Finding a job in the civilian workforce means bringing your A-game every step of the way: in your first encounter with an organization or a company representative; in every informal conversation or formal interview; on paper or online via your résumé, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile; and ultimately, when you begin working at your new job.
Given you might only have one shot to make a lasting impression with a prospective employer, you want to adopt a strategy that lets you put your best foot forward and, at the same time, avoid common pitfalls. Don't get eliminated from the competition because of a poor, unplanned start.
Using social media effectively is critical in connecting you to potential employers and in helping you grow your professional network. Here are some basic dos and don'ts to keep in mind:
- Search your name online to ensure your online presence is positive and professional. If something negative that cannot be “removed” shows up, be prepared to explain it.
- Scrub your language of military acronyms. Doing this will make it easier for potential employers to understand the specific talents and skill sets you will bring to a position and what makes you stand out from your military and civilian competition.
- Ensure you have a complete LinkedIn profile with a strong opening summary paragraph that effectively conveys to a recruiter or potential employer who you are and why he or she should want to hire you.
- Use LinkedIn and other social media to research people, companies, or organizations of interest to you and to find ways to connect with individuals who can facilitate introductions into those organizations.
- Simply cut and paste your résumé into your LinkedIn profile and leave it to prospective employers to figure out your civilian career focus. They won't read it, and they won't figure it out for you.
- Post a LinkedIn photo wearing a military uniform. This can signal to an employer you are mentally not ready to leave the military for a civilian career. It also can signal you are trying to carry your rank forward, rather than adapting to a new workplace culture.
- Assume once you've uploaded a good headshot and a complete LinkedIn profile you can sit back and wait for the job offers to come rolling in. LinkedIn must be used actively, even after you've landed a job. You don't want to wait until a layoff is imminent to rejuvenate a LinkedIn network. Nurture and sustain it because it will serve as an important means of opening doors, building relationships, and doing research that should remain a central part of your civilian career arsenal.
Robert Goldstein, chief engineer who oversees both the technical direction and technical execution of a large DoD/intelligence contract
- Draw upon your experience in military service to highlight what you've learned, how you've applied those lessons, and the final results you were able to achieve. Then, go the next step and tell a potential employer how you will bring that forward to help his or her company become more profitable.
- Demonstrate your initiative and willingness to learn by joining relevant LinkedIn user groups or reading several books to come up to speed on the given technology.
- Be a name-dropper.
- Lie or fudge the truth when an employer asks whether you are familiar with a particular technology.
Lee Cohen, executive senior partner at Lucas Group
- Ask operationally oriented turnover questions.
- Focus less on making gobs of money and more on finding a company culture that is right for you.
- Show up late to an interview or arrive too early; arriving late or more than 10 minutes early can send the wrong message to your interviewer.
- Get lost because you failed to figure out, in advance, where you needed to go.
- Come to the interview without questions or with ill-advised questions.
Sultan Camp, recruiter, Orion International
- Know which companies will be at a job fair and target them, beginning with smaller companies that have fewer attendees at their tables and more time to talk.
- Research, in advance, what each of your target companies does, and be able to articulate how you can add value to the company and its clients and customers.
- Attend a job fair to find a job but rather to open doors and build your professional network.
- Wear a military uniform to a job fair.
Ginger Groeber, CEO and founder, Exfederal.com, a résumé database and job board for government contract positions
- Be confident about your experience, and be prepared to talk about how your primary expertise (in one or two areas, maximum) fits into the company you've targeted.
- Use your network. If you know people in companies of interest, reach out to them and see whether they can get you an introduction.
- Tell a prospective employer you can do anything. Employers have a specific job opening and want someone who has the experience for that job.
- Promise more access to people in your previous office or organization than you can actually deliver.
Paul Rothenburg, vice president, Business Development, The McCormick Group
- Think of yourself and your value from the standpoint of a return on investment.
- Connect the dots for employers, and show them how your quantifiable successes in government can translate to the bottom-line driven private-sector environment.
- Think managing a budget is the same as managing a profit-and-loss statement; it is not the same thing.
- Just talk in terms of the numbers of people you've previously led. There aren't very many job openings that require you to lead 10,000 people.
- Come in with an ivory-tower mentality; you have to demonstrate your willingness to roll up your sleeves and convey how you work on a tactical level as well as at a strategic level.
A final caution - don't get pressured into immediately accepting a job. Once you have a written offer letter in hand, it is not unreasonable for you to request two to four days to reflect on the offer, consult with mentors and family, and consider whether the employer's culture is the right one for you; a good cultural fit can help make for a smoother career transition.