The quoted numbers vary between 80% and 88%, but overall anyone involved in the employment process will tell you that networking is the absolute, without a doubt, numero uno way to get a job…period. Unfortunately, being a vet, you more than likely have no idea how to network…or so you think. In reality you have spent your career networking and you have networks that you don’t even know that you have access to. If that didn’t peak your interest, then stop reading immediately and go back to highlighting the want ads.
Job searching is a lot like fishing. If you are selectively sending out targeted resumes only for specific jobs that interest you then you are basically fly fishing; seeing that ripple on the stream and tossing your resume in hopes of baiting that tasty trout into snatching it up. This can be effective (especially if you are the only penguin-skinner in Omaha and there happens to be a job for a penguin-skinner in Omaha) but more than likely you are a catch-and-release and will be eating a hamburger on the way home. Remember, fly fishing is done more for the sport and less for the food…this is a very accurate analogy.
Or you could be applying online to every website you can in hopes that an over-worked and under-paid recruiter is going to type in the right key words and WHAMMO up comes your resume, the clouds part, angels sing, and a booming voice yells, “You’re hired.” Not bloody likely to happen, sorry. It is sort of like tossing five or six separate lines into a pond with little corks and worms and ending up asleep under a tree in half an hour…hope you are patient and have a six pack in the cooler because it is going to be awhile to get a bite, if it happens at all. Although getting your resume into every company database you can is a very good idea, it is successful in only about 10% of hires. Your odds aren’t good even if your goods aren’t odd.
The most efficient way of fishing, short of tossing dynamite in a pond, is the net; it covers a large area and actively encircles all the fish in the geographic area, ensnaring them and bringing them into the boat so that you can pick out the ones you want. That is what networking is all about. It is an active (as opposed to passive) form of job searching. This is where the 80%-plus number comes in…no exaggeration.
“But how do I start a network?” I am glad you asked. Here are some ideas for you.
(1) Club membership; take a look at the clubs you belong to. They can be something simple and informal, like the neighbors you grill burgers with on the weekends, to something a bit larger and more formal like…oh I don’t know…THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE, ARMY, MARINE CORPS, you get the idea!! Yes you are a veteran, or still on active duty, and therefore you have a no-kidding full-fledged network at your disposal; the other vets and service members you work with now or have worked with in the past. They not only have friends whom they can pass your resume to, but in most cases you have people who may work in the fields you want to work (like the government contracting field, GSA, other support) who are actually in your network and can not only get your resume to their company, along with a personal recommendation, but might get a cash referral bonus as well. It is a wonderful thing to get paid for helping your company by helping your friend…everybody wins.
(2) Family: unless your family is like mine they probably have jobs. Most importantly they have bosses to whom they can personally hand your resume. Maybe your family members don’t work in locations or in career fields that you want to work in so you think they are of no value…not so grasshopper! Let’s say that cousin Ernie works in a convenience store but you really want to work for the local beer distributor. Ernie can personally give your resume to the guys who deliver the beer and they can pass to their boss with a personal recommendation from Ernie. That is networking. Maybe you want to work for a government contractor in Key West but you don’t know anyone in Florida. Do you know anyone with that company locally? If so, they can send your resume to the office in Florida and maybe hook you up. That is networking.
(3) Formal Employment Networks: believe it or not there are hundreds of vets out there who want to help fellow vets and have created their own vet networks in addition to those who do it for a living; the Transition Assistance Program Offices. Most Transition Assistance Offices at military bases have email groups, webpages, or other ways to get jobs to their individual networks. Formal organizations like MOAA, TREA, etc. also distribute job notices to their members as do individuals like me with the K-Bar List Vet Network. They are all free and they all work.
(4) Informal Gatherings: do you play golf, drink beer, volunteer for local charities…so do people who work for the company you want to work for, so go meet them. If you are involved in kids’ sports or any other environment where other working adults are involved, this is a great time to network. Make sure you have either copies of your resume handy or your personal business card (with a list of your skill sets on the back, for example) that you can give to people you meet. And don’t be afraid to tell everyone, including the lady in front of you in the checkout line, that you are looking for a job. You can also find out where people hang out that work where you want to work. I go to a certain bar every Friday night with a bunch of friends who all DoD contractors. I have invited vets that I know are looking for a job to join us and some have gotten jobs very soon thereafter because they handed cards or resumes to my friends at the bar. I actually got an interview myself once because I offered a stuffed jalapeño to a guy at an Air Force Academy football tailgate party. Turns out he was the CEO of Indus Technology. I gave him my 30-second elevator speech and he gave me his card. The gentleman I interviewed with is still a friend of mine and he hired a vet whose resume I later gave him. That is networking. I may not have caught the fish, but I expanded my net and helped another vet catch his.
“But K-Bar,” you ask, “I am separating out of the Army from Fort Carson, Colorado and going home to Pigsknuckle, Arkansas…how do I get networked?” Very good question (no offense intended to my family in Arkansas, by the way). Some ways to find networks in your destination area include:
(1) First of all you must have a reason to be moving there, right?...family, friends, favorite taco stand, whatever, so you must know someone there. So ask them. As mentioned above, your family and friends are great sources of networking.
(2) You are a vet. There are VFW halls in just about every town I have ever been to. Look them up, get the number of the local hall and call them, tell them you are a vet looking for a job when you move there and ask who is hiring, whom should you call, etc. Offer to buy the bar a round if they will help get your resume to the local companies that do what you want to do. It works and the vets are proud to help one of their own.
(3) Is there a base nearby? Even some National Guard bases have Transition Assistance Offices. Call up the base, ask about their email list, job board, or whatever they have and ask to be put on it so that you start getting job notices from the place you want to go before you actually get there. If it is a base with a Transition Assistance Program, ask if you can sit in on the program when you get there.
“Ok, that is fine for vets staying in the US, but my spouse’s family is from a foreign country and I will be moving there after retirement.” Ok. So you think networking is only done in the US? Oh contraire mon amie. There are Ex-Patriot groups all over the world where American citizens living in those countries can go to for help in finding support of all kinds, including employment. Just look them up online. Not only that, but if you check the websites for US Embassies and Consulates abroad you will find that they have individuals in charge of employment for their locations and will have info on other employers in the area. And don’t forget about US military bases nearby…we have a few spread around the world in case you hadn’t noticed. Another good way to network for jobs in foreign countries is to find companies in your area that do business in that country and ask them for contacts. They may have an employee there that they can refer you to, another company they work with that is hiring there, or they may actually want to hire you to work for them.
Job searching is indeed a lot like fishing and if you work the net right you will have the greatest opportunity for success; if you just toss lines in the water you are at the mercy of fate. Just remember, unlike fish, those jobs want to be caught. Those employers want you to fill that job. It is up to you to make it happen…so get your net working.
Ken ‘K-Bar’ Barker
Athena Technical Services
 Ken Barker also runs the K-Bar List, a non-profit veterans’ employment network where he posts thousands of jobs and shares veteran resumes with over 400 vet-friendly companies around the world. Any veteran, vet family member, or first responder can apply by sending a resume to K-Bar at firstname.lastname@example.org.