Networks Are The Secret To The Post-Military Job Search

Several hundred service members, veterans and military spouses attend the Hiring Our Heroes job fair Jan. 21 at the Timmermann Conference Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. The Army Reserve was a key partner in the event, which featured more than 80 employers, schools and service providers, who offered employment and education opportunities to attendees.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris

I was always confused about the hiring process. How do people end up working for one great company over lesser options? Is it hard work? Interview skills? An awesome resume? It turns out that none of these things are as important as who you know.

Like me, you probably have no idea how most people are hired. That may not matter at this moment, but this ignorance is going to hurt you the next time you're looking for a job. Especially if that happens to be when you leave the military.

Don't wait until it's too late to get smart about finding the right approach to the job search.

I have been interviewing a lot of recruiters over the last six months, 15-30 minute-long conversations over the phone, and sometimes in person. It is almost a hobby now, although it started with my desire to want to understand why veterans seem to be so awkward about finding jobs, despite the good news that we're almost at the same level of employment as our civilian peers, even among the Iraq and Afghanistan generation.

Interviewing recruiters is the only way to hear how to get hired directly from the folks who actually do the hiring. The people I interviewed (and continue to interview) work in large companies and small companies, product companies and service companies, old school companies and high-tech companies, and in cities all across the United States.

The main takeaway?

Your resume is not that big of a deal. You should spend more time connecting with people, and talking to them about your interests, skills, and experience.

The biggest surprise to me was how many recruiters hate looking at random resumes that were submitted through online job sites. Cold inbound leads, as they're called, are the least desirable type. Recruiters will do anything to avoid going out into the digital Wild West and picking through a pile of bad resumes.

Yet if you were looking for a job, what would you start doing? Writing or updating your resume, of course. Don't do that — it's stupid. A resume is a check in the box, nothing more.

If you're like me, the problem is that it's easier to open a Word document and sit there than go outside and interact with real human beings. That is a lot more work. Why not just stay home, especially if you take lots of breaks to play the latest Assassin's Creed.

Why is it so important to get out and be social? Because at least 50% of U.S. jobs are found through referrals. According to one survey, internal placement and referrals make up almost 65% of all hires. That means people who work at the company telling the recruiter to check out a specific person. It's also called a "warm intro" and it is the best way for you to break into a company and snag a job interview.

You could be the lucky one who is referred the next time you're looking for a job. Of course, that will only happen if you have a wide network. And to do that, you need to do some networking.

A word about networking: this doesn't mean being a social whore. It also doesn't mean that you need to go to cocktail parties or wander around in a suit all day. You don't need to smile like a jackass or constantly shake hands with everyone you meet. It simply means connecting with people who are interesting to you, learning from them, and hopefully finding ways to help them out. Eventually that good karma will come back.

There are two easy places to start networking in a way that shouldn't feel too much like being a greasy schmoozer. Ease yourself into some military groups on LinkedIn, or, even simpler, the military-only professional community called RallyPoint. With a basic profile you can start searching around for people who look interesting.

Everyone is different, but here are some good criteria for starting your search for people to add to your network:

1. Location. Where are you living? Where do you want to live?

2. Military branch. Can you find some cool people who served in the same service?

3. Company. What comes to mind as a cool place to work?

Once you start making a few connections, just email them (here are a few tips about how to write it) to see if you can talk to them for 15-20 minutes about their work, and any thoughts they have for you. Everyone loves talking about themselves, so you will get a lot more positive responses than you may expect. You will find that people want to help you out if you respect their time, which means keep the conversation relatively short and try to listen at least 80% of the time.

Eventually you can move beyond your comfort zone. There will be people in a related industry or field that you should meet. That one extra guy or gal may be the connection to your dream job.

And even if they aren't, it's still a hell of a lot better than going blind while you work on your resume.

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