Financial sector companies have led the way in creating career opportunities for military veterans. But how might veterans making the transition to civilian careers better take advantage of those opportunities?
Since most military veterans will have spent at least a few years outside the civilian career track, it helps to have a plan to bridge the gap when making your career transition. Here’s some tactical advice for veterans pursuing financial service careers.
1) Networking is essential. Personal contacts are essential for any successful job search, but they’re doubly important for military personnel who have been out of the civilian workforce. So don’t delay reaching out to friends, family members, former co-workers and other contacts to rebuild and nurture your personal and professional networks. You’re likely to have people in your network with contacts in financial services companies like banks, insurance companies, mortgage providers, investing advisories and others.
Here’s good advice from the Department of Veterans Affairs about how to secure informational interviews that help you to learn about opportunities while expanding your network:
Ask family members, friends, and other veterans to put you in touch with the decision-makers at the places you would like to work. Contact those people and ask for an informational interview. Unlike job interviews, informational interviews let you talk with potential employers about your strengths and experiences. Even if they are not hiring, the people you connect with may be able to refer you to others who are-and they themselves may keep you in mind for future openings.
2) Pay special attention to veteran recruitment programs. As our accompanying Project Invested article notes, many financial services firms are looking for candidates with the very skills and abilities you developed in the military-teamwork, leadership, discipline, communication skills, the ability to learn quickly and solve problems.
“Banks and mortgage companies welcome vets, because they like the strategic skills and people who’ve built and directed teams and executed plans,” banking recruiter Ann Louise Drake tells Monster.com. “They’ve been serving their country, so when they go into a role in a banking organization they have strong customer-service standards. People from the military know how to troubleshoot problems and find resolutions.”
Check out individual firm’s websites and job fairs for veterans to find opportunities aimed specifically at the military veteran.
3) Accentuate your strengths, but be prepared to address your weaknesses. Chris Perkins, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and now works as global head of OTC clearing for Citi, emphasizes that military veterans looking to enter the financial industry should emphasize their strengths and seek ways to address their weaknesses. Perkins explains the importance of developing technical expertise specific to the financial industry:
While veterans spent time serving their country, many of their civilian counterparts were developing their technical expertise through academic and on-the-job training. This can seem daunting, unless job-seekers understand that it is much easier to learn the technical aspects of the business than it is to develop qualities that cannot be taught at a desk. There are plenty of ways to increase your technical proficiency-it is simply a matter of hard work and dedication. One tip is to seek out opportunities for accreditation, like working to become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) (Certified Financial Planner (CFP), or Financial Advisor).
4) Look for learning opportunities to enhance your expertise. Many financial careers require at least a bachelors’ degree, and some majors will give you a leg up: a background in math, finance, economics, statistics or accounting can give you an advantage.
To boost your credentials for your financial industry job search, seek out scholarships or learning programs crafted specifically for veterans. For example, SIFMA and the Wall Street Warfighters Foundation partner to offer executive education scholarships to the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School of Business. Similarly, The American College for Financial Services and Penn Mutual offer scholarships for veterans.
5) Learn the language and understand the culture. One perennial challenge military veterans face in the transition to civilian jobs is that your background and experience are foreign to hiring managers-you’re just not speaking the same language. Military jargon and acronyms are clear to you, but don’t count on civilian managers knowing how to interpret your experience. Look online for military skills translator tools and resume advice that will help you to connect your skills and abilities with what firms are looking for.
And if you’re looking to make the leap to the financial industry, you’ll need to also beef up your basic knowledge of financial terminology, investment products and other key concepts. Citi’s Perkins says it’s all about learning to “talk the talk.” Pay attention to financial media sources, and ask people in your network for advice on learning the ropes.
“Like many professions, finance has a huge vernacular,” Citi’s Perkins explains. “The quicker you can understand workplace conversations, the better off a newly transitioned veteran will be.”
6) Expand your search to administrative and support roles. When many people think of financial services jobs, they imagine front-line positions in sales, trading and deal-making. But like any industry, banks and financial services firms need qualified back office professionals to keep things running. Did your military service or college education include training in operations and administration or information technology? Your skills may be a perfect fit for the firm.
In fact, many of these tips will apply to anyone seeking a first job or a fresh start in a new career. But veterans are likely to face special challenges in their job search as they seek to gain a foothold in the civilian labor force-so starting with a clear plan is essential.