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Vets, plan ahead for transition

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Joe Kearney retired from the Army in May after 23 years and has two words of advice for fellow veterans who will be looking for a job in the private sector: “Start early.”

Kearney, who works as a project manager for Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson in Plano, Texas, says jobs are out there for veterans, but finding them takes a lot of planning and hard work.

Sitting by a scenic lake near his Ericsson office, Kearney recalls a brief stint as a government contractor after leaving the military and uses the lake as an analogy for his job-hunting strategy.

“Instead of wading in the shallow end and continuing to work as a contractor, I decided I wanted to jump in the deep end and do a cannonball into the corporate world,” he says.

Despite Kearney's enthusiasm for a new career, he admits, “I spun a lot of wheels initially” by applying for jobs online.

But Kearney, like thousands of veterans, didn't know how to translate his military experience into civilian language that can attract employers.

Hiring managers cite veterans' lack of ability to show how their skills can be used in the private sector as a top negative, according to the Center for a New American Security.

Kearney began tapping into sites like Afterburner to help educate himself more about the business world and using LinkedIn's resources for veterans.

Another source he found helpful was RallyPoint, a professional military network started by former Special Forces Capt. Yinon Weiss and former Army Battalion Logistics Officer Aaron Kletzing, who met in Baghdad and reunited at Harvard Business School.

“We had this idea that we literally wrote on the back of a napkin,” Weiss says. Completing its first year, RallyPoint is often touted as a LinkedIn for troops.

The network allows military members to explore jobs with employers such as Amazon, General Electric and Lockheed Martin.

Employers are vetted carefully to ensure that vets will get the support they need from a designated veteran advocate with the company, Weiss says.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines leaving for private industry may not realize the value of networking and may think the only thing they need to do is send their resume with their qualifications.

Kearney says he often used networking to get desired positions within the military, so he was convinced of the value of networking and saw the potential of RallyPoint.

“You don't want to call a former member of the military and say, ‘Can you get me a job?' But you can call them and say, ‘Can you tell me how you made the transition?' ” he says.

Troops should begin their research and homework two years before they plan to leave the service, Kearney says.

Simple things can make a big difference, such as dropping the “Yes, sir,” from military experience and using a colleague's first name, Kearney says.

“You've got to get rid of the robot in you” and lose the bravado, he says. Earning online certifications and receiving training in civilian management practices can be helpful when applying for jobs.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” Kearney says. “But you've got to plan ahead and control your own destiny.”

Write Anita Bruzzese in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108.

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