As you prepare to separate from the military, you will likely begin getting advice from all directions. This is especially true when it comes to finding your next opportunity in post-military employment. I know I did. And at times it can be overwhelming. There are thousands of resources for veterans, starting with TAPS, veteran’s organizations, articles, blogs, LinkedIn, etc. When I retired from the Air Force, I was a sponge to all of the help I could get, as should you. But there was one piece of advice that would end up being very powerful in leading me to my next job… network, network, network.
Admittedly, I am an introvert. So reaching out to strangers, commenting on social media posts for solutions and advice, and tracking down the people who have done the things I want to do or who could help point me in the right direction to achieve my goals was not within my comfort zone. But I knew it was important and networking had the power to unlock doors that might otherwise stay shut. The statistic that really drove home that point was that 85% of jobs are filled via networking with personal and professional connections.
The KYO Group was my first introduction to the power of networking. As a veteran owned company, the founders put a lot of effort and emphasis on bringing in weekly guest speakers to talk to all of the Skillbridge interns. In most cases, these were veterans who had been in the position we were in, leaving the military, desperately searching for employment and who were eventually successful in leveraging all of the skills and experiences gained from the military to get hired at companies like Netflix and UPS. Through these virtual meetings, questions were asked and answered, mentorship was provided and in many cases you could see lightbulbs going off for people as they picked up tips for a successful transition out of the military.
While I found those weekly networking opportunities very insightful, I knew I would also need to take a proactive approach to networking. Like many others, I found the best tool for this to be LinkedIn.
I began connecting with everyone I could find that I had met or worked with over my 20-year Air Force career because I knew that even if they didn’t have an opportunity or advice or resources for me at that time, they all have their own network of other people who might. I also began searching and looking for people within the industries I was interested in. I spoke with a lot of people, gained a lot of valuable advice, and ultimately I came across the right opportunity for me. But before I get into how that happened, first a disclaimer.
Having grown up a military brat and then serving for all of my adult life, I didn’t put a large emphasis on finding employment in one specific location, so I was able to cast a wide net as I was willing to move to any number of locations throughout the country for work. And luckily the Air Force had provided me years of experience in a field that is marketable in the civilian world. You may have a very specific location where you want to be and your experience might be in a very specific career field or you may be looking to change paths, which narrows your opportunities and makes networking all that more important. It is likely that every job or opportunity out there is not currently on LinkedIn Jobs, or Monster.com or in the classifieds section of the newspaper. Sometimes people don’t realize they need you until they meet you or come across your resume. Which is exactly what happened to me.
So here’s the story. As I mentioned before, I began connecting with all of my former co-workers, bosses, friends etc. that I had known in the military. One of these connections was with a co-worker named Chad from when I was stationed in Germany. Because we were connected on LinkedIn, when he commented on another person’s post, it showed up on my feed. So a friend of Chad’s, named Aaron, posted on LinkedIn to his network that he had a buddy who owned his own business and was looking for help in a particular position. This position happened to be close to what I was currently looking for and it was in a location that I was interested in relocating to. Chad happened to comment something on Aaron’s post, which was the reason I saw it and it gave me the opportunity to contact Aaron to inquire about the position he mentioned. Aaron connected me with his friend, Michael, who owned the business and we began talking.
Using all of the advice I had gained from other networking opportunities, mentorship, veteran’s resources, etc., I was able to sell myself on my background and experiences as well as the unique qualities I bring to the table as a military veteran. And while Michael was originally looking for one position, after we spoke, he ended up creating a brand new position to leverage my abilities. I eventually accepted the job, relocated to a new state (that I actually had never even been to before) and am very happy with the decision I made.
Don’t get me wrong, I applied to a ton of jobs the traditional way. And there were a lot of interviews and a lot of frustrations along the way. The job market can be very competitive. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, meet new people and give others the chance to realize the value you bring as a person, as a professional and as a veteran. Now get out there and start networking.