Transitioning from a caste system to a network

Today’s military has evolved from the days of buying officer commissions, forced impressment, and draconian punishments. Nonetheless, the military branches today are still organizationally and socially structured on a caste system designed 2100 years ago. Major reforms to the Roman Army in 107 BC produced the modern military’s skills-based and rank-based system. It was during this time that new soldiers enlisted for a term of 20 years (sound familiar) and were given equipment and pay for service.

Before this period, soldiers typically served for shorter periods, or as they were needed. A 20-year service commitment used to be the working life of many men, but today almost all service members have an entire second career. Even for those of us who have not served 20 years, transitioning to the modern economy is an incredibly foreign experience. Too much of today’s transition advice is solely focused on identifying set skills, certifications, and niche professions. This advice, while important for some positions, sets servicemembers up for failure in their larger transition to the modern economy.

Networking requires we talk about ourselves and our strengths, a trait that the military does not typically foster naturally.

Today’s younger generations change jobs at a higher rate than their elders and recent studies have shown an pay advantage in doing so. This new norm in the knowledge economy might be in reaction to the massive reshuffling of jobs our economy has seen, but it is also a great hedge against change. Workers with a diverse background and the ability to learn new skills on the job will have an advantage as the future workforce changes. Today’s work culture has changed as well and now requires employees to network and find opportunities outside of their immediate occupational “comfort zone.” This shift in work culture is directly tied to today’s economy. Increasingly someone’s network is their source of livelihood and the value proposition they bring to companies and organizations. This shift in organizational value is a bewildering cultural shift for many veterans, which are used to rank, pay, and social status being worn on their chest and sleeve.

If we are to adequately empower and prepared today’s Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen for a life outside of uniform, we must confront this reality and share the wisdom of networking. The challenge is twofold. First, we must teach veterans to focus their effort on networking with professionals instead of just applying to job listings. Second, we must teach them how to spot and connect with professionals that they are impressed with. This can be a difficult mental shift from the military ethos of “keep your nose to the grindstone.” Networking requires we talk about ourselves and our strengths, a trait that the military does not typically foster naturally. First, this skill must be practiced, but it is equally important for veterans to know the tools to spot people they want to emulate. Next, veterans need to build the confidence to connect with mentors to learn about possible career opportunities. In my transition, I have found three companies are doing a terrific job assisting military veterans with this mental shift: Veterati, Deloitte, and Linkedin.

Veterati is a digital platform for veterans to find and connect with mentors. Their pool of mentors is a curated group of successful professionals who are willing and able to connect. Mentors provide open dates/times for veterans to schedule a phone call. This process takes all the hard work out of networking and is the perfect launchpad for veterans looking for informational interviews. I used this platform to learn about every industry I was even remotely interested in, and it was incredibly helpful. Veterati also helped me hone my interview skills, and it helped me practice my “elevator pitch.”

Deloitte is another company dedicated to assisting veterans in their transition out of the military. Their flagship initiative is the Career Opportunity Redefinition & Exploration (CORE) Leadership program led by Deloitte’s Chief Learning Officer. Over a transformative three-day workshop veterans define their brand, learn how to network, practice networking, and connect with former CORE alumni. This workshop is small, which allows for one-on-one mentorship with world-class consultants. The program gave me an enriched sense of confidence and is the motivation for this article. I wish Deloitte could bring every veteran in for this program, but for the time being, they have about 50 participants per quarter.

Last, is a platform you are likely familiar with and it happens to be at the heart of the Veterati platform and Deloitte curriculum: Linkedin. The sheer utility of Linkedin puts it on the shortlist of critical tools for any transitioning veteran, but Linkedin has gone further by partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Through donating one-year of the Linkedin Job Seeker subscription and one-year access to Linda courses, LinkedIn is delivering a truly incredible gift to transitioning veterans. This is because, without the knowledge and understanding of how important networking is, many veterans might be deterred by the cost of the subscription and miss out on the incredible opportunities it provides.

I began this article explaining that transitioning from the military requires veterans change their mindset about networking and also learn the tools of networking. The first challenge for a veteran is understanding that they must relearn what success looks like. Merely climbing the corporate ladder is no longer sufficient. We must connect with groups of like-minded peers for the purpose of mutual benefit. Second, veterans must actually network. Deloitte has shown me that this is a learned skill and Veterati gave me a shortcut to make it happen. LinkedIn is the platform that has made this whole process possible. I am a testament that together, these tools deliver the solutions that veterans need.

Terence Bennett is leaving the active-duty Navy in July 2017. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.