A year ago, my wife and I decided that we were at a decision point in my military career. Would we stay in after 10+ years of active service or transition to the civilian world? I have since spent countless hours trying to figure out what I really wanted to be when I “grew up." Recently, after helping several people at the start of their military transition, I decided to compile the top 10 lessons learned over the last year that could have saved me time and effort from the beginning. Take what you can use, leave what does not make sense or apply to your situation. At least I can stop writing the same email to my colleagues over and over again! These are not necessarily in any chronological order, are not intended to replace your own military Transition Assistance Program classes, and are not meant to be relied on for a transition plan. However, they have been incredibly important lessons learned from my “foxhole.” As a transitioning Junior Military Officer, many of these lessons changed my outlook on my future, however most of these lessons will apply to anyone transitioning from the military.
1. Process. Transitioning is a process; each step builds on creating a successful plan in finding your post-military career. Know that it does not happen overnight. Start as early as you can. This will allow you to make mistakes and follow several career pathways that lead to dead ends. Learn everything you can about interviewing, resumes, job applications, schools, and certifications along the way. You can do 75% of this process without anyone knowing you are even thinking about it. Set a reasonable date in the future for when you would like to be out, before you are put on PCS orders, get offered that next big job, or take any other carrot the military throws your way. Then, set a reasonable decision point date for you to make the decision of getting out or not. You can then backwards plan your transition until you reach your decision point. This will allow you flexibility and allow you to not totally surprise your chain of command.
I started this process in January. Personally, I chose the date when I would be expecting my next duty assignment (mid-October), backed up a month off that, and picked a decision point of September 15th. From there I made a plan of creating my resume, networking, completing certifications, searching for careers, and making a decision on higher education. This gave me almost 8 months to come up with several courses of action, pick the best one, and still be able to inform HRC and my command before I came down on orders.
Speaking of certifications, Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) has a free program for certifications. The Veteran’s Career Transition Program has open enrollment twice a year and the window closes quickly (less than an hour before all slots are filled). However, it’s a great opportunity to work on your PMP, Lean Six Sigma, PHR, etc. at no cost to you.
2. From Here to There. Ask yourself if you are comfortable in your current position or if you are passionate about it. Depending on how you answer, you may not want to focus on finding a job in your current military career field unless you are absolutely passionate about it. Remember, being comfortable and being passionate are two different things. If you still want to do the military thing, join the Guard or Reserves. You have a certain set of skills that can make you extremely valuable to the outside world. Figure out what these key skills are and hone in on what you could do in order to apply those skills outside of the military. Also, when looking for a position in the business or commercial world, use your Personal Statement of Military Compensation found on your MyPay for what you need to make in total compensation outside the military. This is a pretty close estimate to the level of positions you should be looking for. Think Operations Manager, Chief of Operations, Executive Director, Senior Project Manager, Program Manager, Senior Federal Consultant, Supply Chain Logistics Manager, etc. You can use this basic program to inventory your skills and find some interesting career fields.
Then, you can use Glassdoor to find a range of pay for these jobs based on location. Use the mobile app, because it is a much better interface and will let you see more than the desktop web page.
3. Headhunters. This is important! Do not immediately focus on using a military headhunter. You can do this whole process yourself. In my opinion, you will be able to find better jobs, where you want, doing what you want, and making more than a headhunter can find for you. However, you will need to network, and it is going to take some time on your part. Now, if you do not want to do the work and do not have the time, use a headhunter. They can and will help find you employment. They have a built-in network that caters to military veterans and will work to get you interviews. I know a lot of people who have great things to say about them. I am only saying you can do this yourself.
4. Junior Officer Leadership Programs. Many companies have specific programs directed at transitioning veterans that offer a 1-2 year transition period where you are educated, get a chance to learn and make mistakes, and still get paid a good salary. GE, USAA, Accenture, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Amazon, Kaiser Permanente, and Sherwin Williams (and many others) have great programs! These are a great way to build your network, learn new skills, and adjust to the new corporate lingo (call it a free MBA, minus the degree).
Bank of America JMOLP: http://militarytransition.bankofamerica.com/who-we-are/supporting-our-veterans
USAA VetsLeaD (They have sporadic openings on the USAA website)
JP Morgan Chase MOEDP: http://www.slideshare.net/KristinYale/chase-jmo-program-flyer-2014 (I will help connect you if interested)
Sherwin Williams High Velocity Leadership Program (Google and I will help connect you if interested)
General Electric JOLP: http://www.ge.com/careers/culture/us-veterans/junior-officer-leadership-program
Kaiser Permanente JMO: http://kpcareers.org/article/military
Amazon Military Leaders Program: https://workfor.us/amazon/wn
5. Resume. Now, on to what you need to start doing as soon as possible. Your resume. Find a basic shell and add your job descriptions and bullet points. I'll keep this one short, since Hire Heroes USA will help make an awesome resume for you – for free! Just apply, do a quick entrance interview, provide some proof that you’re a veteran (redacted OERs / DD 214), send them your basic resume shell, and get rolling. If you get a "we are overloaded with applicants response," try again until they provide someone to work with you.
6. Mentorship. Find a mentor outside the military. Everyone in the military will tell you what you SHOULD be doing with your transition (myself included). However, you need to talk to someone who knows what they are doing in the business world. I have cold called / emailed plenty of people just asking to talk about their experiences and for advice. However, focus your search for someone you admire or has a career you can see yourself in, contact them, and explain to them that you are not looking for a job, but mentorship. Surprisingly, many times they will want to learn from you. Many businesses may say that they want to hire veterans, but may not know exactly what crucial skills you bring to the table. Half of the time your mentor may want to ensure you are hired onto the team, because once they talk to you and learn about your experiences, they will learn your value. Having a mentor is so important. I have several mentors in my life, and I always learn something from them.
The American Corporate Partners Mentorship Program for transitioning veterans is AWESOME. I am doing it right now and my mentor is in the business field I am interested in and is an awesome asset. I love the networking and mentorship already. Check them out below!
7. LinkedIn. Update your LinkedIn; it is much more important than you think. Fill out everything. This should not be a carbon copy of your resume, but more of a calling card.
Some great tips here:
Start building a network of connections. Not just Army and not just friends (this is not Facebook). Search for a company you are interested in and add the words “recruiter, talent management, veteran recruiter, military recruiter, human resources manager,” and refine by area you are interested in. Connect with them. Use the LinkedIn app, because the interface is much better. Most of the time, they will immediately connect with you, because they need to fill positions as much as you want them. Network, network, network. Don’t just connect. Talk to people. Ask questions. Everyone on LinkedIn can help you along your way, and most are willing to do it freely. Connect with people in the business areas you are interested in and join the groups relevant to what you are doing. I read so much good information on my LinkedIn feed every day. It also allows you to pass opportunities off to other people. Now, since networking is a new concept to many of us in the military, check this link out to see a brief description.
In addition, LinkedIn gives Veterans a free Premium subscription for a year. Sign up now! It gives a lot of additional resources, a pretty awesome job search, free training courses, and profile analytics.
8. Use Your Network to Beat the Computer. Now, go to the corporate website for businesses that fit what you want to do and have a culture you could see yourself fitting into. Do a job search in the area you are headed to and find some positions. Email these connections on LinkedIn and ask for an informational interview on the job. Again, once they talk to you, they will realize you are the real deal. 1,000s of people apply to these jobs. A computer program (ATS – Applicant Tracking System), will sort through resumes and applications for key words and phrases. They will then filter this list down to about 50 or so. Then the HR folks will start looking through them. After the first 20, they will call 5 applicants, interview 3, and hire 1. Just because you didn’t pass the ATS query, you could never make that pile of 50. Even if you did, you could be 21 and the recruiter only looked at 20, and even though you were highly qualified for the job, you will never be seen. You can skip all of this by connecting with them, building a relationship, and helping them skip that process too. This is IMPORTANT. It takes way too long to fill out 100s of applications without any chances of getting called back. Spend that energy on building relationships.
However, if you really want to apply to a job, make sure your resume / application has what it takes to pass the ATS screen. Jobscan allows you to paste a job description next to your resume, and it will use ATS algorithms to let you know if your resume will even make it to a real person. Additionally, it will help point you in the right direction to make your resume “tailored” to the job. The first 5 scans are free. You can get more free scans by liking them on Facebook, sharing with friends, etc.
9. Elevator Pitch. Develop an “Elevator Pitch” so that you can quickly and concisely explain who you are in 30 seconds to an executive. You need to quickly grab their attention and captivate them. The first question anyone will ask you is “Tell me a little about yourself.” This should be short, succinct, and grab their attention. Spend some time developing this. Practice with a friend. Additionally, do mock interviews. This all seems ridiculous at the time, but it will help when you do the real thing. Use this for some elevator pitch guidance:
10. Passion. While last this is definitely the most important. Find what you are passionate about. This sounds weird now, because you are probably passionate about the military, your mission, and your family. But, I am sure there is something else inside of you that makes you tick. Is it adventure? Is it justice? Is it money? Is it travel? Is it leading people? Is it being a world-changer? Is it solving problems? I can honestly say that this drives many of the decisions I make. I want to change people’s lives for the better and make a difference in this world.
Please do not blow this off. Studies show that 75% of transitioning veterans leave their first post-military position within two years because they took a job for the location, the money, or it was an easy transition from what they were doing to what they could do in the future. It is not about what you COULD do, but what you SHOULD do. This is HUGE. Figuring out what you are passionate about gets you into a career that matters to you, fulfills you, and allows you to be happy. I attended the Korn Ferry Leveraging Military Leadership Program and am slated to go to the Deloitte Core Leadership Program soon. It takes some time to write some of the application essays, but these programs are worth it. They are meant to help you in your transition, teach applicable skills, and have shown me that finding a career you are passionate about is important.
Korn Ferry Leveraging Military Leadership Program (Wait List): https://goo.gl/forms/k2rlV5kdsykPein62
Deloitte Core Leadership Program: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/join-deloitte-core-leadership-program.html
When I look at jobs, I now think, how will this change people’s lives and how can I make a difference. If I cannot find that answer, I keep looking. No matter how much it pays or what the position. You NEED to take some time, fill out some of these applications, and take a weekend to go to these programs. They are free, travel is usually paid for, and can be a turning point in your career search.
11. Closing Thoughts. I know I said 10, but take this as some final advice. Do not be afraid to get outside your comfort zone. I struggled with this constantly at first. A year ago, I had peg-legged myself into working off-shore as a helicopter pilot, EMS, or doing a DAC / Government Contractor Job (these are great choices, just not my passion). Transitioning from a career spanning over 15 years, I have been through all of the emotions in the last year. Fear, anxiety, despair, exhaustion, hope, motivation, elation, excitement, and finally peace. You will feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. I am not saying this will be easy, but you will grow and learn. Figure out your passion. Be able to figure out your non-negotiables (location, travel, salary, work/life balance, etc.). Not all of those can be non-negotiables (there will be trade-off), but live by what you deem as non-negotiable, and get started today.
Personally, I am headed to The Fisher College of Business to start my full-time MBA in Leadership and Organizational Change. Through this entire process, I found that this is my passion. Going to advanced schooling is a great option, because it opens up a new network in an area of your choice, can make you more marketable, has a built in career assistance program, and an opportunity for personal growth. I am using my Post 9/11 GI Bill, will be a full-time student, and will join the Ohio National Guard after my transition. Every lesson I learned along the way helped me make this decision and helped me grow into a better leader, student, and friend. After all of the interviews, phone calls, late nights, and wasted time, I am now 100% sure that I am making the right decision for myself, my family, and my future.