Recently, I came across some “tough love” advice from career transition and LinkedIn expert, Sultan Camp, who writes a monthly blog and shares his perspective as a recruiter on Twitter and through other social media. I asked Sultan to share some of his thoughts with our readers:
VSB: Many senior military leaders struggle with how to begin developing a civilian job search strategy while, at the same time, still giving their all to the military service that has been their professional and personal home for so many years. What advice would you give to help these leaders avoid waiting until days before retirement to start working on what comes next?
Camp: Let’s imagine that you’ve been given an OPORDER to deploy to a hostile environment. Would you wait until you’ve set the navigation detail or started your deployment to begin developing your OPLAN training, assessment, evaluation, and tracking the metrics on your PO&AM? Of course not, yet that’s what a lot of senior military professionals do every single day when it comes to their own transitions.
When you receive your OPORDER to separate from Active Duty, it will be one of your most challenging assignments: deployment to a “place” you have never been before. Preparing two years in advance is generally agreed upon as being optimum. That way you can gather intelligence, practice training scenarios, get evaluated, review lessons learned, receive feedback and track your progress.
We are in an era where the Federal Government is shedding jobs at a historic rate; competition for Federal jobs is literally pitting Veterans against civilians. Terms such as “Lowest Price Technically Acceptable” and “sequestration” are common place in today’s world of shrinking defense budgets and reduced contracts.
VSB: You’ve been quoted as saying that a senior military leader’s resume should not be a history paper, filled with details designed to showcase an illustrious military career? What strategies would recommend instead?
1. Find one of your peers who has recently transitioned and gotten hired. Ask to see his or her resume that was used to get the job. You may find that there are components of it that would be relevant to you as well, but at the same time, it will be important to make it contextual and unique to reflect who you are and the talents you bring to a prospective employer.
2. You may also want to ask your colleague HOW he or she got the job. I’m pretty sure that you’ll quickly discover something that you already know. In both the public and private sectors, it’s NETWORKING that will get you those opportunities.
3. Don’t wait until you have 90 days left to start “testing” your resume; this puts you at a huge disadvantage. Even though hiring managers won’t seriously want to hear from you until you are 90 days out, start applying for positions about 6-8 months away from your availability date to “test the waters” so that you can see if you get any callbacks requesting interviews. If you’re not getting calls or are only getting calls for sales positions, that’s a true indication that your resume is failing you. Better to find that out sooner rather than later.
Don’t wait until you have 90 days left to start “testing” your resume; this puts you at a huge disadvantage.
VSB: What are some of the best ways senior leaders in transition can market themselves to stand out from their military and civilian competition?
Camp: Each day, 600-800 service members are transitioning off of active duty, which means that at least 150-200 officers leave the service every day. Translation: You are going to have to stand out from both your military and civilian competition.
One way to do that is to leave your rank at home and push yourself to get out and meet people. I know that this can be difficult. You worked hard to reach this point in your military career, but trust me when I tell you that those of us on this side of the uniform can tell when someone is wearing their rank even if they are wearing a business suit and it does not leave a good impression. As you network, in person and online, make it a point to listen more than you speak; learn more about the people that you meet and discover ways to help them. One of the best ways to do this is to ask “What are the biggest challenges that you are addressing in your current role?” Offer to help and then do what you say that you’re going to do.
Develop a reputation as a linchpin or connector outside of the military.
In addition, make the effort to join and participate in at least two professional organizations. For example, you may want to consider joining one with a military affiliation, such as the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and then join another one that reflects your intended industry. Ideally you should try to do this 24 months in advance of your transition. One or two evenings invested each month will yield more return in terms of gaining industry insight and, more importantly, building your reputation and network outside the military. Also, consider LinkedIn Groups as a virtual way of doing this, but, don’t let it be a substitute for in-person networking.
On a final note, get past your reservations, learn as much as you can and embrace the use of all of the Social Networking Sites as a Professional (yes, that includes Facebook and Twitter).
You worked hard to reach this point in your military career, but trust me when I tell you that those of us on this side of the uniform can tell when someone is wearing their rank even if they are wearing a business suit…
VSB: Any other advice you’d like to offer?
Camp: Realize the importance that geographic flexibility plays in terms of income, types of jobs and employability. I know that the temptation is to “buy the house and settle down once and for all.” However, when location becomes your top priority, it means that salary and the type of job take a number two and three ranking. I understand that this may be unavoidable because of family considerations, but any recruiter can tell you that the more flexible you are in your transition, the more opportunities you can create and that may be opened up to you.
Secondly, as you build your network, find ways of keeping in touch. Social networking helps in this endeavor. You can periodically post relevant articles, maybe even create a blog that would be of interest to those in your online networks.
Create a 360 degree professional network by going to LinkedIn and searching for those old Commands or units that you were attached to using the search bar. Then take a look at the profiles that show up in the search results. Chances are, that young O-3 or E-5 who separated four, six or 10 years ago may now be in a position to link you to a great civilian career opportunity.
Finally, get out there and start building your business wardrobe and start wearing it as you network (hint: ditch the uniform). You’ll be amazed how much this simple act will help you in your mental preparation to hang up the uniform and make you more approachable by civilians.
Sultan Camp is a 20-year Navy veteran, a recruiter with Orion International and is based in Norfolk, VA. Feel free to contact him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @careersultan.. Sultan works with Navy candidates who are 4-18 months from transition who are planning their career search and preparing for their transition from Active Duty.