Servicemembers have many options to prepare for civilian employment after their military service. They can take advantage of education and training programs, acquire skills that are attractive to civilian hiring managers, and learn how to translate their military experience into civilian employment terminology. Another important step is professional networking.
In this digital age, servicemembers can greatly increase their chances of a successful transition to a civilian career by building a professional network that helps them re-enter the civilian world. The earlier servicemembers determine what civilian career field they are interested in, the sooner they should develop a professional network in that industry.
LinkedIn Is a Useful Tool for Professional Networking
One of the most effective ways to build a professional network is through LinkedIn. Unlike other, more personal social media sites, professional connections are easy to establish on LinkedIn. Members tend to be more willing to accept connections from people with whom they share common career interests.
In addition, LinkedIn has a search feature that allows servicemembers to build their network by searching for occupations, employers or industry groups. While some professionals adjust their settings to limit connection requests only to individuals they know, the vast majority of professionals are open to new networking connections without knowing the requestor personally.
Build a network of hiring managers, human resources professionals, and recruiters who are associated with the employer or industry you are interested in joining. Also, consider asking for introductions to other people you’re interested in contacting on LinkedIn.
I have made several hundred connections on LinkedIn with professionals whom I have never met but who share similar career interests with me. I have also found that posts involving content associated with my career field elicit thousands of viewers and are shared or commented upon by my professional network. Furthermore, I have often been contacted through LinkedIn for job opportunities, industry advice and follow-up questions from people I do not know personally.
Create a Professional Profile on LinkedIn
Before you start networking, post a professional profile on LinkedIn. Even though you may still be in the service, your profile should have a professional headshot showing you wearing business attire and associated with the industry that you want to enter.
LinkedIn also offers the opportunity for you to add a background photo. I recommend selecting a photo associated with your target industry to reflect your genuine interest in that specific career. For example, an aspiring educator might use a classroom or education-related material as the background photo, while a military nurse or medical technician might use an image related to the medical field as a background image.
It is important to take the time to provide a thorough list of your work experience, using civilian terminology rather than military jargon. If your military job requires a security clearance, check with your security office to determine what information can be revealed on your profile.
Any community service activities, special projects, and skills should be clearly listed on your profile. This information shows employers and your LinkedIn connections more details about what you do.
Consider Using LinkedIn’s Premium Service to Extend Your Professional Network
LinkedIn is currently offering servicemembers a free upgrade to its premium service, which provides additional network building services. However, this free upgrade offer might change at any time.
RallyPoint is another great resource for military members. RallyPoint gives more than one million current and former members of the military the opportunity to network and discuss military life and share information.
Build Contact with Servicemembers Who Can Act as Your References
While you’re still in the service, it is important to build contacts with people who can serve as references for you. Military supervisors, co-workers and commanding officers are all useful references.
In the military, servicemembers develop job skills and a team mindset that help them excel in the civilian workforce. In addition to documenting these skills for a quality online resume, it is also important to build a professional network so that when the time comes for separation from the military, a framework is in place and you can better display your job skills to potential employers.
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been with the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security, contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has also received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.