This post is spurred by apost I saw in the veteran mentor network about how to get recruited like a top talent (Lonnie Ledford – Top Talent). Someone commented that it would be rare for someone transitioning right out of the military to be recruited as a top talent. I have to agree, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be overcome. By making the best of job opportunities and networking, it took me two years to craft a resume which got me interviews with the most selective consulting firms in the world. This is my story, and it can be seen as a follow up to a previous post on what jobs vets should look for (What jobs should vets look for?).
I was humbled by the recruiting process for my first post military job. I am a Naval Academy graduate with an M.B.A. and an M.S. in engineering from a top 50 school, so I figured that I would be heavily recruited. I was, but for jobs that paid significantly below what I was seeking (and sadly well below what other M.B.A.s from my school were seeing). Later, I was turned down for roles I thought I might settle for in order to get my foot in the door at a good company. I spent about five months as an unemployed, stay at home dad before I finally landed at Bank of America.
I was excited about the BofA opportunity because it was something I was passionate about: unsecured collections outsourcing. Of course I’m joking; what I was passionate about was analysis and statistics, which landed me a great role in unsecured collections strategy at Bank of America. Finding that role was my first step in what I think are three steps required to become recruited as a top talent.
1. Find a marketable role –
There are many reasons why a role can be considered marketable such as building in demand skills, being in a “hot” field, or building essential connections such as business relationships. My role at Bank of America helped me build and demonstrate in demand analytical skills in a way that was easily transferable and recognizable to other companies. I had a nearly unlimited quantity of data with which to build solutions which would improve collections performance. BofA’s unsecured portfolio is a lot of money; a small percentage improvement in the performance of a huge portfolio translates into millions of dollars per year. A resume bullet which describes a seven or even eight figure improvement to the bottom line is marketable everywhere.
My role was also marketable because Bank of America was a large and international brand. BofA is a known quantity; outperforming my peers at BofA holds more weight than if I had been a top performer at a lesser known firm. A lot has been made of the “credentials” associated with being attached to a name brand such as a particular university or employer; I do not know if it is sound practice to place such importance on brands but the effects are unquestionably real.
2. Be the best at what you do and work hard to become even better
The only things in life you have 100% control over are your attitude and your effort. It is up to you to outwork everyone else not only at your job responsibilities, but on building the skills to get better. BofA had many development opportunities available online that could be done whenever and were completely free to employees. I blocked off one hour per week where I would focus exclusively on my own development. It required me to put in extra time at first, but as I got better I was able to take on more projects because of how much more efficient I had become. I never understood why more of my peers did not take advantage of those opportunities.
There are a multitude of ways to gain skills that cost nothing but your time and effort. LinkedIn gives veterans access to the online training portal Lynda which has several worthwhile offerings. Top tier colleges offer classes about a number of subjects, including data science and machine learning, on platforms such as Coursera. If you want to take these courses but do not have the requisite math skills you can use programs like Khan Academy until you do.
X-factor: I was also fortunate to have a fantastic boss who was interested and invested in my development. He was part of the reason I chose this role; I had a good feeling about him, but he surpassed any reasonable expectations I had going in to the role. Having a boss or mentor who can provide quality feedback is tremendous for your development. If you are not getting it in your current job you should ask for it. If you still do not get it then you need to seek it from someone else, perhaps a manager who works for a related team. Larger employers often have mentorship programs which can help as well.
3. Network relentlessly –
After one year at BofA I decided that I was ready to transition to management consulting. I did some research and learned that almost all consulting hiring is done directly from schools, top ranked ones at that. In order to get an interview I needed to network and find people already at the firms who might vouch for me as a candidate. I searched LinkedIn for people I had a connection to that worked at the top firms and began reaching out. I found people who were consulting alumni at BofA and started conversations with them as well.
The value of networking cannot be understated when it comes to finding opportunities. In management consulting there are three firms that stand out as head and shoulders more competitive than the rest. I networked relentlessly with the top three and received interviews with two of them. I networked less aggressively with the second tier firms and did not get any interviews. I did not even receive “we are seeking other candidates…” responses from some of them. For the college football fans out there, it is the equivalent of getting scholarship offers from Alabama and Ohio State but Maryland and Vanderbilt won’t even take your calls. Networking is that powerful.
There are a lot of good articles about how to conduct an informational interview. To me the most important three points are to make it obvious you have done your research, to never ask for anything, and follow up to say thank you. No one will take you seriously if you are asking for information to be spoon fed and you might anger some; having done your research shows them you are serious. You should also never ask for anything other than information in your first conversation. If they offer to help, that’s great. If not, do not push them, they might not have any available time or not feel comfortable doing more. Even if someone was less than helpful, always follow up with a personalized thank you note. You never know when that can be important, and you never want to be seen as being ungrateful.
While almost all transitioning service members will not be recruited as a top talent, it is possible to change that with strategic planning and maximum effort. There are no shortcuts, but if you determine what you want and lay out a plan for how to get there, it is possible. You need to find the right role as a stepping stone, work diligently at your own development while outperforming your peers, and network with the right people to show them your worth.
NB 1: My roadmap is only the way to get your foot in the door for an interview. Impressing a top tier employer in the interview is a related subject, but far too much to include in this article.
NB 2: Management consulting firms love hiring military folks. Some of the top firms use the recruiters I mentioned in previous articles. If management consulting is something you are interested in, do your research on which firms you are interested in before being pitched by a JMO recruiter.
Disclaimer: These are my personal views and are not endorsed by my current or past employers.