Veterans typically have a difficult time talking about themselves – mainly because they never really had to before. While on active duty, servicemembers usually wear their ranks, ribbons, and badges on their uniforms, so there is no real need to describe to another veteran who they are and what they do. Their military resume is already visible and understood by all.
In the civilian world, there are not many corporate employees who wear their title or accomplishments around for everyone to see. Every time they meet someone new in a professional setting, they have to describe who they are and what they do. It's a natural, social norm that veterans don't usually have to take part in while in a professional military setting.
However, it is absolutely imperative for veterans to practice and have an effective "personal introduction" while they make the difficult transition to a civilian career. If you're a veteran reading this, you may be saying to yourself, "I know how to introduce myself!" That may be so, but how effective is your personal introduction in ensuring that you're leveraging all the opportunities that happen to come your way?
When veterans leave active duty, they have a short window of opportunity during which people are generally willing to go out of their way to assist them in their transition. It is understood among the majority of Americans that making the transition from the military to the civilian world is challenging. So, if a veteran introduces him or herself as a recently transitioned service member, the other person will typically take a little extra interest in getting to know the veteran. This is the veteran's opportunity to make some great connections; however, these opportunities will not last forever.
A veteran's short personal introduction is the key to unleashing the potential that can come from each contact. The trick is to make it extremely easy for the person to understand where you have been, what you're doing now, and where you want to go.
Here's a quick example: You're having a drink with your friend, Mary, before you sit down for dinner. Mary's boss, Linda, serendipitously happens to walk by and the three of you strike up a quick conversation. Mary introduces you to her boss as a high school friend who just came home from the Army. Linda is impressed and with a smile says, "Thank you so much for your service! What are you going to do now that you have left the Army?"
And you respond, "It's so nice to meet you Linda, and thank you, it's great to be back home. I was a communications technician in the Army and I'm currently a business major. I'm looking to get into business after I graduate – marketing and operations interest me the most."Linda says, "Good for you! Well, here's my card, we're always looking for good people at work. I'd love to talk more but our table is ready. Mary can tell you about what we do. I lead our marketing division so if you ever want to come in for a day and see what we do you're more than welcome. Have a great dinner!"
Simple as that! In this scenario a veteran randomly met a senior executive and was able to clearly articulate what he did in the Army, what he is currently doing now, and where he wanted to go professionally. The end result is an opportunity for the veteran to directly contact the head of a business division for employment opportunities. And it only took three well-aimed sentences!
If you need a few pointers on what to include in your personal introduction, check out Military.com's MOS Translator.
Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York. He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.