Always Be Prepared: Career Guidance for Post-Military Life

Always Be Prepared: Career Guidance for Post-Military Life was originally published on Firsthand.

Transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workforce marks an extremely important period for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to the service of our country. I know – it's been nearly two years since my last active duty assignment. It can be very stressful not knowing what lies ahead and how you will be able to provide for yourself and/or your family. However, there are many steps that can help prepare for this period to ease the natural stresses, frustrations and unknowns.

Find a Band of Brothers

Start developing your network early. There is no such thing as too early as long as you don't let relationships stagnate. A great way to network is through your alma mater. Most colleges have alumni events in major cities throughout the U.S. These events are a great place to meet professionals from a diverse set of industries–yet with the common bond of your school. You can use this as a twofold opportunity: the ability to learn more about different industries (very helpful if you are unsure of what you would like to do after you transition), and to network with professionals in an industry of interest.

There are many programs that are geared to help transitioning military personnel. One that I leveraged was American Corporate Partnership (ACP). ACP pairs you with an individual in the corporate workforce (matched based on hobbies, interest in a certain industry, geographic location, etc.) to help guide you as you change uniforms. In my experience, I increased my network and received insight and information on various organizations that would further expand my network and possible leads.

I found the way into my current position through a classmate who transitioned out of the military before me. Use the resources you have at hand and reach out to others who have gone through the process. More times than not, you will find individuals with a common experience are more willing to help guide you as you move closer to your transition time. Hiring in the civilian workforce relies heavily on referrals and/or recommendations, thus networking is a crucial part of the process and should not be overlooked.

Prepare for Any Situation

The military stresses being prepared and the ability to perform in any situation. Job hunting is no different. You need to adequately prepare for the moment you are in front of an interviewer. While you will spend most of your time trying to secure the job interview and very little time comparatively executing the interview, the actual interview is crucial.

The first thing that interviewers will see is your resume. Remove the military jargon. You want to relate your military experiences to something in the civilian world that is easily understood. Getting your resume in front of as many professionals as you can for review is very helpful in this regard and a place where your network comes into play.

The next thing that interviewers will see is you. Make the most of the opportunity by being comfortable and confident. While there is no substitute for the actual process, I recommend staging practice interviews. My brother arranged for one of his coworkers to interview me as if I were being considered for a position at his company. The experience was extremely helpful. The recruiter/HR manager used the same questions he has asked in actual interviews. Remember, a poor interview (everyone has them) isn't necessarily a failure as it will help you improve for the next opportunity. There will most likely be an interview where you may not have any direct experience for the position that you have applied. Be confident in your delivery and ready to articulate why you would be a good fit for the position. Prepare to share how your past experiences could help you transition into the role and ultimately lead to your success.

Another key aspect of the interview process relates to the industry for which you are interviewing. Familiarize yourself with the inner workings of specific industries so you come across as prepared as possible. There was no mission in the military that was executed well without countless rehearsals and preparation.

Plan Your Attack

Although your entire professional life may have been in uniform and the closest you have come to the civilian workforce was what you studied in college, you should have a general idea of what you would like to do. Employers can tell if you are indecisive about the position they are trying to fill. They want someone who is energetic and willing to step into the role as opposed to someone who isn't sure if it is the right role for them. Use your military career to figure this out.

Some people in the military will directly apply their experiences and skill sets, while others will never touch their military experiences. I was an Infantry Officer and knew I wasn't going to be a professional infantryman. What my military experience did tell me was that I didn't want to do the same thing every day, and I wanted to be involved. I like variety and direct interaction. Thus, I was drawn to consulting and a smaller organization. Use your network to help decide what you would like to do and test the waters before you get out by talking to contacts in your network.

The size of a company you pursue will play a significant role in how your professional career plays out. If you wish to make a greater impact immediately, seek opportunities with exposure to the company decision makers. I was interested in a smaller organization where I had more control over my career. In a larger organization, you may get lost amongst your peers. The current company I work for is very collegial and collaborative. I have the ability to talk to the decision makers of the company on a daily basis and what I say is valued and used.

If there is a certain location you would like to land, utilize the resources at your disposal to make that happen. A large amount of transitioning officers use a head hunter to place them in very good jobs. However, you must be open to going where the jobs are based. Know what sacrifices you are willing to make. I did not find a position that fit what I was looking for in the geographic location I was tied to for family reasons. I ultimately decided I was not willing to relocate and would focus my search in the Washington, DC Metro area where I was living.

Execute a Successful Mission

The military has prepared you for the civilian workforce more than you likely recognize. Taking ownership of tasks, being able to confidently brief senior level individuals, and having the ability to coordinate available resources in order to complete the mission are looked upon very favorably. Take those cornerstones and build upon them. Proper planning and preparation are keys to your success in this transition phase of your life. Only you can make the switch successful. Effectively applying your military experience, relying on a strong network for guidance and thoroughly considering your career interests will go a long way in building your confidence and success as you prepare to start your next mission and launch into the civilian career world.


About the Author

Dan McNally is a 2008 West Point graduate who served for five years as an active duty U.S. Army Officer as a Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer and Battery Commander of the U.S. Army's Presidential Salute Battery. He is currently an Analyst for optimization and outsourcing advisory firm Pace Harmon and an MBA student at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

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