How Do You Find the Right Job After Leaving the Military?
This question - or versions of this question - represents the number one thing I am asked by military leaders in the transition process. I think am asked this question so often because I demonstrated what not to do. I am that guy - I had 8 jobs over the course of 3 years. Future veterans don't want to repeat my mistakes, but I'll have you know that I am not alone! Nearly 2 of every 3 new veteran hires leave their first job within two years after departing military service. We worry about securing employment during transition, but truthfully, finding a job isn't the problem. The challenge is finding the right job.
So, how do you do that? My answer to this question is always immediate and always the same: Values and Purpose. That two word response is normally met with a combination of awkward silence and puzzled expressions. I think that people expected me to talk about the mechanics of the job search process. Things like networking, resume preparation, or how to nail the job interview are important, but before you start looking out to find a new career, I strongly recommend you look in to recognize your values and understand your unique purpose.
Knowing your values (the WHO) and your purpose (the WHY) before you start looking for a new career is the difference between securing a paycheck and discovering a path for personal and professional fulfillment in life beyond the military
Respectively, your values and purpose reveal your WHO and WHY. Your personal values define the WHO. Your values fuel the intrinsic drive to pursue your purpose - the WHY. The right job simply provides a means for you to express that passion and purpose. For years the military provided that for you, but now you need to find a new way to realize your potential. Because we reduce the transition process to a job placement program, we start translating skills and job titles on our resumes before we truly understand what will give us a sense of fulfillment and happiness. Consequently, we find a job, but we feel incomplete. We are left longing for that sense of satisfaction and joy.
Values Define the WHO
Let's start with the values. As military leaders, we scoff at the mere suggestion of any questions pertaining to the subject of values. After all, we are leaders of character. Character is one of our most distinguished qualities. However, character and personal values are not the same thing. By definition, character describes the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. In a military context, leaders of character embody and exude the mental and moral qualities of the military profession and not necessarily their own, personal values.
Because we served for so long in the uniform, an obvious synergy exists between our personal values and those of the military institution. We couldn't serve for years or decades in the military if they didn't. Just remember that we were conditioned to adopt the values of our profession. I would argue that this conditioning was a practical application of the Self-Determination Theory. Think about it for a moment - honor codes turned values into rules with punitive standards to compel compliance. We swear an oath and identify ourselves with the values of our branch of service. By the time we assume a prominent leadership or command role, we become the voice for those values.
We become the living examples of the military values. They are so ingrained in our persona that they become intuitive. Our very instincts are hardwired to the values of our profession. We never think about values because we don't have to. The important distinction is that the values of our service branch belong to our service branch. They belong to the uniform. They don't belong to us. This subtle distinction is the reason why so many military leaders fail to recognize their own values before they go looking for a job. The challenge is to define our values - the WHO - buried underneath the cover and concealment of years of military service.
Purpose Provides the WHY
Do you remember what inspired you to serve in the military? When you finished high school, you could have found some job or gone to college like everyone else. You didn't. You chose something different. You volunteered for the military. You opted for a different way of life. You wanted to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
There was a purpose behind that first oath you took. You could feel it. It burned in your heart and inspired your calling to military service. Over the years, life got in the way. We were consumed with the next deployment, promotion, or duty assignment. You may have forgotten what it felt like to be inspired the way you once were. Here's the good news, that passion still burns within you. You only need to reconnect with it.
Your unique purpose is independent of any role, title, or position you held in the military. Like your values, they are the best expression of your authentic self as a leader. It doesn't matter that you are no longer an officer, commander, or a soldier. Your purpose is what enabled you to connect and inspire others when you wore the uniform, and that purpose will enable you to continue to connect and inspire others when you're done wearing that uniform. The passion that drove you to volunteer for military service is the same passion that will help you discover an empowering life beyond the military.
Trying to find the 'right' job without understanding your unique purpose has the same chance of success as winning a firefight without knowing how much ammunition you've got or flying a helicopter without knowing how much gas is in the tank.
The Secret of Your Success
I know what it feels like when your transition or retirement date looms near. You are excited, but you are also anxious. You've spent so long serving in the military that you wonder how you will survive without the uniform. I also know what it is like to struggle getting out of bed because you hate your job. You second guess your decisions. You ache for a return to the military. You miss it, and you grow depressed because you fear that your best days are behind you.
Here's the secret to unlocking your success: The best part of you isn't the uniform. It never was. It's what's inside that uniform that counts. You don't need that uniform to be a great leader. You are a great leader who happened to be wearing a uniform. Believe it! Because we see the uniform in everything we do, we wonder if we are enough to lead a life of purpose and meaning without it. We think too little of ourselves. So, we compromise. We settle. We justify our decisions with financial security, benefits, and titles, but no amount of wealth or prestige can match the feeling of empowerment we get when we pursue our purpose and live our values.
We believe that the military made us the men and women we are when in fact it is the other way around. You make the military great because of who you are. Constantly remind yourself of that point before you start filling out your resume or searching for jobs. That is what you truly have to offer. The military provided the fertile soil for you to grow into your potential, but you are the seed. Your values matter. Your purpose matters. If you so choose, you can continue to lead and inspire others in life beyond the military. Without the uniform you become ordinary, but you already had everything you needed to be a hero.
Recognizing your WHO and understanding your WHY are the keys to find what you are really looking for when you leave the military - fulfillment and happiness. Instead of taking 8 jobs over 3 years, commit to finding that sense of satisfaction and purpose you enjoyed in the military. Your values and your purpose represent the best part of what you have to offer to your community, business, or a future employer. Know your WHO. Know your WHY. They were what empowered you through the military, and they are what will launch you into success beyond the military.
Photo by author
By Jason Roncoroni
I believe in the leadership potential of the veteran community. I serve veterans and their families as the founder and president of Ordinary Hero Coaching. The mission of Ordinary Hero Coaching is to inspire veterans to lead empowering lives beyond the military. As a retired lieutenant colonel and aviation officer from the army, I have spent the last 25 years in a variety of leadership positions that culminated in battalion command. I flew combat assault, air movement, and MEDEVAC missions over 33 months of combat service in Afghanistan. I am a West Point graduate who holds masters degrees in Organizational Psychology and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina where I was the valedictorian of my graduating class. I am professionally certified coach and member of the International Coach Federation. As an author and leader in the veteran community, I have published several white papers and won several national level awards for innovations and initiatives to improve the process of military transition. I enjoy running, crossfit, coaching youth sports, and the beach life! I live in Cary, North Carolina with my wife, Jill, and our two sons, Aidan and Everett.