The majority of open positions in today's job market are filled through networking. In other words, hiring managers are connected to candidates though their trusted networks before the positions are even made public or posted online.
This is where transitioning veterans need the most help. Service members are completely isolated from the civilian job market during their active service and severely lack the professional connections that can spawn job opportunities.
And it's not just connections they lack – veterans need sponsors or professionals who are willing to put their professional capital on the line to vouch for them in order to get them in the door.
Let's be clear: sponsorship is different from mentorship, career coaching, or even simply connecting people to one another. The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), a non-profit think tank that has published incredible research on the advantages that sponsorship has on a person's professional advancement, outlines that sponsors must do two critical things: putting one's reputation on the line for another professional and taking responsibility for his or her promotion. These are two critical elements of a veteran's transition that they desperately need!
However, as CTI also points out, the responsibility for developing a sponsor-mentee relationship lies with the mentee, or in our case, the returning veteran. Sponsorship must be earned! Transitioning veterans cannot expect senior professionals to randomly put their reputation on the line for their behalf.
So how does a veteran earn the sponsorship of a senior professional? Below are five things veterans can do to develop a solid sponsorship relationship:
1. Be connected to professionals who have the influence to assist you. You can connect with professionals in a lot of ways; this is essentially networking 101. Utilize your veteran network and reach out to professionals and military veterans on LinkedIn. If you're in school, tap into your alumni network. Ideally, you should try and develop multiple sponsorship relationships, don't rely on just one.
2. Every little thing matters! Since you don't have months and years to develop solid relationships with people, every little thing matters when meeting and developing a professional relationship including your email correspondence, being a time, professional attire, the questions you ask, and how you follow-up. You're trying to prove that you are worthy of their endorsement! Don't disqualify yourself with unforced errors.
3. Have patience. Again, sponsorship is earned. Therefore, you won't gain someone's professional endorsement overnight. You'll most likely have to meet with the person a few times to prove to them that if they introduce you to a hiring manager or vouch for you, you won't embarrass them. Remember, if you earn the sponsorship of a professional, you are a reflection of them! Don't try to rush the relationship. Have the patience to let it grow naturally.
4. Deliver for your sponsor every time. What can you offer your sponsor? You don't want to be someone who is constantly asking others for favors. What are some opportunities or ways that you can assist and support your sponsor? How can you deliver for him or her? Sponsorship is a two-way street! If you're able to give back and deliver for your sponsor, you'll make the relationship that much more stronger.
5. Be a sponsor for others. Just because you need a sponsor yourself doesn't mean you cannot be a sponsor to others. Actively seek out and support other transitioning veterans that need assistance. Begin to build you're professional A-team!
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.