3 Ways Social Media Can Help Vets Make the Civilian Transition

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Originally published on the Monster Jobs Blog.

When you were in the military, "service before self" was the motto to live by. When you shift to the corporate workforce, you’ve got to start putting yourself first—at least on social media.

During a recent briefing with transitioning airmen, I asked participants to tell me what their biggest fears were. They responded: positioning themselves for civilian employment and using social media.

From my point of view, these go hand in hand—mastering the latter can help you achieve the former. It's true that veterans tend to be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to positioning themselves for the civilian workplace. Your commitment to service took you out of the workplace, where many of your civilian counterparts learned how to position themselves effectively—which included navigating the complexities of social networking.

Today, social media is part of our lives. From finding a job to finding housing to finding new friends, people instinctively go online for advice, connections, and information. We also can use social media to proactively position ourselves to attract audiences we want to find us.

While you may have used social media in a more casual way while in service, now you will need to use these tools more strategically.

1. Build Your Reputation

Your reputation (a.k.a. your personal brand) is how others perceive you and drives whether they want to hire you, invest in you, refer you, or offer you other opportunities.

Personal branding is critical for veterans. Military culture does not support individualism so it puts you at a disadvantage when you need to articulate your value to target employers.

Most employers today are looking for candidates on social media. In fact, according to a 2015 study by JobVite, only 4% of recruiters are not using social media in their hiring efforts While recruiters are increasingly casting a wide social net to research candidates, the three platforms most used are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, in that order, the study found. So as you build your profiles online, definitely make sure you have a presence on these platforms and consider how you want to be perceived by the employers you will target.

Identify the companies and industries you want to work in, and ensure your brand online is consistent with the values, culture, and skills those companies seek. For instance, if you are skilled in information technology and want to work for a health-care company, you might build your online brand to reflect your passion for serving others, your abilities to work well under pressure, and your passion for integrated technology—using evidence and anecdotes from your military experience to make these points. Also, share articles related to these topics to your followers, so that anyone who skims your profile will instantly recognize your specialty area. You might also consider authoring blogs or articles related to the customer experience side of health care, and asking for endorsements from others who can speak to your ability to build relationships. 

2. Make Yourself Findable

Sites like Monster and LinkedIn allow you to create a full profile to specifically attract employers. Additionally, some recruiters use technology—like Monster's TalentBin—to search across all social media profiles. These facts underscore the importance of using the right keywords to help employers find you.

Everyone should be using keywords in their online profiles to be findable and searchable. And veterans, in particular, tend to miss this point in transitioning.

As they try to "demilitarize" or "civilianize" their profiles, they often use terms that are too generic and unfocused. Not only do they need to familiarize themselves with civilian narrative, but they have to learn what those keywords are in the industries, companies and communities in which they seek to work. This can take a lot of research to accomplish—looking at job ads and company profiles—but the results are well worth the effort.

Additionally keep in mind that recruiters will filter not just by industry but by geography and experience level. So be sure to consider all those factors when choosing keywords.

3. Grow Your Network

Worried about networking after leaving the service? You are not alone. The good news is that social media offers many avenues for connecting with veterans, colleagues, influencers, and employers.

Use LinkedIn to extend online invitations to connect with people you already know or have met. And once you've built a network you can look for second-degree connections (friends of friends) who might be in your desired career area. You might also have luck connecting with other veterans who are in your target industry or at your target companies.  

While not everyone you invite to connect will respond favorably, you can improve your chances by personalizing the invitation. Tell the contact where you met or who you have in common, or why you think a connection would be mutually beneficial.  Second, consider sending them something of value. For instance, send a link to an article or book that is directly in their industry or area of interest, which you can assess from doing your research on the contact. This will be perceived as providing value before you even connect and will make you stand out.

For people you haven't met yet but would like to—such as an HR director or head of a company you're targeting—consider following them on Twitter, first, where it's acceptable to connect with people you don't know. There you can start to interact with them and their cause or passion, retweeting them and responding directly to what they've tweeted.

Ultimately, all of these steps help you take an intentional approach to building your online reputation and positioning yourself to target audiences. As you navigate social media during the transition, remember that starting with a strategy–what are your goals, who do you seek to find, or what do you want them to know and feel about you?—will drive success.

Lida Citroen is a branding and reputation management expert who helps military veterans transition into civilian careers, and is the author of thebook, Your Next Mission: A Personal Branding Guide for the Military-to-Civilian Transition.

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