- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

What's Your Military-to-Civilian Job Seeker Brand?

by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

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They are everywhere – on billboards, in magazines, on the labels of our favorite beverages, on... No matter where we go, we are surrounded by brands.

But what about people? Can individuals develop their own ‘brands’ that summarize what they are all about?   Yes, and personal branding can go a long way in an increasingly competitive job market and will help you as a military-to-civilian job seeker.

“A personal brand is your unique promise of value,” said Bonnie Kurka, CPRW, JCTC, FJST, business and career coach at Executive Career Suite in Portland, Ore., and a volunteer for the Army Family Team Building program. “When you are looking for a new position, it’s the value that you are bringing to the future employer that is the most important.”

All of us have our own brand and it is comprised not only of our professional experience, education, and personality, but also takes into account the impressions of others. This is why, say the experts, that personal branding is such a powerful distinguishing factor during one’s job search and along one’s career path.

“For military personnel, it’s important during this transition to think about their personal brand as it relates to a job search,” said Valerie L. Pendergrass, a USMA graduate and career coach at The Next Step Coaching and Consulting in Orlando, Fla.

Military personnel share many marketable traits, including a strong work ethic, a sense of integrity, teamwork, grace under pressure, reliability, initiative and discipline. Although these characteristics contribute to the creation of a competitive brand, you must also identify what makes you unique. Start by soliciting feedback from your peers.  By knowing how others see you, you can begin to identify your strengths and how you can use them to differentiate yourself. This exercise will help determine not only which opportunity is best for you, but also where you want to take your career.

Kurka refers to this as “unearthing.” “It’s a total self-discovery process,” she said. “It’s not like a corporate brand, where a group of consultants get together and develop and design a brand. Your personal brand is authentic; it’s within you.” She suggests that candidates perform a 360-degree assessment to get a solid idea of not only how you see yourself, but to gain insight from those around you.

Pendergrass stresses that the personal branding process is important because it helps candidates avoid launching futile searches which can be helpful to military-to-civilian job seekers. She cites a common phenomenon: Candidate A purports to be experienced in doing Job B, but goes ahead and applies for Jobs C, D, E and even R, receiving rejections left and right. “There is nothing more demoralizing than submitting 50 resumes and getting one response because you’re not targeted and you’re not branded,” she said, adding that in conducting a branding exercise, one tailors his or her search and correspondence – namely resumes and cover letters – to the targeted positions. “Your brand allows you to focus on a position and on a specific type of opportunity that is going to be of interest to you and the reviewer.”

This does not mean that you should create a persona that you think will win the job. A personal brand must be genuine in order to be effective. “One may think, ‘I’ve got to look, speak or appear a certain way’ that may not be authentic to who they are,” Pendergrass said. “When the brand is created, it really is an organic extension of who you are.”

Kurka says that when developing personal brands with her clients, there is a step in the process where the client must write a brand statement. “It says who they are and what they do,” she explained. “It’s something they can refer to, so when they are making a decision, they can ask themselves, ‘Am I being authentic to my brand?’” This, she notes, helps people to avoid the temptation of being everything to everyone. “It doesn’t do any good to put on a persona to get a job. If you are not yourself, it’s hard to carry off that façade all of the time.”


Carolyn Heinze ( is a freelance writer/editor.

Return to April 2009 Issue