Yinon Weiss still remembers the time, eight years into his ten-year military career, that an official from the Army’s human resources team came and spoke with the officers in his unit.
In the acronym-filled parlance of the armed forces, the official spoke about KD positions, and Weiss walked out of the meeting scratching his head. “I thought that meant ‘known distance’ from a firing range,” he recalls. “Very few of us knew he was talking about a ‘key development’ position.” While mentors had pulled him aside informally at times, the talk marked the “first time anyone in the military gave me any kind of formal talking points or recommendation” about developing a career.
Five years later, Weiss is the CEO of a newly launched startup he hopes will help military members take a more active role in planning their military—and post-military—careers. RallyPoint, a social network for current service members that is formally launching on Monday, is a sort of LinkedIn for the military. It allows members to create individual profiles, connect with their military contacts and see, via RallyPoint’s graphical maps of the military’s organization, how their own connections might help them get a foot in the door to desirable positions around the armed services.
The online network, says Weiss, takes “your social graph and visually displays it across the military hierarchy.” Or as his business partner Aaron Kletzing puts it, shows “all your professional relationships within the military on top of the architecture of the Department of Defense.”
Weiss and Kletzing, now RallyPoint’s chief operating officer, met in Iraq when both were in the Army, and ran into each other again at Harvard Business School. There they began talking about the potential for a business that helps military members. Both saw a problem that needed fixing: In an armed forces that rotates people through positions every couple of years, it can be difficult, both logistically and culturally, for individual members to play an active role in charting their own careers.
Indeed, a study by researchers at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government shows that the most important reason junior officers cite for leaving the military is career control, while two of the top changes they would want in order to consider rejoining are better assignments offered to the best officers and a “market mechanism” for assigning jobs. “[Army culture] discouraged thinking about your career,” Weiss says. “There’s a perception that you should just be thinking about your troops.”
He and Kletzing hope their new venture will help to change that. By giving military members a visual way of seeing who in their professional network works where, more members might actively seek out roles that interest them. RallyPoint asks everyone who joins to share their PCS (permanent change of station) date—the departure date from their current role. Sharing this information could help people in their network see when open positions will become available. “Unlike in the private sector,” Weiss says, “the military is very arithmetic, very predictable. Positions are open on a fixed schedule, and that fixed schedule is known years in advance.”
He offers an example. “Say I’m an infantry officer in the army and I want a position in Italy because that’s a prestigious assignment,” Weiss says. “Currently I have to stumble through the process and find out who I know over there, either by going to Facebook or calling my college roommates” to put in what’s called a by-name request. There’s “no real process there,” he says. If RallyPoint reaches a critical mass, members will be able to use it to see who they know in the desired unit, or at least who they know who knows people within it, and when their self-reported PCS dates might be.
“What I’m describing already happens, but the transparency is not available,” Weiss says. “It’s like getting a job in the private sector. [The best approach] is not to just drop off a resume,” but to use your network to get a foot in the door.
The startup, which allows any active-duty member of the armed forces, national guard, reserves or ROTC—basically, anyone wearing the uniform—to join, has already attracted interest from a large state national guard force and the staff that runs more than 270 ROTC programs. It also has the support of some well respected advisers such as retired general George Casey, the former Army chief of staff, who is a board member.
In addition to helping service members navigate career opportunities within the military, RallyPoint also intends to help members find career opportunities outside it, too, an especially important issue given the estimated one million military members who will enter the civilian workforce over the next five years. The company intends to generate revenue by charging private-sector employers fees to connect with transitioning service members—months before their planned departure date—who have the skills the companies are seeking. It is currently talking terms with several Fortune 100 companies, Kletzing says.
A study released this past spring found that among those leaving for the military for other career opportunities, the younger set—between the ages of 22 and 24—had particular difficulty connecting with employment opportunities. On average, their unemployment rate was 3 percent higher than for nonveterans in that age group and, in 2009, that put those veterans’ unemployment numbers close to 22 percent.
The challenge ahead for RallyPoint, of course, will be to build enough scale so that the social network has real value to members, whether looking for positions inside or outside the military. After a few months of being available by invitation only, the site has roughly 600 members and more than 1,000 people waiting to join. But that number could grow quickly as formal invitations are no longer needed, and as service members informally invite their other professional military contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn or email accounts. Weiss says the company’s goal is to have 300,000 members within a year.
In addition, says Kletzing, the military’s frequent rotations of members into new jobs means their professional networks expand quickly. “There’s a multiplier effect,” he says, estimating that by the time military members are in their third assignment, and provided they have maintained contact with the people in their network, RallyPoint could connect them within one degree of separation to more than 75 percent of major military bases around the world.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
More from On Leadership:
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: