When preparing for life after military retirement, you’ll find networking is a crucial component of any job search. The military’s employment practices are fairly straightforward, but civilians rely heavily on using the power of networking to tap into the hidden job market.
Start With the Transition Assistance Program
Service members preparing to make the transition to civilian life should start by utilizing the military's Transition Assistance Program (TAP). This program, which is a collaboration between the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, provides exiting service members with classes and career counseling to assist with the transition back into civilian life. TAP covers topics such as developing a job search strategy, understanding current job market conditions, creating a resume, and effectively interviewing.
TAP’s resources can be utilized as early as two years before separation, but many service members start during their last year of active duty. Service members who find it difficult to complete in-person TAP meetings due to their current military obligations can take advantage of the TAP virtual curriculum.
Service members with a disability stemming from their service are given the opportunity to participate in the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP). DTAP provides the standard TAP resources, plus additional one-on-one assistance to tailor the job search to address any disability-related concerns or accommodation needs.
7 Ways to Network for Jobs After the Military
After you’ve completed TAP classes, you’ll have a better idea of how to focus your job search. Then you can begin networking by considering each of the following resources.
1. Networking on Base
When you live on base, you foster close connections with your neighbors. Just because your fellow service members aren’t planning to leave the base anytime soon doesn’t mean they can’t help you with the transition to civilian life.
Share your job search goals to see if anyone might have a connection who can help direct you to a military-friendly employer or a person of interest. Since service members often spend their careers moving frequently, many have a broad network of social contacts.
2. Networking With Other Veterans
No one understands the challenges of your job search better than a fellow veteran. Other veterans can provide information on the best veteran-friendly companies, as well as offer tips for how to explain your military experience to civilians who won’t necessarily have a detailed knowledge of your particular skillset.
If you’re struggling to connect with other veterans on your own, Military.com’s Veterans Career Network is an online resource that can help you locate veterans with connections to locations, companies, government agencies, industries, or career fields that interest you. You may also want to consider joining a local veterans organization, such as the American Legion, VFW, or AMVETS.
3. Networking with Friends and Family
Keep your extended family up to date on your job search, encouraging them to send news of any openings or resources of interest your way. You may also want to consider reaching out to old friends. In the course of casually catching up on each other’s lives, you could easily discover the connection you need to land your dream job.
4. Online Networking
Online networking is an essential component of any modern job search. LinkedIn is the best-known resource for job seekers, offering a chance to build a detailed profile of your accomplishments that can be used to apply directly to available job openings as well as the opportunity to make connections who can provide endorsements or recommendations that are visible to anyone viewing your profile.
However, LinkedIn is really just the tip of the online networking iceberg. For example, following industry leaders on Twitter and regularly commenting on their tweets can be a viable way to make connections in your job search. Participating in online forums or groups relating to your industry is also a smart move.
5. Networking in the Community
Becoming an active member of the community can pay off in a big way when you’re looking for work. The connections you make participating in church groups, charitable associations, or other community groups can be utilized to provide job search leads. Even volunteering for activities at your child’s school may end up providing the connections you need to land your dream job. Opportunities are all around you, if you keep your mind open to the possibilities.
6. Networking Through Professional Associations
Industry-specific professional associations provide highly targeted networking opportunities. For example, if you were interested in a career in information technology, the Association of Information Technology Professionals would be considered an excellent job search resource. Professional associations offer continuing education classes as well as various networking events held throughout the year.
7. Networking at School
If you’re missing the formal credentials you need for your dream job, furthering your education can provide excellent networking opportunities. With your GI Bill®¹ benefits, your out-of-cost for your education should be minimal.
A for-profit trade school such as Vista College provides ample networking connections in the form of experienced instructors who are leaders in their respective industries, plus a low instructor-to-student ratio allowing for an opportunity to build meaningful personal relationships. As a leading military-friendly school, Vista College is also well aware of the special challenges veterans face in making the transition to civilian life and provides extensive post-graduation career services assistance.
6 Rules for Successful Networking
The entire concept of networking is built on the simple belief that people have a natural desire to want to do business with those they already know and like. Essentially, your goal is to tap into your social connections to give yourself an edge in a competitive job market.
With that being said, you’ll find your networking efforts to be more effective if you follow five basic rules for success:
1. Be Prepared
Networking can happen anywhere, so it’s important to be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Keep a stack of business cards handy so you can easily provide your contact information to new connections. Practice succinctly stating your career goal and what unique qualifications you have to offer so you are ready to “wow” your new connections with your enthusiasm.
2. Think of Yourself as a Translator
After spending several years of your life surrounded by people well-versed in military lingo, it’s easy to forget the typical civilian has only a vague understanding of what military service involves. To network effectively, you need to learn to speak their language. Instead of saying you were a platoon leader, for example, try elaborating with a description of how many people you supervised, what steps you took to keep them on task, and how you collaborated with senior officers to solve problems.
Explaining your service in terms of skills that are transferable to the civilian workplace makes it easier for new connections to figure out how they can best aid in your job search. If you’re finding this difficult to do, the website My Next Move can help. Simply enter the name or code of your military classification to be taken to a list of similar civilian fields.
3. Keep an Open Mind
Never dismiss anyone you meet as not being worthy of your networking efforts. One of the most common networking mistakes is writing off potential connections based on their current job titles. The office assistant might not have the authority to hire you directly, but she might be able to introduce you to a valuable connection you would have otherwise overlooked. It’s also impossible to predict when someone in an entry-level job will move up to a position with direct hiring authority.
4. Always Follow Up
If you make a connection to someone you think might be able to assist with your job search, don’t be afraid to follow up a few days after your meeting. It’s easy for people to forget your initial conversation, and taking the time to follow up shows you’re serious about your job search. You can try connecting on Twitter or LinkedIn, but a phone call or email is ideal as these forms of communication are perceived as more personal.
5. Be Generous
Effective networking involves give and take. When you’re focused on your own search for a job after the military, it’s natural to be focused on what potential connections can do to help you. However, this self-centered approach isn’t the way to build long-lasting relationships.
Make an effort to contribute something of value to the exchange, whether it’s an introduction to a person of interest, a suggestion to check out an interesting article related to their industry, or an offer to volunteer your time to help with a project they’re working on. When you’re perceived as a generous and thoughtful person, your connections will be more likely to go out of their way to help you out.
6. Be Patient
Obviously, you’d prefer to start your dream job as soon as possible. However, it’s unrealistic to expect immediate results from your networking efforts. Building meaningful relationships takes time. Think of networking as a strategy for long-term career success, not as a short-term job hunt tactic.
Dealing With Shyness
For many people, the thought of networking inspires a sense of panic due to lingering social anxiety. If you consider yourself shy or introverted, you may need to rethink your networking strategy.
Instead of forcing yourself to attempt to chat up strangers at formal networking events, consider getting involved by offering to help organize or run the event. Working behind the scenes is likely to feel less stressful than being forced to make small talk. As an added bonus, the volunteer experience will help you beef up your resume.
Another great way to network as a shy person is to always make a point of arriving early for large group events. If you arrive before everyone has broken off into their own smaller groups, you won’t feel like an outsider trying to break in. The early arrivals are also likely to be eager for someone to talk to, giving you a chance to network ahead of everyone else.
Don’t try to change your entire personality to network more effectively. Forcing yourself to be someone you’re not only makes you come across as awkward and unsure of your own strengths. Everyone loves a good listener, and listening is typically one skill shy people have mastered. If you’re struggling to figure out how to get a conversation started, here are some questions that serve as excellent icebreakers:
- How did you becoming interested in this career field?
- What is a typical workday like for you?
- What do you enjoy most about your job?
- What is your least favorite part of your job?
- What industry trends do you think will affect your line of work in the next few years?
- What skills are most important for success in your industry?
- What do you wish you had known about your position before you started?
- Are there any websites, professional journals, or other resources you would recommend I investigate?
- Who do you recommend I talk with next?
Connecting With Recruiters
Recruiters can serve as valuable allies in your job search, as they often have access to exclusive and otherwise unadvertised job openings in both government agencies and the private sector. Unfortunately, connecting with these individuals can sometimes prove tricky.
One of the best ways to make sure you are visible to recruiters is to have a complete LinkedIn profile with your photo, a detailed resume, and multiple recommendations or endorsements from professional associates. When you post your resume online, always add your LinkedIn profile URL below your contact information. Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible to find out about your background online.
Recruiters generally focus on either a targeted geographic location or a specific industry. Some even specialize in filling employment openings with transitioning military veterans. If you aren’t sure of a recruiter’s specialty, don’t be afraid to ask.
If you line up an interview with a recruiter, it’s important to keep in mind recruiters are not employers. A recruiter's client is the employer with a job opening. Their task is to find the best person for that position. Dress to impress for your interview, but feel free to be honest about your job search requirements.
If the available opening isn’t right for you, explain why and offer clarification as to what type of position you’re looking for so the recruiter can keep you in mind for other opportunities that might be a better fit. If the recruiter states you’re not a good match for the opening, feel free to ask for advice regarding what you can do to make yourself a more qualified candidate in the future.
A legitimate recruiter will not ask you to pay a fee for services or sign an exclusively contract. You are entitled to use the services of multiple recruiters to aid in your job search.
Life After Military Retirement: Learning to Advocate for Your Own Needs
When preparing for life after military retirement, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is adjusting to the lack of a defined chain of command. As a civilian, you’re the one responsible for your own success. It may feel awkward at first, but you must make it a priority to advocate for your own needs by actively seeking out connections who can provide assistance with your job search. You’ve already done a great service to your country. Now it’s time to put yourself first.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.