Kearney, who now 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.
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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.
The move turned out to be a dead end for several reasons. One of them was that Kearney, like thousands of other veterans looking for work, didn't know how to translate his military experience into civilian language that can attract employers.
Hiring managers cite veterans' 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 says he began tapping into sites like Afterburner to help educate himself more about the business world and began using LinkedIn's resources aimed at helping veterans.
Another source he found helpful was RallyPoint, a professional military network launched by former Special Forces Capt. Yinon Weiss and former Army Battalion Logistics Officer Aaron Kletzing, who first 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. Just completing its first year, RallyPoint is often touted as a LinkedIn for troops.
It asks users to share their permanent change of station dates from their current position, which helps others know when a position might be opening up in the armed services. But the network also allows military members to explore job options 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.
"A lot of companies don't understand the military language, and they may feel intimidated about hiring vets," he says. "Someone with the company that is former military can help advise and guide."
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines leaving for private industry also may not realize the value of networking and may think the only thing they need to do is send their resume with their qualifications, Weiss says.
Kearney says he often used networking to get desired positions within the military, so he was convinced of the value of networking and quickly saw the potential of a site like 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?' " Kearney says. "They can help you understand how not to overvalue or undervalue yourself."
“You've got to plan ahead and control your own destiny.”— Joe Kearney, Plano, Texas
Troops who want to enter the private sector should begin their research and homework two years before they plan to depart, Kearney says. That gives them time to learn how to translate their military skills into civilian terms; to network via sites like RallyPoint, Twitter and Facebook; and to tap into free services that provide career coaching for veterans.
Simple things often can make a big difference, such as dropping the "Yes, Sir," from a veteran'! s languag! e 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.
Military personnel moving to the private sector should not be afraid to ask for help because so many are willing to give it, Kearney says.
"There are a lot of opportunities out there," he says. "But you've got to plan ahead and control your own destiny."
Anita Bruzzese is author of 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy ... and How to Avoid Them, www.45things.com. Twitter: @AnitaBruzzese.