Graham Plaster is the president and CEO of the Intelligence Community, a network and resource center that seeks to better connect stakeholders in the national security community through networking and other channels, including an exclusive networking site, LinkedIn group, and events.
A former U.S. Navy Foreign Area Officer, Plaster also serves as a consultant with the Masy Group – a national security, intelligence and capital management contractor – where he is supporting the Defense Language and National Security Education Office on a contract with Booz Allen Hamilton.
He serves as a subject matter expert in language, regional expertise and culture in that role, and also acts as Editor in Chief of the Foreign Area Officers Association’s Journal of International Affairs, a publication from the nonprofit group that assembles thought leadership in areas including intelligence and security cooperation.
In advance of an event his company is hosting for job seekers on Feb. 27, Plaster caught up with ExecutiveGov to discuss how veterans transitioning can use social media and personal networks in their job searches, how to address the need for better collaboration between agencies and other in the intelligence community, and more.
ExecutiveBiz: How did you get into what you’re currently doing now?
Graham Plaster: I’m a big believer in following your passions, but also following your opportunities. My journey has been one full of ups and downs, as any entrepreneur will tell you. As a veteran Foreign Area Officer of the Navy, I encountered many interesting opportunities to lead, to travel and to learn.
I know what it’s like to have rough seas and I’ve got some sea stories. But, through it all, I’ve had a lot of amazing aha moments and met many innovators working with emerging technologies. I see a shift within the national security market and am excited to be in the middle of it.
I’ve been looking for ways to serve now that I’m out of uniform and I’m pretty excited about what our company has to offer to veterans and those in the national security marketplace as they look to connect to each other and brand themselves as thought leaders. The way I see it, the intelligence community writ large is really much bigger than the U.S. Intelligence Community.
If you think of the word “community,” with a small “c”, you are actually dealing with the national security vertical, that is everyone who deals in information in support of national security; but now since we’re using social media, it really becomes the global market of national security.
When I came into The Intelligence Community LinkedIn Group a few years ago and got to know the founder, John Goodenow, I had been asked to be the Aide‑de‑camp to the director of DIA. So I reached out to John, and I said this LinkedIn Group could be really useful to the U.S. Intelligence Community, but more than that, it could start to solve some of the problems that were identified in the 9/11 Commission Report, which we all know includes the lack of collaboration across different organizations and agencies.
So, rather than being a broker of information, our network could be a brokerage of relationships to get people connected, a kind of virtual embassy party, as I like to say.
I see a particular market force in national security in that people want to be connected. They actually do want to overcome the problems identified in the 9-11 Commission Report. They want to bridge the silos that naturally develop, so what do they do? They turn to things like LinkedIn in order to solve that problem. So, our group has been a means to address that. We knew it needed ethical leadership as well as energy and passion for the community.
And so that’s what we’ve been trying to do over the last three years with the LinkedIn group, and then with our launching of the website, TheIntelligenceCommunity.com and TheIntelligenceCommunity.org. We have a vision and we are moving forward with those domain spaces to do some exciting things.
ExecutiveBiz: You have a book coming out on recruiting – what are you trying to accomplish through its publication?
Graham Plaster: With military veterans finishing their service and going through transition during a time of sequestration and hiring freezes, and with college kids that have gone through different programs that were created after 9/11, we have a lot of people looking for work that are having a hard time finding it in the national security sector. Because of my recent experience transitioning out of the military, and my position with this LinkedIn group and website, I have a lot of insight in how someone can utilize new tools to try to find the right job.
I wanted to create a book and products that really help people. One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of articles and books out there follow traditional models for how you should market yourself – starting from trying to refine your resume and preparing for the interview. Some tips that actually help you to have an edge are more in the marketing, content and direct response areas, and they haven’t really penetrated into the national security vertical or the transition assistance programs.
So taking some lessons from entrepreneurship, direct response marketing and content marketing, bringing those over into the vertical of national security, there’s a lot to learn, as far as how to get the job that you want. A lot of the jobs out there aren’t advertised, and a lot of the jobs that you get come through your personal network, rather than through the ones you apply for.
And yet everything online will tell you that it’s easy to apply for jobs through jobs boards and that you really need to focus your time on refining your resume. Having a great resume is terrific – dressing well and interviewing well is terrific. But, it’s kind of a secondary priority to building your network and learning how to network through LinkedIn and putting your best foot forward with certain aspects of that networking piece.
ExecutiveBiz: You work in an editor‑in‑chief role, and you’ve been involved with publications that emphasize leadership and strong active voices. How can you work abilities in those areas into the job search?
Graham Plaster: For a few quick tips, you can set up a free web page for yourself through about.me. It’s a one‑pager that can help brand you as a thought leader. LinkedIn just recently started allowing people to publish articles that they write through LinkedIn, and then those get syndicated to your entire network on LinkedIn. So, you can become a kind-of self‑published thought leader through the LinkedIn platform.
On top that, if you wanted to write a short book and put it into the Amazon marketplace through Kindle, you could very quickly become a published author on any topic that you want. These are the lower rungs of course, but they are extremely helpful to get the ball rolling.
It becomes a little bit challenging if you are an analyst for an organization; you may want to keep a lower profile. There’s a fine line between branding yourself as a thought leader in the public sphere and developing proprietary information or analysis for an organization. That’s where people can get into a sticky situation, when they work for an organization where their thought leadership really belongs to the organization.
It’s hard for them to walk away and then turn around and do something where their thought leadership is their own. So we have to learn how to navigate that kind of space going forward, because we are in an era where everyone has that ability to blog, to video blog and to self‑publish, etc. and it will only get easier. It becomes harder and harder to remain a private expert.
ExecutiveBiz: What’s the next hill you’re looking to climb and what are you most excited about tackling in the next couple of years?
Graham Plaster: I’ve got some really exciting plans that we’ll probably be announcing in the summertime. Before that, we’ve got a couple of live events. We’re going to be doing monthly Happy Hours that are for job seekers. We’re flipping the model of the job seeker events. Generally, the money has come from companies seeking job seekers, and that means that it’s really focused on serving the interest of the employer. We are trying to charge the job seekers and letting recruiters come free, and that means that the consumer is the job seeker. We hope to work on this model and franchise that out around the country with our network. It should be pretty exciting to see how that serves the interest of the job seekers.
Then on June 27th, we are doing an event called the Opportunities Summit. This is our first one, and it’s going to be a TED-lecture styled event with some modifications for our niche, with only 10 minutes per person, one slide maximum, and every presentation has to be actionable. So it could be a policy suggestion for senior leaders. It could be a job opportunity. It can be an invention needing venture capital. But the whole event will be driving towards solving problems.
Some of that comes out of the conversation I had with General Flynn several years ago. H told me that he could always find a lot of really smart people, but what he really needed was the kind of people that are always in short supply – problem solvers. That’s at the heart of what we’re doing. We want to find problem solvers in our community and really put those people on a pedestal in front of our community of 40,000 members.
Our LinkedIn group is open to more people than are just in the U.S. intelligence community. You either need to have a relevant educational background or relevant experience. And that can mean political science; it can mean history; it can mean linguistics. You don’t have to have a clearance to join that group. Our website, which is a member site, is a smaller group and a little more focused. Those are a starting place for getting connected so you will be in the loop when we move forward with our other objectives in the summer.