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Introduction to Business Networking for Veterans: What You Need to Know Before Transitioning

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If you network with people, do your research, ask questions, and make an informed decision about a career that you genuinely enjoy, regardless of the starting pay or job title, you’ll be a happier, harder working person.
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Courtesy of Joshua Wartchow.

No One is Going to Give You a Job!

In the corporate world, transitioning veterans are not that special. It doesn’t matter how many combat tours you completed, how many medals you received, or whether you were in the infantry or aviation supply. Most employers look at us like we’re all the same because they don’t really know what service members do on a day-to-day basis.

Remember that less than 1% of the U.S. population has served, so their knowledge of the military is limited to Hollywood movies, cable news, and the exaggerated stories they hear third-hand from neighbors or coworkers. Think about it—can you speak intelligently about what a defense lawyer does other than what you see on Law and Order? It’s the same thing with us, so don’t think that you’re going to throw your military resume downrange and have dozens of companies fighting to hire you.

The truth of the matter is that America isn’t at war: The military is. And the military doesn’t explain that to service members. We think that everyone back home knows exactly what we do and understands how our skills translate to the corporate world. But they don’t. As a result, the corporate world views veterans as a commodity rather than as individuals with specific and varying skills and experiences.

When you finally land that first job, you probably won’t be in charge of anyone. You won’t be mentoring other colleagues, influencing operations, or frankly, have responsibility for much of anything except yourself. You’ll most likely be the low man on the totem pole so you can learn and acquire the technical competencies of your new job. Don’t get down on yourself if you end up being a 28-year-old intern, or if perhaps your new boss is several years younger than you are with considerably less leadership experience. Be prepared for this, and don’t take it personally. You have to pay your dues and learn the trade, just like you did in the military.

In the military, there is no skipping rank. You have to earn each stripe with hard work and experience. Could you imagine if the Army took the honors grad at boot camp and made him your squad leader in Afghanistan? There’s just no way that would happen. So why would a company do the same thing with you? It’s okay if you have to take a few steps back in order to take a thousand steps forward. Rarely will a veteran land a civilian job that is equivalent to the responsibility, authority, and compensation that she had in the military.

This is why it’s so important to search for a career and not just settle for a job. If you choose to pursue a job because it pays well or comes with an impressive title, chances are you won’t find the work very fulfilling and may end up quitting after a few months. Then you’ll be back to square one again. But if you network with people, do your research, ask questions, and make an informed decision about a career that you genuinely enjoy, regardless of the starting pay or job title, you’ll be a happier, harder working person. And in no time, your salary and responsibility will catch up to the value you bring to the company. Don’t let your ego dictate your destiny.

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