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Leverage Your Military Experience in Your LinkedIn Profile

By Don Orlando, MBA, CPRW, JCTC, CCM, CCMC, Col. USAF (ret.)

If you've served on active duty, you know all about networking. The concept has been part of military culture for more than 200 years.

Were you the person commanders went to to get what the unit needed-even when official channels seem to block you? You knew how to network. Did you serve on a headquarters' staff and have to brief a general officer on a subject you knew little about? You knew how to network. Did you try to get some specific assignments? You knew how to network. Yet you may feel a total loss when it comes to social networking in the civilian world, specifically how to get the most out of LinkedIn.

People like Jason Alba have written entire books about using LinkedIn ("I'm in LinkedIn. Now What?) so I won't attempt anything like a comprehensive review here. Rather, let me just note the key points that apply particularly to veterans.

Headlines (the brand statements that appear just below your name on your profile) are vitally important. During the recent Global Career Brain Storming Day, Wayne Mitchell, a top recruiter, said the headline is one of the first things independent recruiters look at.

But it can be hard for a veteran to write because you've done so many different things well. You think of yourself as a leader. Yet leadership isn't a career field, or even a well developed brand statement. It's a vital tool used in almost every endeavor.

You may have to work extra hard at defining your brand, your unique statement of value to employers. But the effort is worth the cost because it will lead to a powerful LinkedIn headline.

LI's special groups might be particularly useful for you. Enter the terms "military veteran" in the LI Group Directory search engine and you'll get 52 matches (as of Monday, 06 December, 2010). Now search for groups in your career field.

Sample a few. The typical profile will be little more than a posted résumé, a very small network, and sparse updates.

Now search for a top notch one. You'll recognize it because it spells out what that person has to offer. Consider this example for a PR expert:

John Smith
Building your unpaid sales force-people who tell others how great your company is.

You now have a standard to work toward even before you begin building or updating your profile.

LinkedIn is often called the "gold standard" of professional, social, networking sites. Yet many misunderstand measures of goodness. As you invite others to join your network, it's not quantity, but quality, that counts.

Today, networking is not the mutually mortifying process in which you impose on every friend, relative, and total stranger to ask them for something they cannot give you: a job. Rather, it is the natural preferance for offering to help others.

That idea should guide you as you build your network. If you saw someone with 5,000 people in his network, would you believe they are all regularly connected? I didn't think so.

You are not shooting for a specific number, but rather a family of people who can help you and who you might be able to help.

Consider a production professional. She could probably benefit from being connected to an employment attorney who specializes in worker's compensation claims, an industrial safety expert, a manufacturing robotics specialist, a transportation professional, and an OSHA inspector. She could learn something from each, and she probably can provide insights to every one of them as well.

I hope this brief article will help you see opportunities to put your highly developed networking skills to work in a new, civilian workplace.