Professional networking may not immediately come naturally for soldiers entering the corporate marketplace. While it is rarely used in a military career, it is everything in the civilian workforce. Networking simply does not warrant a higher ranking in the military. Yet in the private sector, every professional is looking for the next opportunity, regardless of their satisfaction in their present position.
Meeting people socially for lunch or coffee, running groups, conferences, dinner parties and so on is what initially gets professionals in the door and sitting in front of their next potential employer.
The Major Challenges
It is difficult to understand why 20+ years as a military professional could actually be detrimental to landing a civilian job, without the right preparation. Even with transferable experience such as human resources or public affairs, soldiers generally hit the job market over-qualified for entry level positions, yet without enough civilian experience to land an upper management position.
Veterans offer a unique set of skills, experiences and leadership abilities learned and perfected during their years in the military, especially those in live combat. Nevertheless, veterans consistently name finding a civilian job the most difficult hurdle in their transition. Much of this is due to their inexperience in networking.
The first action toward moving into the civilian workforce is to attend a Transition Assistance Program (TAP). This three-day workshop covers topics such as career exploration, job search strategies and resume, cover letter, and interview preparation. This type of crash course can prepare you for approaching recruiting services who can educate you further in resume and interview groundwork as well as actual job placement.
Consider your transferable skills such as training, finance, and public affairs. List your current network including fellow vets, friends, neighbors, and any post military groups you belong to.
Expand your network by attending job fairs, career centers, social events and informational interviews. To begin building your professional network, start with veterans who are already in the corporate world. Even if there are no positions directly available with these fellow military personnel, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned.
Social Media Networking
There are numerous online tools available to help you build your own personal brand and spread the word on your availability for employment in the civilian corporate world. One option is to share your knowledge and experience through a social media campaign. For example, creating and maintaining a professional profile page through LinkedIn is free and simple, and allows you to reach prospective employers you may not have been otherwise able to. LinkedIn can also assist veterans in finding or creating groups based on their professional pursuits.
Another option is to explore a few of the top blogs in your field and participate in the comment discussions. This is a great way to get your name noticed and your knowledge recognized. After you get a solid impression of a particular blog, you might think about writing a few articles of your own and running them past the owner for publishing. Joining up with other professionals in a blog format will show employers that you are an active member of your field and you posses the ability to communicate civilly and professionally.
In the same way LinkedIn allows members with similar interests and goals to convene in virtual groups, Facebook can be used in much the same way. Creating your own group or page dedicated to your area of expertise is also a useful way to make connections and keep your followers aware of new developments in your field or areas of expertise you may have acquired. Finding other transitioning military veterans through established Facebook groups is an ideal way to locate support and additional resources. Twitter provides a forum where you can follow employers of interest and keep current on the market you wish to enter.
There is no doubt that transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce can be a taxing experience, but there is comfort in knowing that you have the capability of cultivating and maintaining a professional network and support system that will provide you with necessary exposure and associations to propel you past your competition into the civilian job of your preference.
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