“I’m getting out in less than six months and I don’t know what to do. I have applied to numerous positions, I’ve done a few phone interviews but I have gotten no offers. I am married and have two kids. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Use the Fear, Luke!
I can’t accurately account for the number of times I’ve had a transitioning veteran reach out to me and express to me the phrase at the top of this article. It happens very often. One of my most successful proteges – who recently signed a $147,000/yr hiring agreement with a multi-billion dollar sports entertainment organization out of New York – had a very similar concern. The first time we spoke, he told me, “I won’t mince words. I’m scared.” This is not uncommon, that is exactly how I felt when I was but four months out from leaving the military and realized that I had no solid leads on a job. My response to him was, “Good. That fear is good. Harness it. Use it.”
It’s OK to feel a bit of fear during transition. Use this fear to achieve what most think is is nearly impossible. You are already prepared to succeed in transition. It’s in your training and in your spirit as a veteran.
Fear is a tremendous motivator. For the average person, fear can cause avoidance and procrastination. In training, however, the veteran is pushed through the threshold of fear so that he can achieve an objective in spite of it. Once, while waiting to board a MH-60 helicopter prior to an airborne operation, a US Navy lieutenant who was sitting next to me on the tarmac leaned over to me and said, “You know, I don’t understand why we do so much jumping. It’s not like we truly use airborne insertions much anymore.” He had a point, in the last twelve years of war very few units have actually entered combat via parachute. However, beyond the obvious need to maintain an airborne capability, I have an additional point of view on the subject. “This is the thing”, I told him, “jumping out a perfectly good aircraft is one of the very few things in the military that will absolutely kill you if you do not do it right. Like a bullet traveling at over 2,700 feet per second, gravity does not care about rank, specialty, unit, or gender. You do this wrong and you are dead. If a person develops the mental focus to forgo the fear of death in order to achieve the task at hand, then we have trained that person to accomplish almost anything.” It’s OK to feel a bit of fear during transition. Use this fear to achieve what most think is is nearly impossible. You are already prepared to succeed in transition. It’s in your training and in your spirit as a veteran.
Creating a Plan
Let’s start at the beginning. You are getting out of the military. You may have skills that are easily transferable to the civilian workforce, like those of a logistician or a human resources specialist, which can land you a job in a large variety of private sector companies. Or, you may think that because you have a “a very particular set of skills”, that it will be hard for you to find job placement outside of the defense contractor industry. Regardless of those distinctions, you need a plan. In order to make a plan, you need to have clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objectives. So, we will get those out of the way first.
Focusing Your Objectives
We begin with outlining your ultimate goal – your end state. To put it simply, your end state is to achieve a salaried position in the civilian job market. I am not going to dwell upon salary preferences here. But, if you are interested in determining your optimal salary after you transition, refer to my blog post on the subject (“Determining Your Transition Salary”). Your objectives must be clear and concise. If end state could be represented by a completed building, your objectives would represent the bricks. They describe what must be achieved to arrive at your end state.
Your ‘To Do’ List
Now, I am going to list the actions you must take to move towards your goal of getting hired after your time in the military. In order to achieve your end state (get hired) you must know what industries, companies, and jobs you’d like to work. Then, you must create a summary of your professional achievements (résumé), establish and communicate your personal brand (personal appearance, physical presence, speech, and social media presence), network with influencers and thought leaders, and actually pursue your leads as they present themselves, this includes meeting with CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs. Chronologically, I should go right into the creation of your résumé. However, I want to discuss social media first and get this often-misunderstood subject out of the way.
The Internet of Things (and Us)
If you want to delve deeper into the “how to” of social media for your transition, read my article on this – and more – by clicking on this link: Transitioning Veteran Tips.
I will cover details on how to master LinkedIn later in this series. But now I will discuss the topic of the Internet in general terms as it applies to transition. To gain visibility in today’s job market, you need to establish a viable Internet footprint. According to career website Jobvite, some 93% of human resource recruiters use LinkedIn to screen potential recruits, 65% use Facebook, and 55% use Twitter. Aside from employee referrals, social media has become the new norm in recruit screening and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you took yourself out of the consideration pool by being absent in this area. If you are very concerned about your personal security and fear that your safety will be compromised if you appear in social media, I’d like to offer that you make a thorough assessment of the true risk presented by being a member of something like LinkedIn. If in doubt consult with your unit Special Security Officer (SSO) and/or the S2/J2/N2 office.
Social Media in the Proper Perspective
My advise to veterans in this regard is to avoid putting information of specific units, or specific locations. Also, use a picture of yourself in a business suit as opposed to your uniform. For the truly secret squirrels out there who may be retiring now, chances are that the OPM security breach of 2014 (it was discovered in 2015) did far more to expose them to foreign intelligence services and non-state sponsored threats than anything LinkedIn could do today. The OPM breach exposed military records, veterans’ status information, addresses, dates of birth, job and pay history, health insurance and life insurance information, pension information, and data on age, gender, and race. If that was not enough, it was later discovered that about 5.6 million finger print records were also compromised. I’m not advising anyone to ignore security altogether. What I am trying to bring across is that each veteran out there needs to put this into the proper perspective. If you are in the market for a job, but remove yourself from a key mechanism by which recruiters recruit, then you have to understand the consequences of that decision. For those of you who will transition into a defense sector job where a secret clearance is still a consideration and where OPSEC and PERSEC still reign supreme, continue to do what you are doing. Now, with this out of the way, we can move on to writing your résumé.
(To be continued on next week’s installment of this series)