If you haven't noticed yet, I'm a huge proponent of building a large network of people who can connect you to others in your chosen career field. This becomes especially important when making the military-to-civilian career transition.
Meeting new faces, spending time in new places, and expanding your reach and knowledge of what the civilian world has to offer should be considered essential! Whether you plan to pursue a new career in an environment that's similar to your military surroundings, venture out into a totally new atmosphere in a highly-civilianized company, or even venture out on your own and start a business, you need to meet new people and learn to appreciate new perspectives.
Today, you're going to meet Javier Rodriguez. He's an Entrepreneur with a vision and a heart for the Military. Here, he shares his experiences about who he is, what he does, and some important things to think about as you pursue your dream.
Charles "Chazz" Pratt III (CP3): Tell me about yourself for those who may not know you.
Javier Rodriguez (JR): I have a hard time describing "who" I am. I am the shy kid who sat quietly in class and sketched super heroes during high school. I dreamed of illustrating comics and creating animated movies. I constantly had an entire universe of sci-fi and fantasy characters spinning inside my head, wielding swords and armored power suits. I once avoided an essay assignment of 1200 words (in 11th grade it felt like 500,000 wds.) for chemistry by submitting a clever 1-page comic book style rendering of a chain reaction. That artwork was energy well spent.
I seldom see things as most people, I tend to question the status quo. I am a global thinker, as opposed to linear thinkers. Feel free to Google that. I ask the "why do we do this like that" question often. Some people might misconstrue that for rebellion. In my mind, it's either going to reinforce the current processes or open the door for innovation. So, why aren't we the energy super center of the world?
CP3: What specifically do you do in support of Veterans and Military Spouses?
JR: I have the highest respect for our veterans and military families. I felt compelled to "act" on my appreciation of their service, instead of just flag-waving a couple times a year. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not actually helping anyone, except flag manufacturers.
I decided to take my passion, experience and pocketbook and take a chance. It was the right thing to do, as many have said before me. I founded GI Money Magazine and the gimoney.com website. It was the start of a great adventure for my family and me. I am still going strong. I am also so far away from what used to be my comfort zone that I can't find my way back. Success or bust.
CP3: I know from talking to you that you know of some online tools you believe everyone should be using. Which one stands out the most?
JR: Nowadays there seems to be at least 12 tools for any job. It's exciting and overwhelming. It's like shopping for butter at Wal-Mart. You could lose yourself and your objective at any given moment. I digress.
I am a big fan of LinkedIn. I found out about it years ago when some colleagues incessantly invited me to join. It was free and they were persistent. I didn't really start to use it until about 3 years ago. I learned some techniques for "connecting" with people by trial and error. I also paid a consultant to teach me some strategies and tactics. It wasn't cheap, but it was a game changer for me. I was now on the offensive and gaining momentum.
CP3: Can you give some specific examples of how LinkedIn has helped you network?
JR: While Facebook and Twitter have specific strengths, LinkedIn offers its users professional networking in a very unique way. I strongly feel that everyone, at minimum, should have a LinkedIn profile before they graduate from high school. It's a living resume that should progress and evolve with all of your professional experiences. By professional, I am also referring to any and all areas of: volunteering, project work, training, internships and colleague testimonials.
To give an example, LinkedIn helped me enter the military market. It did this by allowing entrance into veteran association groups and giving me the chance to interact with that community. I have found that they are very protective of their own because there are some "bad players" that seek to exploit their benefits. I learned a great deal about this by reading and responding to various group members from all over the US. For those who do not know me, I should make one fact about me known. I am actually a civilian. I have never served in the military. I cannot waltz into a military installation and chitchat with any and everybody. I have had to earn credibility in that regard.
By using "Groups", a LinkedIn networking tool, I have been able to reach out to professional in all levels of our military branches, government and directly with other organizations that work hard to support military families as well.
CP3: How can Military Spouses and Veterans use LinkedIn in a job search?
JR: Since LinkedIn launched in may 2003, it has grown to have over 200 million members. Now that's access. Would it not make sense to ask some of them for job leads? To make things better, LinkedIn has taken that global network and added a LinkedIn Jobs tool. This means that your LinkedIn profile is "there and ready" for employers, business owners and staffing companies to find and consider for openings. It's an alternative to constantly changing and tweaking your resume and having to upload it 8 different ways depending on the employment site(s) you visit. It's becoming the standard format of choice by companies. Organizations are modifying their processes and technology on how they find candidates in order to tap into the ever-growing pool of talent on LinkedIn. Think about that.
CP3: Many Military People spend most of their time around military people. Do you think LinkedIn is a good way to connect with people living and working outside the four walls of the military installation?
JR: Yes. Absolutely! It's an easy way to focus on professional skills and experience, rather than complicating interactions because of rank, branch, location, etc.
CP3: You've spent a significant amount of your career marketing publications. How can Veterans and Military Spouse market themselves?
JR: You need to see the sum of your experience, skills and education as your personal brand. You are not you, you are the brand you. Confused?
CP3: What challenges do you foresee in the competitive workplace that Veterans and Military Spouses must overcome?
JR: I still see a huge disconnect between the existing civilian workplace when compared to what a military-trained professional expects to see. From my limited knowledge, veterans are focused on achieving objectives. They are a highly desirable employee for any organization. The problem comes when they are faced with co-workers and superiors that are more focused on protecting their job. I've been in that environment and witnessed the ugly side of personal agendas overruling performance. The job market is not just competitive, it's vicious. This can create a counter-productive company culture that clashes with what appears to be "common sense" for a veteran who has just recently transitioned out of the service, and into civilian life.
CP3: Any final words or thoughts related to what you do and how you can help Veterans and Military Spouses?
JR: You are your own brand now. Learn to pitch it and sell it. Find others doing that same thing and ask them questions. Heck, you can ask me. I'll share some stories. Remember, you'll be ahead of the other 97% of the US that just follows the herd if you dare to reach a little higher. Take whatever competitive advantage you have and use it. Don't say, "Nobody told me." I just did.
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