Don’t know what you want to do after the military? Try getting to know yourself first.

Personal branding expert Lida Citroën recently offered attendees of the Student Veterans of America National Conference practical tips on how to sell yourself to civilian recruiters.

Chief among them: “Being an expert on you.”

“No hiring manager, no recruiter, no investor is going to spend the time to figure you out,” Citroën told Military Times in an interview.

Step 1: Understand your values and why they would make you an asset to a prospective employer.

Citroën said this is about knowing yourself as an individual — who you are, not what you do.

Many times, when she speaks to military audiences, people will automatically list their values according to what they’ve been taught to embody in uniform, such as honor, duty and service. But she suggests thinking about these more specifically as a man or woman — not a service member.

For example, if the broad value of service is attractive to you, frame this as “helping others” and think of specific ways you might be interested in doing so.

“When you can articulate your values, which is your why, and then match that up with your action ... people with trust you. People will assign you credibility. People will refer and endorse you,” Citroën said. “It doesn’t happen any other way.”

Step 2: Know what your brand is now and what you want it to become.

Your current brand is what others think of you, not necessarily what you think of you, said Citroën, author of “Your Next Mission: A Personal Branding Guide for the Military-to-Civilian Transition” and multiple LinkedIn Learning courses.

Just like companies’ brands can elicit memories of specific experiences with their employees or products, your brand leaves a lasting impression, too.

Good or bad, you need to understand what that impression is, as well as what you’d like it to be in the future.

“Knowing where you’re starting from and knowing where you want to end up are the two pillars that we put in personal brands,” Citroën said.

Step 3: Market yourself.

Citroën said body language matters, as do conversational skills — such as asking questions and not making everything about you — and being able to succinctly explain who you are and what makes you different, à la step one.

It can take a big mental adjustment to be comfortable talking about yourself. While military members are taught a service-before-self type of mentality, “the civilian sector is very much about, ‘What can you do for me?’”

“You’re not going to compete off of a resume. You’re not going to compete off of an MOS you earned in the military,” she said. “This is how civilians talk and how we get ahead and build relationships. It’s all about how I feel about you, whether I trust you, whether I’m going to refer you and put my name on the line. And that’s how people get jobs and get their businesses funded.”

It’s also important to know your audience.

“If you are fantastic, but you are speaking to the wrong people, it’s not going to line up,” Citroën said. And likewise, if you’re talking to a company that doesn’t have the same values as you, then you aren’t going to be happy working for them.

She offered a list of practical steps for marketing yourself, including projecting confidence, setting goals and staying real and authentic.

Above all, consistency is key here, she said. People should have a consistent experience with you, whether they’re meeting you in person or scrolling through your social media sites.

“Personal branding is not about perfection, because none of us are perfect. But it’s all about staying consistent.”

Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.

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