Being able to market yourself is an important set of skills that most of us haven’t had to worry much about during our time in the military (those serving in the most senior ranks may be an exception to this). While you may have been required to interview for a competitive or high-profile position in the military, chances are you were mostly assigned to places throughout your service. As you are going through the process of figuring out your next career after the military, you must learn to market yourself as you will be entering a highly competitive environment for many opportunities.
Here are some areas that you can start to work on to market yourself for your next chapter:
Professional Online Presence: Invisible people can’t be found and if you have been doing clearance work on active duty, or have served in a special operations or intelligence role, chances are you have been discouraged from having any sort of online presence for operational security and force protection reasons. When it comes to finding work in the private sector, you have to establish a professional online presence. The best networking platform for job seekers and employers is LinkedIn, which is indispensable when it comes to conducting informational interviews, researching companies, and connecting and engaging with those in your field of interest. Create a profile for yourself and start filling in the basic fields, concentrating on your headline. This is the most valuable portion of your profile and the one that recruiters will see first. Have a professional looking photo, with a custom banner that speaks to who you are and what you want to do, and list the type of work you’re looking for, the location you are seeking to work in, and key skills. Your profile doesn’t have to be perfect, just make sure it accurately represents who you are and what you want to do. You can continue to season and update your profile over time as you continue to build your experiences and your network. There are is a fantastic ecosystem of veterans and volunteers on LinkedIn that are waiting to help you if you just reach out and ask.
Resume: You will absolutely need a resume…expect every employer will ask for one. My recommendation is to create a comprehensive master resume with all your experiences, skills and accomplishments, then tailor each resume you send out so that the required and desired skills (key words) for the role stand out to HR teams and hiring managers. Make sure your skills and experiences are translated from the bulletized and military-heavy jargon into things that industry can understand and value. If you don’t feel like you can put a resume together yourself, there are veterans’ groups out there that can assist with this for free.
Elevator Pitch/Verbal Business Card: Be prepared to give a succinct 30-second to 2-minute pitch on who you are and what you are looking to do. You will use this repeatedly during your job search, interviewing and if you have a chance contact with someone that might have an opportunity for you. This isn’t your life’s story, just keep it to a few key points that people will remember. Practice this, just don’t make it sound canned or over-rehearsed when you get the chance to deliver it.
Interviewing skills: Interviewing for jobs is a fact of life in the free market. This is a skill you must prep and rehearse. I conducted multiple interviews during my transition, and did not start to get comfortable at this until the last few. Practice giving your verbal business card (two minute summary of who you are), and be prepared to discuss your successes and accomplishments. But most importantly, be able to speak openly about failures and shortfalls throughout your career and how these experiences contributed to making you better. When interviewing, get comfortable using “I” instead of “we”. Yes — you are used to accomplishing things as a team in the military and sharing credit, but the company is interviewing YOU and wants to hear what you did, not other people. Always be prepared to ask a few well-though out questions at the end…the interview goes both ways.
Salary negotiations: Just know that you can and should negotiate your salary and benefits and the ideal time to do this is when you are switching jobs. Before you waste your time, know that the salary range of the job you are applying for is in the range you are seeking (if you are working with a recruiter, just ask). Glassdoor and SimplyHired can give you a ballpark estimate if the salary is unknown. Wait until you have an offer on the table before you bring up salary (let them make the first move). Your best leverage when negotiating is having multiple job offers on the table. This can be tricky, so be careful not to blow it. If a company won’t budge on salary but you still want the job, request an early salary review so that you have a shot at a pay increase if you perform well. Depending on the position and company, you may be able to negotiate for benefits like time off, a non-traditional schedule (telecommute/work from home, or flex-time), professional development opportunities, and stock options.
One final thought: the above tasks aren’t just things you need to do to land that first job out of the military--these are life skills you need to be competitive for changing jobs/careers in this highly mobile and fast-paced market.
“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln.
Building your network, continuing training & education, translating your experiences, honing interviewing skills, and keeping your resume and LinkedIn profile current—these aren’t things you can afford to shelve after landing your first post-military job. These are the axes you need to keep sharp. You will continuously rely on them over your working years to stay competitive.
Kirk Windmueller is a retired Green Beret and Army veteran with over 22 years of service. He is a senior manager at Avantus Federal and a volunteer for Project Transition USA, a non-profit organization that teaches veterans how to use LinkedIn to network and find their next career. He lives in Fayetteville, NC, with his wife and three kids.