Post Military Career Jitters

Two thousand six (2006) is approaching rapidly and if this is the year you plan to retire or separate from the military, you are probably going through many different emotions ranging from anticipation to apprehension and fear.
You are not alone. And these feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. If you can step back for just a moment, take a deep breath and take a long hard look at your face in the mirror, I’d like you to realize the transition you are about to make isn’t as intimidating as it initially seemed. You are on the brink of a new beginning and it is actually exciting and full of promise.

Transitioning Concerns: I speak with thousands of military personnel each year who are preparing to transition to the civilian job market. Many folks express their concerns and are worried about how they will be able to effectively translate their training, skills and experience into a career that civilian employers will understand. Or better yet, recognize the value of the entire package a member of our armed forces brings to the civilian job market. Through years of experience dealing with folk exiting the military, there are always a few things I have come to realize that everyone has in common. Simply put your personal characteristics and value your offer to an employer.

Personal Characteristics: I know what personal characteristics such as morals, values, commitment and honor the military teaches and instills in its people. As members of our armed forces you have received extensive professional training and gained expertise in multiple skill sets. Additionally, most of you have lived in cross-cultural environments and worked hand-in-hand with people from totally different mind-sets. These attributes, if properly addressed when applying for civilian positions, are critical exchanges that must be presented to potential employers. Most civilians do not fully comprehend the far-reaching effects of military training so it is your job to make it clear how valuable you are to their organization. These attributes are more important than ever in our global economy.

Your Value: The point I am trying to get across here is there’s something special about our military men and women. Your value. Given the lives and times of today’s world, many employers have an even greater appreciation for those who put their lives on the line for our country and it’s citizens and are more aware than ever of the numerous personal characteristics and selfless measures each member from all branches of the military contribute. And I haven’t even mentioned the skills you’ve learned while serving in the military which you can transfer to a post-military job – that’s for another article.

The Point: I’m trying to make is anyone can train to become an accountant, educator, engineer or a lawyer. Anyone can work in construction or as a project manager. But not everyone can succeed at these professions if they lack the basic fundamental skills often acquired in the military. This again brings me back to your value.
Employers know the most desirable candidate is going to exhibit much more than the functional strength to get a job done, such as:
I. Listening Skills. A large part of life in the military is about receiving instructions and acting upon them. Whether you realize it or not, you have some admirable listening capabilities because the success of your missions depend on your ability to take information both orally and written, process it quickly and act upon it in the best interests of all concerned. A lot of people do not know how to listen.
II. Creativity and Persuasion Abilities. The military affords its personnel the chance to self-manage their own performance. This means once you receive an assignment, it’s up to you to figure out the best and fastest way to accomplish the objective. And often, you will need to persuade your colleagues (and in a lot of cases, your immediate superiors) your plan is the way to go. So whether you realize it or not, you have not only learned how to think quickly, you’ve also learned how to persuade others to choose the most expedient way to proceed – and those are characteristics a lot of employers seek in their future leaders.
III. Mentoring & Motivation Skills. At some point in your military career you probably interacted with a new colleague either in a formal or informal setting to help acquaint them to a procedure or some aspect of your mission. The success of your mission depended on the team functioning cooperatively, so it was essential for you to train your colleagues as quickly and efficiently as possible. This translates into being a “team player” in civilian life, an enviable trait many employers look for.
IV. Adjusting: And what if someone you mentored had a problem with adjusting? Unlike the civilian world where you can easily terminate someone for not fitting in, in the military the tendency is to counsel the person until their anxieties disappear. This is because a mission’s success depends on teamwork, and if one member of the team isn’t functioning, it is often up to the rest of the team to help pick up the slack and aid that member into reaching his or her full potential.
V. Administration & Time Management. Often military personnel are asked to develop from the ground up or improve upon an existing operation which requires a lot of attention to detail, a lot of administration and project management, and good time-management capabilities. I like to think of it as Project Management 101. Put another way, military personnel learn how to think and act efficiently, get the most out of their team and do so even under restrictive conditions such as low manpower or budget funds.
These are just a few of the many characteristics you’ve developed during your time in the military which can be transferred over to any civilian or government job out there. Once you realize the value you bring to the table as a person, figuring out the rest of your value as a professional is going to be easy. Before too long, you’ll find yourself rising to the top of a very competitive job market. Many civilian challenges are not as difficult or as threatening as those you’ve already conquered in the military.