one who risks standing on the precipice of transition, unprepared.
Commit to investing at least two hours each month to your transition (more if your timeline is shorter). Your time should be spent getting as much insight as possible during those coffee and lunch meetings, which are an invaluable part of your networking. Your “professional development” budget should be used to fund professional association dues, networking events and critical certifications if the military won’t pay for them. It’s better to do these things while you still have a steady income stream, rather than wishing you had done them before the active duty paycheck stopped. As a matter of fact, the money spent here may even give you a tax break.
7. Get a Wingman
Add recruiters like me to your network. Recruiters and headhunters handle all of the job search logistics and are genuinely interested in helping people. However, you must first understand what recruiters are and, more importantly, what they are not.
When I hear a jobseeker say that “they’ve hired a recruiting firm,” I immediately know the person is ignorant of how the current job market works. This is because it’s the employer who “hires” the search firm to find people (which is why you should never pay a recruiter). We recruiters secure job orders from our clients (the companies) to fill and find candidates that fit the job order requirements, not the other way around. It’s important to understand this so that you’re not the uninformed military professional who laments, “They didn’t find me a job.”
So, why use a recruiter? Well, a recruiter offers something that the “apply” button does not: a live person to talk to. Really good recruiters have longstanding relationships with hiring managers that involve a great degree of trust and social capital. They can help you with your resume, land you an interview for a great job, prepare you to interview successfully and negotiate your offer package.
What are some things to look for in a recruiter? First of all, find a recruiter who specializes in your background, rating, MOS and the industry you’re looking to work in. Second, they should listen to you and know your personality and which locations, what salary, and what type of job opportunities you’re interested in. Just imagine having a full-time job search or transition wingman who really understands you and your skills, working with you while you’re growing your professional network and implementing your transition strategy.
8. Create Your Own Personal Board of Directors
Make it a part of your strategy in 2014 to appoint and retain a personal board of directors. A quick look at the Fortune 500 companies reveals that they all have one. Every CEO is smart enough to know that even though they’re ultimately in charge, there are people who can fulfill certain roles because they are the subject matter experts.
You should have five folks on your personal board: an attorney or legal counsel, a financial adviser, a spiritual adviser (if you’re a person of faith), a career adviser (both military and post-military) and an accountability partner. Your board members should be professionals in these fields and should not be so close to you that their objectivity can be called into question. What you’re looking for is accurate, unbiased information to help you make a decision based on data and not emotions.
Your legal counsel should be able to help you navigate the necessary requirements of your transition. We often pay attention to powers of attorney, wills, etc. when we deploy. This time, you’re “deploying” to unknown territory, so doesn’t it make sense to get all of these documents now and ensure they’re current? Things such as the OGE 278 and OGE Form 450 help commissioned officers avoid violations of 18 U.S.C. 205 and 18 U.S.C. 203. This is especially important for contracting/procurement military professionals.
Your financial adviser can give you the clearest picture of where you stand financially. This is critical, especially if your income requirements exceed the labor market rate for your military specialty or the wages in your location of choice after you hang the uniform up. A career coach or corporate mentor and accountability partner will help you stay on track. We all know time can slip away as we handle the 24/7 demands that go along with serving our great nation.
Don’t know anyone, or your budget won’t support board members? Enlist the help of the professionals at your Army ACAP, Fleet & Family Support Center, and Air Force Airman & Family Readiness Centers. Remember, they’re an invaluable part of your military pay and benefits package.
9. Understand Your Current Value (And I Don’t Mean Your Paycheck)
The military’s pay scale is unlike anything in the civilian job market. Whether you’re an engineer, technician, administrative professional or logistician, your pay is determined by your pay grade and years of service. Want to get a sense of how marketable your skills are in the civilian job market? Think of those “incentive pays” that the military pays certain specialties as a retention tool. No such bonuses for you? Well, that’s generally an indicator that your skills may not be as critical as you think.
I know this sounds a bit harsh, but you have to ask yourself the question, “How does my experience help an organization achieve a specific and desired business outcome?” If your answer is “I don’t know,” then you have some homework to do.
For some, your skills may be of value to the employer; for others, it may be your existing network that’s of value. You won’t ever see a vacancy for a “jack of all trades,” so as you network, look for those folks who may recruit you for your military specialty.
LinkedIn also provides invaluable insight in this endeavor. Go to the search bar and type in your military title and branch of service and analyze the results. Which companies are people with your experience working for? Look at their profiles for their employment histories: How did they transition from the uniform to their current positions? Which schools did they attend? What certifications do they have? Take note of all these things so that you can draft your Plan of Action and Milestones.
10. Start Today
Don’t procrastinate! Procrastination and lack of planning are the sure way to fail in your transition. When those 1st and 15th paychecks go away, many professionals find themselves woefully unemployed or underemployed, regardless of their rank.
With the federal government shedding at least 92,000 jobs and Department of Defense contractor jobs being cut across the board, competition is increasing for the finite amount of jobs out there. However, if you follow this list, you will have much more success than your peers.
Happy New Year! Connect with me, and let me know what you think.
Sultan Camp is a proud veteran, travel hound and Orion International Military Recruiter looking for hard workers to place into rewarding careers within Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Making your military transition successful is his goal.