Career transitions can be times of great excitement and enthusiasm. New possibilities and beginnings. The chance to start anew, to explore previously unexplored options, meet new challenges head on, and apply skills and experiences in a new direction. But they can also be frustrating, anxiety-ridden, disappointing processes that leave one uninspired, demotivated, and dejected. For transitioning military veterans, far too frequently, early attempts at finding work in the civilian world are marked by the latter. Quite simply, it’s not a fun or successful process for most.
Why is this the case? Well, for starters, applying for jobs (for anyone) typically sucks. It often involves trying to fit a square peg into a defined circular hole, where one trolls the job boards and company websites looking not for a specific and well-defined opportunity, but rather attempting to find “something I might like.” And unfortunately, the perfect match rarely presents itself. And yet, we get close enough and decide to apply. “Well, I could do that,” is typically the launching point for many a job application. But it’s a decision point that typically leads to the frustration mentioned above.
But the bigger issue is not really the likely lack of specific focus for veterans. Like their civilian counterparts, the really problem lies in the “apply to posted positions” practice. The fact is, throwing your resume out to 50 or 100 jobs posted on job boards is rarely the best way to land a job. Trust me, for every job listed, you are likely throwing yourself pretty much anonymously into the mix with dozens, if not hundreds of others. More than anything, it’s because when faced with dozens of applications for a single posted position, HR professionals aren’t looking for a good fit, they are looking for the perfect (or nearly perfect) fit. And they can afford to do that, because they have an overabundance of applicants. Chances are that of all the applicants, could you do the job? Probably so, because you have the work ethic, the background, and the motivation that all comes from your military service. But are you the perfect fit? Probably not…It’s often a simple numbers game.
So, what can you do to get a better look within organizations? One of the most overlooked aspects of career transitions (by anyone, but certainly for veterans) is the establishment of yourself as a “thought leader” within a community. Don’t be a walking resume, your job titles, accomplishments, and years of experience the only thing for organizations and leaders to assess. Don’t think your military experience, as impressive and relevant as you believe it to be (and it truly may be), speak for itself. Why? Because chances are, you won’t get the job. Military experience is, at best, a bonus to employers, not a primary factor in hiring decisions.
But if you begin to exert yourself as a thoughtful, insights-driven (and producing) leader in your field, you start to stand out above the myriad resumes that land on that HR recruiter’s virtual desk. You begin to translate your military jargon and experiences into language and application more closely suited for the civilian workplace (or a organization’s culture).
So, take advantage of the tools at your disposal. Stop viewing LinkedIn as merely an online resume receptacle. It’s a community, and the sooner you immerse yourself in the community aspects of it (and in a strategic way, i.e., not like your Facebook, Instagram, or other more socially focused sites), the quicker you’ll start to be a real contributor in your chosen (or desired) field. The sooner recruiters will, when they inevitably pull up your profile, start to recognize that you are more than simply typical, that you bring to the table something more than their usual suspects.
Get involved in industry discussions. Join groups (beyond just the veterans groups, which unfortunately, tend to breed a lot of complaining, venting, and frustrations….all valid, but hardly helpful when one is trying to build a new personal brand that will attract civilian employers). Start interacting with other professionals in your new or desired field(s), interjecting your own thoughts, perspectives, and experiences into the on-going discussions. Ask thoughtful and thought-provoking questions of others. Identify some leaders and contributors in your desired industry and geographic region and ask to meet up for coffee or over Skype for a 15-minute conversation. Inquire about their backgrounds, their paths to their roles, and trends in the industry. Ask about upcoming jobs they might know about, either with their organization or others. Don’t wait for the jobs to be posted to find out about them!
If you as a veteran leader, not merely a “job-seeker,” establish yourself as an active member of a community (professionally and personally), you’ll begin to make connections with other thought leaders, with business leaders and hiring managers. You’ll identify (and learn to apply) the civilian language need to demonstrate your hard-earned experience and its applicability outside of the military. You’ll become one of those who stand out amidst the sea of applicants when you apply for posted positions. And most importantly, you’ll be identified as a leading candidate before jobs get posted. Combine that with the work ethic, team strengths, and agility that you developed serving your country, and then you’ll truly have a leg up on the competition.
So, stop acting like the masses of job applicants out there. You’ve made a military career out of doing what others would not, going the extra mile, and excelling in your field. But don’t rest on your laurels, choosing instead to apply these same attributes to making yourself stand out not merely as a veteran, but more importantly as a thought leader who also happens to have the bonus of being a veteran. Improvise, adapt, and overcome. That’s the name of the game, right?
Dr. Trevor Nagle is an Executive Coach & Consultant with Stewart Leadership. A 14-year veteran of both the U. S. Army and Navy, he writes and researches veterans issues, and regularly speaks about veterans’ transitions and workplace effectiveness. Visit www.stewartleadership.com to learn more and follow him on LinkedIn and twitter @IOPsychDoc.