Finding a Mentor, Creating a Network, and other Veteran Transition Tips

Learn how to find the right mentor, build your network, safely use social media, and build your personal brand.

Series with a female as a solidier in an United States Army uniform. Numerous props convey a variety of concepts.

Tools and Tips for the Transitioning Service Member

1. Get a Mentor:

You are getting out of the military, not going into it. Your mentor should be someone with a high degree of success in corporate America, or in entrepreneurial efforts. If you can find a mentor who transitioned from the military and was able to set conditions for his/her own success, even better. The important thing is that you need to be able to receive counsel and direction from someone who has had a high degree of success in their transition. Reach high, very high. Do not be afraid to contact the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You’ll be surprised at how many of them actually reach back.

Tips:

  • When reaching out for a mentor, DO NOT outright ask for a job. Ask for counsel, ask for knowledge. My emails read something like this: “Sir, as I am transitioning from a lengthy and honorable career in active military service, I am seeking out mentoring and counsel from highly successful business leaders and corporate professionals. As such, I am reaching out to you in order to learn from your vast experience and wisdom so that I may apply best practices towards my own future success.” I nearly always got a response and an invitation to meet (if local), or a scheduled phone conversation. I even had the president of one of the most admired Fortune 500 companies call me all the way from Brussels, Belgium. I had early morning coffee with another Fortune 500 company president in Downtown Miami.
  • The point of these contacts is knowledge. As a collateral benefit, you may also gain access to people who you will able to include within your growing network. It is through this mechanism (networking) by which you will gain the insight to make the proper adjustments in your transition so as to set conditions for your success.
  • If you approach a mentor – particularly one in a high leadership position within a company – with a crude “give me a job, please” you will not receive much of a response. These folks get this all the time. Remember, to be exceptional, you must be the exception. Seek knowledge, success will follow.

Do not be afraid to contact the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You’ll be surprised at how many of them actually reach back.

2. Building a Network:

Most of us who have spent a decade or more within the military know hundreds of professionals. Those of us in the Special Operations Forces have access to a diverse group of professionals. This includes people from the various governmental entities (intelligence organizations, State Department, Justice Department, Treasury Department). In many cases we have also dealt with people from within Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Obviously, we have also had contact with very senior foreign government and business contacts [See important comment on Foreign Contacts in “Tips” below].

All of these people will become the core of your initial set of contacts within your network. However, if you are going to venture into non-government sector jobs, you should create a network that is heavily populated by non-government/non-defense contacts. Remember, you are getting out of the military, not coming in. While I created my network, I tried to keep my government and defense contacts to only about 30 to 40% of my total.

Tips:

  • IMPORTANT: Foreign contacts require special consideration. If you plan to transition onto a government or defense post-military position requiring maintenance of a security clearance, you will be limited from including foreign contacts within a network that you are building towards your transition. Be mindful of this as you are creating your network while still in service. You can keep business cards and contact information of foreign contacts, as well as interact as the normal part of your duties requires. But avoid creating foreign relationships that may adversely affect the viability of your clearance. Whether or not you transition into a government sector job or position, remember that you are bound to protect any and all classified information in accordance to established laws even when you leave service. When in doubt, consult with your unit SSO.
  • Order business cards for yourself. In the business world, exchanging business cards is a practice even more prevalent than exchanging unit coins within the military. If you give someone your business card, they will almost immediately reach out for theirs to give to you. When ordering business cards, include your name, email, phone, and links to your social media (LinkedIn, etc.). You can become creative and include other information on the back such as certifications, degrees, etc. Try to build your card such that there is some blank space on the back so that a person may be free to write a note about you for themselves, as people oftentimes do. Though glossy business cards look great, they are hard to write on. I prefer glossy cards for me. But, some people feel that the gloss makes it hard to write notes on them.
  • Keep notes on who you meet. Whenever I got home from an event (job fair, networking meeting, dinner, etc.) I would go to my laptop and write individualized notes about who I met, what we discussed, as well as interesting aspects of the conversation. This was especially helpful when I would correspond with any of my contacts later. If one mentioned that he was about to undergo knee surgery, I might inquire as to how he might be doing after the surgery. Or, I may go ahead and send a get-well note via regular “snail” mail. These are personal touches that will make you stand out. It gives the contact this “Wow, he remembered that!” and this will create a more human, more personal relationship.
  • Catalog and record the business cards you are given. You should do this as soon as you get home from a meeting. Obviously, you need to prioritize your contacts as you will get many business cards over the course of your transition. However, you will be well-served to record the emails, phone numbers, and addresses provided on these business cards. There are some good smartphone applications out there that will aid you in this. If you are able, create a contact group in your smartphone or laptop and name it something like “Transition Network”. Periodically, you should go through your contact group and send out personalized notes and meaningful updates to the most important contacts in your growing network. Do not let them forget you.
  • Join professional associations in your area. If you are an aspiring security professional, join the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). If you are a future project manager, join the Project Management Institute (PMI). More importantly than to simply joining these types of professional associations is to actually join the local chapters and attend their meetings. You will be able to meet a great deal of industry professionals this way. Come to the meetings armed with your business cards and a reliable pen.

Remember, you are getting out of the military, not coming in.

3. Social Media:

Clean up your social media. If you have a social media trail, remember that potential employers will search you out to see who you are outside of work. Remember, whatever you put out there for public consumption is fair game.

4. Security concerns and Social Media:

Many of us in the military (myself included) have avoided most social media, particularly because of real-world security concerns. The terror group known as ISIS/ISIL has already threatened military service members online by exposing information such as photos, mailing addresses, locations, etc.

According to one security briefing I received, it was recommended that we remove ourselves from recreational social media (such as Facebook accounts; I didn’t have one – still don’t) and that we make adjustments to any professional social media such as LinkedIn (I had just activated an account for my transition).

Regarding LinkedIn, it was recommended that we remove any photos, any references to the actual location of our past or present duty stations (job locations), any descriptions of our duties, any indication of a security clearance, and to only accept contacts that we personally knew. In other words, it was recommended that we make our LinkedIn accounts completely useless to potential job recruiters. This is not an indictment of these recommendations. They were based on real security concerns.

According to acclaimed research by organizational leadership and development consultant Meisha Rouser, 89% of recruiters report on hiring personnel through LinkedIn (Best Practices in Social Recruiting, 2012. Meisha Rouser). Viveca von Rousen, author of LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day, has found that 85% of hiring managers look at a candidate’s LinkedIn profiles to aid in the hiring decision. Do not misunderstand these statistics. They do not represent the percentage of the overall hiring. They merely represent how many respondents (recruiters, hiring managers) have admitted to using social media – even if just once – to hire a candidate. According to a CareerXRoads survey, direct referral, company career sites, and job boards (Zip Recruiter, Monster, Indeed, etc.) still figure prominently in the hiring process. However employers will more likely use social media to complete the picture as to what a potential candidate offers.

So, what is one to do? Do we succumb to real security concerns and eliminate ourselves from the employees consideration pool generated through professional social media? Or do we risk harm by ignoring the warnings? It is a personal judgment call, of course. But, here are a few recommendations:

  • Generalize your duty stations. Instead of writing “1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Combat Brigade Team, 82nd Airborne Division”, put “Infantry Division”. Instead of writing “Special Operations Command – Pacific”, put “Joint Special Operations HQs”, or “Joint HQs”. You do not need to be so specific to your unit.
  • If you choose to use a picture of yourself on your profile, post one in civilian business attire (business suit).
  • Don’t ever write or elude to actual addresses or locations where you live, or where you own property in your profile. If employers need to find you, they can contact you via LinkedIn, or via an email address.
  • Use your judgement with regards to your contacts on professional social media. If you limit your profile views to those you only personally know (via security settings), it is your prerogative. However, know that you will not be able to connect with the vast majority of company CEOs, company presidents, or upper level management unless you already know them personally. Certainly, no hiring managers or recruiters will be able to see you. You may want to explore other methods to network with those contacts.

85% of hiring managers look at a candidate’s LinkedIn profiles to aid in the hiring decision

5. Thank You Notes:

This is a dying practice that holds tremendous power. It is a dying practice as our technology has made it far more convenient to simply send an email than to write a personalized note by hand and send it via regular mail. This is the very reason why it is so powerful. It is becoming so rare, that when it is performed, it shows a particular degree of attention to detail towards the recipient that speaks to your ability to interact with others as well as to create, foster, and maintain important relationships. This quality has immeasurable value to any company.

Tips:

  • Write thank you notes to those who avail you of their time to mentor you, grant you an interview to a coveted job, introduce you to a valuable contact, or avail you of their resources.
  • Personally sign your notes.
  • Use quality paper for your notes.
  • Keep your notes to less than five sentences. Remember, your ability to express value via succinct and precise yet pleasant communication must become part of your brand.

6. Written Communication:

Re-tool your writing style. If you are entering corporate America, gone are the days of the dry military memos, replete with acronyms, and written in the third person. Military technical writing is of value, of course. Still, you must learn to adapt to a different way of communicating. Expand your vocabulary. There are countless books out there designed to increase the effectiveness of your communication. Exploit the access to information that today’s information technology affords.

 

Tips:

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms in your resume and in your speech to those within your network.
  • Find comparable alternatives when referring to military functions and positions if you are talking to others (non-military) within your network. Follow this rule when in interviews as well. A general officer is analogous to a CEO. An executive officer is a chief of staff, or an executive affairs director. Everyone in the general staff is part of the “C-Suite”. Missions are projects. A brigade-level operations order is easily a business plan, and so forth. This process takes time but it will also help you when you are writing your resume.
  • Use proper grammar and spelling. Express your professionalism in everything you write. Double check your emails before you fire them off. Do not rely on spell check.

 

That is all for now. I hope you can find some use from this information. Do not hesitate to contact me via LinkedIn with any questions.

Below are some resources that may be useful:

Business Card Capture Phone App: https://www.camcard.com/

Business Card Printing Online: https://www.vistaprint.com

Vocabulary Builder: https://gre.magoosh.com/builder/vocabulary

About Juan "JP" Perez (12 Articles)
Known simply as "JP" while in the "teams", Juan is a decorated U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and current IT company C-Suite executive. Inquisitive, insightful, and with a passion for continued growth and learning, JP continues to serve the 1st Special Forces Regiment brotherhood by mentoring retiring veterans - particularly, special operators - in tried-and-tested military-to-civilian transitioning techniques. During his years in special operations, JP worked closely with senior leadership of allied countries in the accomplishment of difficult multi-lateral efforts. Extensive experience working in U.S. embassies in Paraguay, Mexico and Colombia enhanced his ability to work across various professional cultures to achieve unified objectives.



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