In a previous military transition article I hinted that I’d write about another organization that was instrumental in my preparation to transition out of the Marine Corps. This article lends a hand to you cliffhangers out there.
FourBlock is a nonprofit organization, free to veterans and active duty, dedicated to helping Service Members find their next career after taking off the uniform (they have a spouse program too!). What makes FourBlock unique is their approach to reducing the anxiety of networking. They have a cadre of truly dedicated mentors in select cities/regions throughout the US that help you to define who you are, decide in what field you want to work, and find the best possible organizational fit — through practical application with veteran employees from participating companies. In writing your military transition story, networking is critical.
But networking doesn’t have to be painful, or scary (for you introverts out there). FourBlock helped me to answer some foundational questions necessary to building a successful transition.
Who am I?
Much like The COMMIT Foundation I wrote about before, FourBlock helped me figure out who I am. I know that sounds a bit bizarre to have to “figure out who you are” or to not know already. But, the military is great at stripping down our individuality and making us part of the larger whole. And so for however long we’re in the military, we identify mostly as part of the group, rather than as an individual. Until much too late, I hadn’t considered what makes me happy or that I’d be able to make a career out of whatever “happy” is. I also took too long to realize how closely honest introspection was related to achieving that happiness.
FourBlock’s program runs for 12 weeks. Each week included some light reading and a little homework designed to help students identify their close knit network, develop personal and professional goals, decide where to dedicate time volunteering, build a personal brand, etc. All of the exercises helped bubble to the surface those traits and characteristics that make a person who they are.
Ok, so maybe you’re wondering “what in the world does figuring out who I am have to do with networking?” Well, the first question most people want to know when they meet you is who you are. If you can’t answer that question, there’s really nowhere for a conversation to go. This next bit is going to be tough for active duty folks and some veterans to hear: who you are is more than what job you do. It can be extremely difficult to separate who you are as a Service Member from who you truly are once you strip away the uniform. But you have to figure it out eventually because the day will come when you hang it up for good. And, of course, the sooner you figure it out the better because you will want to begin networking long before you exit military service.
What am I Going to Do for a Living?
Have you ever really dug into defining what you like to do, what you’re good at, or what can make you money? You are going to want to spend time researching companies or careers that sit at the intersection of those three things. FourBlock won’t identify those companies and careers for you outright, that will be on you. But FourBlock gives you a great opportunity to practice how to engage these companies.
Once a week for 12 weeks, FourBlock mentors for my cohort in San Diego introduced us to veterans inside some of the largest employers in San Diego. Once a week I was gifted the opportunity to deliver my “who I am and what I’m interested in doing” elevator pitches to veterans who walked the transition path. Not only did these mixers help us refine our elevator pitches, they also served as early stage interviews, which is possibly one of the greatest benefits of FourBlock’s program.
I’m Not Going to Figure it Out Alone
Everyone in my cohort walked away with a legitimate contact inside each of the 12 companies we “visited” (interactions were limited to virtual due to COVID-19). These veterans already proved to us that they want to help because they volunteered to tell us about their company. If any of us were interested in joining that company or learning more about it, all we had to do was reach out to that veteran and ask. That’s a VERY low bar. This next point is probably another article in itself (uh oh, did I just create more cliffhangers?!): networking can be time-consuming and hard, especially at the beginning. FourBlock makes it easier. Much easier.
The other built-in benefit of joining a FourBlock cohort is the relationships you form with the other members of your cohort. They become part of your network too! This takes a lot of pressure off of you having to figure out every element of your transition on your own. I learned so much from everyone else in my cohort during and after my FourBlock experience (Ben B., thanks for that PMP advice brother!). Not only do I feel comfortable, even years later, reaching out to the vets from my cohort, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to write any of the 2,500 plus veterans in the FourBlock community who are EXPECTING to help a veteran transition.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here, a mentor and friend of mine, Jimmy C., told me “it’s not what who knows, it’s not even who you know, your success in any transition is all about who knows you.” I don’t get the calls and offers I get because I submit online job applications and resumes (I know this because I don’t submit applications and resumes). Offers come from people who have heard my name and learned about my reputation from people in my network that respect me and what I bring to teams.
I cannot more highly recommend FourBlock for anyone out there looking to expand their network in military transition. It doesn’t matter if you are a private, colonel, or anything in between, these dedicated mentors are just waiting for you to apply so they can help you transition smoothly. Apply as early in your transition as you can, but if you’re reading this after taking off the uniform for the last time, that’s ok too, I had a few veterans in my cohort.
No matter if you choose FourBlock, or Commit Foundation, or if you end up choosing not to get assistance from the many nonprofits out there waiting to help, just get out there and mix it up! Find the people you want to work with. Find the companies that can provide the right organizational fit. Buy as many cups of coffee as you can afford to learn as much as possible about what opportunities exist for you. And in the process, you’ll build your network. Remember, in writing your military transition story, networking is critical to your success.
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