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RallyPoint, a LinkedIn for Veterans, Battles Unemployment

The professional network for military members is growing like a weed.

Following four years of active duty in the Army, and another 12 serving in military-related civilian positions, Nicole Jensen ran into an unexpected problem: She couldn’t find a job.

Over a five-month period, Jensen says she applied to nearly 90 jobs, of which she heard back from three. She had profiles on every job site she could find, Monster, USA Jobs and LinkedIn among them. At one point, she actually “dumbed down” her resume, taking off prior management experience in the hope of catching the attention of recruiters looking to fill more entry-level roles.

“I’m not going to tell you exactly how I felt because there are some expletives in there,” she says now, laughing. “It gives you a worthless feeling not even hearing back [from the recruiter]. Hearing nothing made me feel worthless and ignored.”

Jensen’s relocation to Texas from Germany — where her husband was wrapping up his 24th year of active duty — meant she needed to rejoin the civilian workforce, which found her military qualifications difficult to understand. Recruiters couldn’t translate Jensen’s military experience, and she didn’t know any other way to explain it. When her brother, another veteran, recommended RallyPoint, a LinkedIn-style professional network specifically focused on active and veteran military members, she signed up. She had nothing to lose.

Within 72 hours, she was contacted by Time Warner Cable for a program manager opening. Her first day on the job was last week.

“The recruiters on RallyPoint, they really stepped up,” she said. “[Most] people don’t know what veterans can really bring to a company.”

RallyPoint is looking to solve an issue facing hundreds of thousands of veterans joining or returning to the private sector. Recent veterans, or those who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, face a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, much higher than the 6.2 percent unemployment rate for the general U.S. population.

The professional network asks members to build out their profile using familiar terminology like rank, specialty or unit. When a job recruiter views that same profile, they’ll see a translated version that has been created automatically for a civilian audience by RallyPoint’s technology.

Recruiter’s can search by experience level (i.e. “senior manager” or “executive”) and RallyPoint will return users with the military equivalent, eliminating the need for recruiters to understand military hierarchy, says CEO Yinon Weiss.

The platform is also exclusive to current and former military members, providing a safe haven for veterans transitioning back to the civilian world. Veterans provide transition advice and resume tips on group message boards. In the military, resumes are non-existent, says Weiss. Even the concept of networking to get ahead isn’t deemed ambitious, it’s brown-nosing. Weiss wanted to create a community where networking wasn’t just acceptable — it was expected.

“In the military, you’re discouraged from marketing yourself,” said Weiss, a former Marine with 10 years of active duty experience. “Veterans start from a cultural disadvantage.”

The approach is striking a chord with Weiss’s colleagues. In a little over 18 months, RallyPoint boasts more than 325,000 members, up from 25,000 a year ago. It finalized its first round of funding — a $5.3 million series A — in late 2013, and has already struck partnerships with Fortune 500 companies such as Walmart, Northwestern Mutual and, of course, Time Warner Cable. Much like LinkedIn, recruiters pay RallyPoint to promote certain jobs or access advanced recruiting tools, like the ability to see when a job candidate’s military commitment will conclude and they’ll be looking for civilian work.

Despite its rapid growth, RallyPoint faces two major challenges. The first is encouraging active and veteran military members to get on board with social media. Social media accounts were banned on military networks until 2010, giving the military a slow start, says Weiss, and it has taken a while for active duty and veteran military members to get comfortable online. “Social media in the military is a few years behind other industries,” he explained. “There’s now a very strong tide to catch up with everybody else.”

The other challenge: LinkedIn, a massive networking site with 300 million members and the benefits that come with offering more than one million job postings at any given time. Even so, RallyPoint users find the site’s exclusivity provides a major draw.

“LinkedIn is the corporate world, and people don’t always understand where military members are coming from,” said Captain Nathan Gano, a former Air Force aircraft maintenance officer now on RallyPoint. “Being able to go out there and ask questions of other people who have had those similar experiences — it’s a [safe] site.”

So safe, in fact, that Jensen can’t stop talking about it. “I even went as far as posting it on Facebook to all my battle buddies that are currently transitioning or have been out of the service for years,” she said. “That’s how strongly I feel about RallyPoint.”

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