The months and weeks leading up to separation or retirement can be exciting and terrifying. Some of you have a post-military career lined up, and others of you are faced with the overwhelming reality that there is no obvious and predictable next step.
To ensure you control as much of the career transition process as possible, you will need to do some deep thinking, self-reflection, and self-marketing to make yourself attractive to potential employers. Whether you are starting your own business, working for the government, joining a non-profit organization, or seeking employment in a private company, here are four important actions you can take to position yourself for success:
1. Define your goal and set a strategy
Defining your career goal to closely tie to the industry or job you are pursuing. For instance, if you want to be a journalist, it would help if your first job was in writing or editorial work. Your strategy might include getting connected to influencers and decision makers in journalism or publishing, demonstrating your abilities (perhaps you'll write a blog, publish an article or write an essay showing your skills), and preparing a portfolio of your work that highlights your abilities and talents.
Next, get more detailed in your plan. Your first step might be to get lists of key publications you would like to work for, identifying the right person to contact for an informational interview (see number 3 below), and reading through their website to understand the opportunities and challenges facing that publication.
2. Make yourself findable online
As you transition out of military service (even if you will join the Guard and Reserve), your social networking will evolve. Now, more than ever, pay attention to your online presence. Recruiters, employers and hiring managers scour online profiles to find potential candidates, evaluate them, and find consistency in their values, experience, and talents. Follow these rules to make yourself findable online:
- Create a profile that genuinely represents you. From your headshot to your summary of your experiences and goals, make sure you represent your goals and values authentically. Recruiters are looking for real people with real ideas and credible experience.
- Work your online networks. Platforms like Monster.com, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter are best used for business and career, so keep them professional. Have a plan for adding your voice to important conversations, and building your visibility in key groups and forums where recruiters for companies in your target industries participate.
- Remember that everything you post is public. Nothing typed into or shared on a computer, smart phone, or tablet is private – ever! Anyone can share a screen shot of your instant message or "offline" post. Assume the hiring manager for your dream job is seeing that photo or that post… would they still want to hire you?
3. Request informational interviews
Instead of asking for a job, consider asking professionals for informational interviews. This type of meeting is an opportunity for you to spend 15-30 minutes with people in the industries, companies, or jobs you want to pursue, asking them about their field, career and insights. Because you are not asking for employment, it is a more relaxed meeting where you might inquire: "How did you get into this career?" or "Where do you see this industry headed over the next 10 years?"
4. Enlist champions
Use the contacts you make in the informational interviews, online connections, and mentors you connected with during your service to become your advocates. They can write your recommendations, introduce you to key contacts that might be helpful to your strategy, and endorse you when asked about your talents, character, and skills. Nurture the relationship with your champions – send handwritten notes to say thank you, and let them know what you're up to (successes and frustrations). Keep your energy level high and optimistic in your communications with them; people want to back a winner, so make sure you communicate that you are a good investment for them to support.
The transition process is not easy. Even those who have a career path lined up after taking off the uniform will find many nuances of the civilian work place different, frustrating and exciting. Start with a strategy for building your career, instead of just finding "a job" and you will reap the rewards of your hard work!