Veterans Do This When Re-Entering the Workforce. We All Need to Try It.

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By Vicki Salemi

Maybe you're a stay-at-home mom looking to reboot your career, maybe you're returning to employment after completing your Ph.D. or maybe you're among the thousands of veterans returning home every year. When it comes to connecting the dots from your former skills and experiences to the ones you're pursuing currently, there are several ways to build your confidence with a meaningful story to convince prospective employers your background isn't only relevant, it's an asset to the potential role and organization.

According to Dorie Clark, author of "Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future," the most important step involves creating your narrative so you can explain your past and how it adds value to the new role you're aiming for. "Your past experiences – whether it's dismantling explosives for the army or caring for preschoolers – have taught you powerful lessons, from keeping cool under pressure to time management," she says.

Clark adds that unless you make the connection clear, the hiring manager may be unsure how your past relates to the corporate world. "They're used to linear paths, so if your experience deviates, you need to create a narrative that shows what you learned and why it's valuable."

Just ask Alex Hooper, Army Special Forces veteran and consultant at AKF Partners. He learned to create that narrative by attending the Career Opportunity Redefinition & Exploration (CORE) Leadership Program at Deloitte University. His biggest a-ha moment? Learning what he had to say and why he needed to say it. "For me, the special forces regimen motto is 'quiet professional' so any time anyone bragged about themselves, it was off-putting and not part of the culture," Hooper says. "It's like, do your job and get over yourself."

At first, his most challenging hurdle was getting over that uncomfortable feeling of talking to a potential employer. Hooper learned to think about what to say, why he was different from others and why he'd be good for this position. Not only that, but he learned why this was so important. "You have to be able to tell your story and appreciate the necessity to tell your story," he explains.

This point is critical, says Christie Smith, managing principal at Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion. "They have confidence that they have something to say. That's what companies are looking for in hires – it's that confidence. That comfort in who you are in your own skin," she says.

For veterans, that comfort is gained through leveraging resources. For Hooper, it meant applying for and participating in the CORE Leadership Program, experiencing a safe, supportive environment, honing personal branding and his elevator pitch creation and practicing informational interviews and networking. "When you leave our door, it's easy to have a cup of coffee with you," Smith says. "That's certainly something for rebooters to think about – the ease with which to tell their story, which comes from practice."

Whether you're going from battlefield to boardroom or carpools to conference calls, there's the issue of translating words to make then relevant. "We even tell them you don't need to use corporate speak just like you don't need to use military terminology just be authentic," says Terry Bickham, talent leader, dean of the CORE Leadership Program and U.S. Coast Guard veteran. "They're extremely specialized, they're used to taking orders, being given a task to accomplish and achieving that task." The good news? Bickham says most organizations are looking for people who are very adaptable, can innovate, can look at a challenge, figure out how to overcome obstacles and be agile.

Chris Robinette, also a veteran of the Army Special Forces, says this agility is a change in mindset. "You never really had to think about how to get from point A to point B, it's how do I excel at point B?" he notes. "Here, you have to evaluate, 'well maybe I'm not going to point B, maybe I'm going to point C or D or G, and what do I have to do to communicate that I have the aptitude and skills to do that and what are the mechanisms to build connections to explore those options?'" Outside of a structured, defined environment networking is critical for career navigation. "That's how you explore ideas and fill gaps with information," he adds.

Not only is that exploration critical, but the confidence around exploration is key. Smith says: "What is their story? What are the elements of that story, what are the elements of what they're good at? They have to think about that in the context also of who they are. That's the equation that we play – who are you, how does that perform/what kind of leader or manager you've been [in the armed forces], what are you good at, now how do you package and tell that story?"

Telling the story with confidence and conviction is one part, and as for the other? It's connecting with people. "Build your network," Smith says. "I'm a people collector and I encourage people to just collect as many people as you can, you never know how it's all going to come together."

Robinette concurs. "And a number of jobs are never posted – it's all internal or through that network not so much who you know but we didn't know you were out there, you didn't know this job existed but it's a great marriage once you find each other."
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