A few days ago, I realized that it has been just over two years since I left the military.  It feels like it has been a lot longer than that, but this realization led me to think about the amount that I have learned in what is actually a relatively short amount of time.   In the time since I’ve been out, I’ve worked (almost the whole way) through an MBA program, I’ve finished writing a book that will be published in the next couple of months and I’ve started a company.  It has certainly been a journey and I’m proud of it.  I think a two-year separation has given me enough time and experience to provide some objective feedback about the transition out of the military.  It is long enough where I have been able to see how different decisions that I made early on have played out over time, but it also isn’t so long that I’ve lost touch with the process entirely.  Maybe it is the Marine in me, but as I think about the last two years, I also think I could have done it better.

I have had a number of conversations over the past few months with veterans who have made the same transition to the civilian world as me, and have found one common trend across almost all of the conversations.  I find that most of the vets I talk to, when asked, aren’t really sure about the next step. They knew they were ready to get out of the military.  They knew that they wanted to get started in the private sector.  They knew that there would be something within the umbrella of “business” that would interest them, but many just didn’t know specifically what they wanted to do.  I think one of the most challenging parts of the transition process ultimately stems from the fact that many vets have a significant lack of clarity about what it is that they want to do as a civilian. Looking back on my own transition, a lack of clarity is certainly something that hindered me.  Many of the vets that I have spoken to on the topic went back to school with the hope of figuring this out, but as they prepare to finish either their undergrad or graduate level programs, they still don’t really know what job or field is going to ultimately interest them.

Many people will tell vets that this is ok and it is just part of the process.  I won’t argue with them about that, it certainly is part of the learning process, but it also doesn’t actively help either.  Is having a lack of clarity anyone’s fault?  No, but it is a problem nonetheless.  A few weeks ago while talking with a friend, he joked about the fact that as a transitioning Marine C-130 pilot, he went to the MOS translator website before getting out only to learn that he was uniquely qualified to become an airline pilot.  It doesn’t get much more useful than that.  It is like being in the infantry and being told you have many of the skills that police departments are looking for.  Thanks for the tip!  Through your military experience, you have probably found things that you enjoy doing and would want to do something similar in the civilian sector, but you might not know how to explain it using the language of business instead of the language of the military.  Without being able to determine and clearly articulate what that civilian job is, it becomes very hard to create a plan to accomplish your goal.

The fact that a lack of clarity is actually hindering the job search for vets is ironic when you think about it. One of the key strengths that veterans bring to the table that distinguishes them from their civilian peers is their experience in creating and executing plans.  It is something that members of the military at every single level do on a daily basis.  Whereas civilians at entry level positions in the private sector are often given very little autonomy or authority to influence the direction that their team is taking, there are 18 and 19-year-old Marines and Soldiers leading units of their own in Afghanistan.  They are given a mission and their commander’s intent and are then responsible for creating the patrol plans, preparing their team, executing the plan, adapting as new information becomes available and improving those processes each and every day.  The reason some vets struggle to find jobs during their transition out of the military is not because we aren’t able to create a plan that is going to get us the job that we are after.  The problem is that we don’t know what job we want to get.  Without that “mission” and without that clear goal, there isn’t a plan to be made.

As I look at what I can offer veterans preparing to leave the service, it isn’t helping to write resumes or prepare for a job interview where my experiences would be valuable; it is in helping to determine what the career goal is.  There are a number of tasks that you may have conducted in the military that do have applications in the private sector.  As I will explain in an article next Friday, leading a support by fire position is very similar to the marketing field.  There are a number of similarities between creating a fire support plan and negotiating with different subcontractors and strategic partners to fulfill a contract.  Preparing to lead a discussion during a post-patrol after-action-review includes many of the same functions that professionals in the big data and analytics fields deal with on a daily basis.  As you prepare to find your next career, it isn’t about abandoning your military experience because you can’t “shoot, move, and communicate” any more, it is about finding which of those tasks, and everything that went with them, got you excited, and finding similar roles as a civilian.

Every couple of Fridays I will add another post to the blog that helps to try and translate your military interests to the business world.  If you need to determine what your “mission” is so that you can create a job search plan, check back to the site or feel free to get in touch with me so that we can address it specifically.