AMU Business Editor's Pick Original Veterans

Job-Seeking Veterans – Don’t Be Afraid to Market Yourselves

By Jennifer Marshall
AMUEdge Contributor

Most likely, you are either cringing or rolling your eyes at the title above. Besides narcissists or Instagram and TikTok “influencers,” who enjoys self-promotion? I understand that apprehension because for several years I was in the same mental space.

As veterans, we have “team first” and “mission over self” constantly drilled into our heads. In the service, no person is more important than another when it comes to completing the mission. However, if you are most recently separated from the military or preparing to make your transition, listen up. Candid conversation coming your way.

You Owe it to Potential Employers to Show Them What You’ve Got

You may not realize it, but what we veterans consider ordinary, many civilians consider extraordinary. Squared-away veterans are an asset to any company. We understand the importance of teamwork, being early, not offering excuses, and taking pride in our work. But how will future employers know what assets we bring to the job if we don’t tell them? This is a bold statement, but you owe it to potential employers to show them what you’ve got.

This is where the beauty of self-promotion comes in. Not icky, big-headed, “look at me” self-promotion, but promotion that showcases your strengths and the assets you would bring with you to the job.

I’ll be candid. At the beginning of my career as an actor and TV host, it was difficult for me to promote myself. I didn’t have a product or a business, I was the product. Essentially, I had to market myself as something someone else needed. No pressure, right?

And if self-promotion isn’t done correctly, it comes off as arrogant, out of touch, and, let’s be honest, borderline desperate.

I came to Hollywood as a woman over 30, a category that is not in great demand in the film world. But an acting teacher said something that resonated with me, and it’s fueled how I market myself and my skills. He told me that the greatest actor in the world might exist without ever being discovered, even better than Meryl Streep, better than Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s possible if no one knows that person exists. In essence, does a skill set exist if no one is aware of it? Make your skills and value known!

Even if you are committed to success, where do you start? This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, just a few bullet points to help you muster your courage and get moving. Remember, growth happens when you are uncomfortable, so embrace that feeling!

Five tips to start:

  • Remember that other people’s opinions of you are none of your business. Period. You will never be able to please everyone, so there is no point in even trying. Unless someone is feeding or financing you, their thoughts of you, your business, your product, or your success are irrelevant.
  • People are quick to judge because of their fears of going out into the unknown. Are you sure they are critiquing you or simply judging themselves for not having the gumption to take the next step?
  • Remember that promoting a product or business you believe in should come from seeing a problem and offering the solution. That way your passion comes across as assertive and helpful rather than aggressive and clingy.
  • In the military, we tend to see everything through a team lens and are often hesitant to claim anything as solely our doing. However, when interviewing for jobs in the private sector, we have to be careful not to let humility overshadow the things we accomplished in the service. The interviewer knows that you served in the military, so instead of talking about accomplishments and using the personal pronoun “we,” change it to what you did. Again, this will feel odd at first, but the potential employer is interested in your skillset, not that of your battalion, squadron, or air wing.
  • If you need to create a name for your product or business that is separate from your name, do that. So many people may want to be Cary Grant, but who wants to be Archibald Alexander Leach? That desire often doesn’t allow for separation of the person and the abilities, which can make self-promotion hard.

For example, I know that Jennifer Marshall is an actress and a product. However, Jennifer the mom and wife is often a bare-faced, ponytail-wearing, sweatpants-clad volunteer who loves and spoils her ancient cat, relishes singing off-key in her car, and bakes like a pro but cooks rather poorly, as my family can attest. Having the two identities takes the pressure off being picture-perfect all the time. Make the distinction and you will see immediately how much it helps.

Learning to self-promote and market yourself to either potential employers or customers isn’t easy and it won’t come overnight. Focus on one small thing you can do each day to push forward. Pay more attention to forward momentum and less to what people might think of you.

Lastly, in the words of actor and comedian Steve Martin, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Jennifer Marshall is a proud Navy veteran and vocal advocate for the military veteran community. You may know her as the host of Mysteries Decoded on the CW (yes, she really is a licensed Private Investigator), or as Max's mom on Netflix's hit, Stranger Things. Other shows she's appeared on include NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, and Nickelodeon's Game Shakers, to name a few.

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