5 tips to help you plan a smooth military transition

The opportunity to work with soldiers in the special ops community was one of the highlights of my military career. Their “never quit” attitude and how they approached the day-to-day grind was amazing. They know the importance of putting mind over matter with a focus on accomplishing the mission. Your mind and body are able to take more than you might imagine and rarely do we put that to test – stretch your known limits and capabilities.

While I was serving, I stuck my toes in the water of the private sector on multiple occasions to see how I measured up. I challenged myself to push limits and achieve the goals through continued education and skills training so that when I finally transitioned, my value to an organization would be easily recognized. It meant that I had to make sacrifices in some areas for a short timeframe in order to see the benefits in the future. This was a journey that was accepted beforehand by my inner circle and they understood what it meant in the short-term.

Here are a few tips you should consider when planning your future transition from the military:

1. Have a lunch pail focus. Focus on achieving your goals and be willing to put in the hard work required to achieve them. If your goal is to earn a bachelor degree, then understand that most degrees require 120 hours of classes passed in order to achieve that goal. It took me nearly eight years to obtain my bachelors degree while on active duty due to multiple temporary or permanent change of station assignments. Be prepared to put in the hours required to study, attend classes, and complete the work while all along knowing that time cannot be an emphasis. If it’s skill training that is needed, it’s about staying focused to not only get the necessary training, but also in ensuring you are prepared ahead of time so that you complete or exceed the requirements. If your goal is a specific position or position level within a private sector organization, then study like crazy what it takes to get there and push yourself to do the work needed to be considered in a reasonable time frame. A reasonable time frame might be several years after you’ve transitioned and accepted a position at a different level.

2. Communication is key. If you can’t carry on a five-minute conversation without using an acronym or throwing out military jargon/sayings, then communication is a barrier for you. Those of us who’ve transitioned before you have all faced it. Being able to professionally articulate in a private sector business environment in a way that holds an audience, is a gift that can be mastered. It begins with that same lunch pail focus of learning as much as you can about the work you are transitioning into and how the people who perform it communicate to one another. Within my book, I describe how a person in the life sciences industry of biotech and a person at a health insurance company may both work an industry that support the processes of life, but communicate very differently within their workplace. If you can describe your military career in a brief statement without using jargon, acronyms, or other descriptions that would only be understood by someone who is serving or served, then you are well on your way. For some, mastering communication from the military to the private sector is more challenging. Practice and then practice more. Become a sponge for knowledge about the industry and position you want to transition into.

3. Find your passion. I write about the importance of knowing or finding your passion before you transition. I’ve counseled many in the private sector about ensuring their job fits with something they are passionate about – otherwise they begin to think less of their work and those around them may suffer as well. At times you are able to incorporate your passion into your work while for some it may be that their passion becomes their work. Both are equally satisfying.

4. Know your peer group and market segment. Don’t assume that your military rank will have a bearing on your private sector position – in most cases it will not. If you know what it is that you want to do upon transition, then you should also understand the minimum requirements for position levels within various size organizations. Companies with flatter organizations and a small number of employees cannot be compared to a Fortune 100 company that is multi-layered and matrixed with 40,000 employees. For instance, an executive at a private company is not the same as one from a large publicly traded one. Much like a manager at each might have different requirements for consideration – titles are not always a good way of comparing. You will need to take time to identify the positions, position levels, and requirements for each, depending upon the size of the company you are seeking to work at. This will give you a good idea of how your experience level compares. Search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) are great ways to learn about a specific position and requirements. Some simple title searches will actually bring up people that have resumes open for public viewing.

5. Create a network. A strong network consists of people within the military, outside of the military, and at various levels/positions. If you have been able to drill down to a specific area of work you’d like to transition into, then build your network in a way that strengthens that job in the marketplace. Ensure these are people that know you well and the value you’d bring to an organization. When the time is right and you’ve made the decision to transition, let them know of your plans and the timing. You’ll be surprised how much they’ll find ways to help.

There will always be obstacles and challenges, but what people do to handle each while focusing on their goals is what begins to separate people from the pack. Train yourself to accomplish your goals while understanding that it may take more time, energy, or effort than what you know right now – but you can do it when you set your mind to it and truly apply yourself.

We all transition one day, so the earlier you prepare for it, the greater your chance of success.

Check out other tips and insights in the book, Master the Transition.

Robert Gowin is a retired Army Master Sergeant that began his career as a Armor Crewmember before becoming a recruiter and career counselor. Robert’s experience in the private sector includes business and human resources consulting, project management, corporate operational strategy and integration, and most recently as Vice President of Pharmacy Operations, Analytics, and Compliance for Anthem, Inc.’s pharmacy solutions. He is the author of the book, Master the Transition, that provides advice to military on how to plan for a successful transition that is available at Lulu.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

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