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Crafting Veterans’ Edge for Today’s Civilian Market

Crafting Veterans’ Edge for Today’s Civilian Market

Veterans facing the “what’s next?” question when transitioning to civilian life can find it daunting. Even with incentives that encourage businesses and organizations to hire veterans, those leaving the services run into a number of challenges.

For example, veterans often voice that they’re treated as an entire group rather than as individuals. Some may be career military officers who served for decades, while others are entering civilian life in their early career years, so employment needs are vastly different.

Another factor for transitioning veterans has to do with not only employment, but also making personal, social, and professional shifts. While they understand the need for transition, they become tired of hearing that they have to start over or adapt. Veterans have invested substantially in their military training and careers, yet often feel that civilian employers don’t understand how they can employ these abilities within the company. Further, those who served for many years and invested substantially in their skillsets perceive that employers view them as a potential challenge if entering a new organizational structure or culture.

An effective solution to both veterans’ and employers’ concerns can be found in a new approach to employment called “BE-EDGE.” It involves the following aspects.

Ownership and Control

Veterans want to adapt their skills for the civilian job market while maintaining the momentum gained during their military service. Instead of trying to adhere to traditional employment processes in an effort to fit available jobs, veterans can take control over their employability.

They can elucidate their own multidimensional profile and define the space they wish to occupy, the employer they see as a potential fit, and the challenge for which they believe they can contribute most.

The BE-EDGE approach lets them create their own space in the industry of their choosing and determine their “Boutique Employability” — the “BE” in BE-EDGE. In the same way a niche market differs from a mass market or a boutique differs from a department store, boutique employability differs from conventional approaches to employability. It emphasizes uniqueness.

Investment in Three Capitals

Veterans looking to craft a space in new markets are responsible for three areas of their employability — personal, social and professional – in order to be prepared for the industry and company of their choice.

Applying the BE-EDGE Method

Harnessing these principles, the BE-EDGE method provides a personal strategy for veterans entering a new market using a consulting case. This includes four E-D-G-E steps, which, when followed, allow veterans to develop their skills for optimum employability in the civilian market.

Similar to how businesses redefine their business model when entering a new market — establishing connections, learning local “rules of the game” and culture, and assessing business competencies — veterans need to: recalibrate their professional core (personal), connect with people and culture (social), and assess their competencies for the market they choose to enter (professional). In this way, they determine how and where they can add capital or reinvest available capital within a new market.

(E)lucidate Your Professional Core

In this first step, the focus is on your personal capital and defining your multidimensional profile by bringing together your earlier accumulated accomplishments and connecting them with a future vision of you in new settings. By doing this you can refine your focus on the kind of organization that interests you. Then, create a set of target projects you believe you have the capacity to address and solve that has the potential to benefit the company you have selected. Understand that at this early stage, you are the one homing in on your potential employer, not the other way around.

(D)evelop Trust

Next, extend your social capital as you approach the employer(s) of your choice. Explain that you’d like to be allowed to become familiar with a real-life challenge the company faces that’s related to your area of specialization. The goal is to become involved in the fabric of your target company through listening and learning the company vision, culture, and operation, and helping to tell the company’s story. In working with your company insider, you familiarize yourself with the company’s challenge and contexts, along with the language and people of the company. Through this involvement, you develop trust among key company insiders by acting as an industry- and company-centered researcher and biographer.

(G)enerate Value

Next, provide your view on how the challenge that you have investigated could be understood and solved, while applying your previously accumulated professional capital. This allows you to develop a space in which you are appreciated for the value you generate for the company and for the competencies you’ve previously acquired.

(E)xcite the New Market

Finally, share your solution to the company’s challenge with the company insiders to demonstrate your personal, social, and professional value. The result of developing an on-point consulting case that generates value for the company is that you show, not just tell, your clear sense of professional direction, your willingness to take initiative, your social suitability for the company, and your innovative view on how the company can deal with challenges and grow.

With the BE-EDGE method, veterans can visualize a space in the civilian workforce that fits them, select and connect with a company, and provide evidence that they’re capable of solving a company challenge because of their boutique employability.


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by Julia Ivy, PhD // Julia Ivy, PhD Psych, PhD Mgmt, is a strategy and international business executive professor and faculty director at Northeastern University. Her area of expertise is in bridging strategy and psychology in a concept of personal strategy. In addition to her academic work, she acts as an executive coach for those facing the “What’s next?” challenge and as a consultant for businesses that want to differentiate with multidimensional ideas and services. Her new book is Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market: Using the BE-EDGE Method for Consulting Cases and Capstone Projects (Emerald Publishing, Oct. 7, 2019). Learn more at be-edge.com.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.