Military Transition Tips: How Green is the grass on the other side?
As I prepared for my transition from the military earlier this year, I heard a phrase over and over:
"You're gonna love it...the GRASS is greener on the other side."
This phrase resonated and stuck in my mind during my transition, and this topic is one I have thought deeply of over the past six months. The question remains: How green is that grass on the other side?
After a successful transition (military to civilian), the following is a no-holds-barred look and view offered as my "lessons learned" in an attempt to assist those who will soon go through that military transition.
1. NO--it's not too early. In fact, if you are even remotely considering transitioning from the military, NOW is the time to begin your preparation efforts. Whether you are two years out, six months out, or days our, there is no magic formula on when to start, just realize that once you begin, you are likely to be overwhelmed with available resources, websites, experts, tips, tricks, etc. Do yourself a big favor--and start now!
2. It's time to take care of yourself. As a leader in both small and large organizations, I was taught to "take care of your people" and they will take care of the mission, or better yet "don't worry about your career, take care of your troops and your career will take care of itself." While these statements are spot-on while serving, you are making the transition, so you best start taking care of yourself.
As you progress through a military transition, realize there will still be those you served with who will continue to serve; these folks have no idea what it is like to go through the transition process. This comment takes nothing away from those who are serving, but it highlights the important indication regarding your transition--it WILL pull you away from the mission and draw you towards taking better care of yourself (professionally). Not once during the time leading up to my military retirement did anyone in my chain of command ask: "Have you been working on your civilian resume" or "I think you should go to that class and take three days out of the office." Translation--as selfish as it sounds, you now have to look out for yourself in all things that look and feel transition related (resume preparation, job searching, networking, classes, etc). If you think as if you will have extra time, read #3 below.
Your transition is going to pull you away from the mission ... and draw you towards taking better care of yourself.
3. Time management--is now more important than it ever was. During my last several months wearing the uniform, I was juggling my very busy day to day duties, training my replacement, planning a retirement ceremony, and had to mix in valuable time preparing for a transition. You will need time to focus (away from the job) on the resources provided by your base family readiness center (or equivalent), you will need lots of time to craft resumes, lots of time to search and network. I think you get the point, you will need to figure out how to prioritize this transition effort identified above.
4. Network--with precision. During my last six months on active duty, I thought my network was large (my view). I could pick up the phone and call a good colleague nearly anywhere on "base" or if needed, any "Command" across the globe. I gained valuable connections, but quickly realized I needed to reach out more.
I stepped out of my comfort zone, and gained a mentor via the ACP Mentoring Program ; best part is my mentor David Howell has provided invaluable guidance from a "civilian" perspective that I would have never uncovered during my military career. You, too, should step outside of your comfort zone and find a mentor or make a connection outside of the gates of your military installation. Find a mentor who shares your same career goals, someone who has been successful on the "outside", and one who will spend their valuable time talking with you.
Step outside of your comfort zone and find a mentor ... outside the gates of your military installation.
5. About that job search. Your most challenging and time consuming part of your transition will be the job search. While the job search process could be a post in and of itself, unless you are one of the few who lands that dream job with little effort, you will likely find yourself spending the majority of your time writing/perfecting resumes, reading/responding to job postings, and reaching out to recruiters for interviews. As the experts will tell you, networking is your primary and best chance of landing that perfect position. My advice is simple: find that 'dream job' online first by targeting 10 companies you want to work for. Next, use LinkedIn to search for job openings (go to the company's web site as well). Apply for the position, but spend considerable time and effort refining your resume to the job ad (use THEIR words, not yours). Follow THEIR instructions, as cumbersome and outdated as they may be. Finally, wait just 24 hours and reach out to a recruiter (or hiring manager, if you are lucky) and put a bug in their ear on why you are that 'perfect' candidate. Have your 30-second elevator speech ready, but speak with pride and enthusiasm and don't sound like a broken record or another boring candidate. If you are selected for an interview, dress the part, and do your homework--learn about the company and what YOU can do to make a difference. Talk about them, their values, their motto. Ask questions and follow-up until you get that "yes." Take that confidence you learned while serving and put it to good use.
6. Learn to move on (fast). You found that dream job, crafted that perfect resume, landed an interview, walked away from the interview saying: "I nailed it, I am the absolute perfect candidate for this job. There is no way they don't offer me the job." Guess what--you wait, and wait, and wait some more. About that 'dream job'--you weren't selected! Worse yet, you receive no feedback, no call, nothing.
Once you apply, once you interview, learn to walk away. Take good notes, learn what went well, what didn't go well, and move on to the next one. You are likely to be told no a bunch of times prior to getting to that "yes." Feel sorry for yourself for a minute or two, and then move on with life.
7. LinkedIn will be your most powerful social media tool during your transition.LinkedIn is the most robust, most powerful, and most educational social media tool available to assist you in your transition efforts. Come on over to the Job Seeker Premium Group (must subscribe to become a member), the Veteran Mentor Network, and the MC4 group (although no longer accepting new members). Within these groups, you will find and read the struggles and challenges of those facing transition (like you), as well as the success stories, tips, tricks, and everything in between. Bob, Joe, Donna, and Scott are regularly online and mentoring folks just like you, and there are thousands of others on these groups to assist as well. Post a topic once in a while, and feel free to chime in with your experiences. Eight plus months into my transition, I find myself on LinkedIn more than ever. Get your profile updated, start reaching out to connections, and get involved. Read The Pulse daily to get a feel for what others are writing about; read a few articles that may have previously been boring to you--step outside your comfort zone and learn.
8. Learn to journal and record your progress. I tracked my job searches via a simple spreadsheet, and took detailed notes, including tracking every person I was in contact with during my job search. Taking notes and keeping a journal doesn't have to be anything fancy or over the top, do what works for you.
Remember, when that call comes, you will need to be ready to answer; that job you applied for six weeks ago? You should know a little about it, and much more about the company--keeping a journal and taking good notes will assist with all of this (writing triggers and helps the memory). Get yourself a nice notepad (Moleskine's are fabulous), a nice pen and put them to good use. Take this notepad with you to interviews, professional meetings, network sessions, etc. While you are at it, record your thoughts and feelings (keep it simple), and go back regularly to review these notes.
9. Don't lose track of your identity. Have you spent a week, a month, or six months searching for that dream job? Have you applied for tons and tons of jobs with absolute zero response? I did. Were you told no over and over? I was. The job search and being told no (we have moved forward with another candidate is my favorite "No") does not define you as a person or as a professional. Take care of yourself in body, mind, and spirit (however that translates for you). During your transition, do not spend every minute of every waking hour worrying about that prospective job ... simple to say, but take a 20 minute walk in the middle of the day (I did), play golf on a whim (ask my wife, I did), watch a movie in the early morning (I did). Pick up the phone and call someone, keep in contact with professionals in your industry ... just remember to keep your sanity in check and don't lose track of who you are as a person.
10. In the end, it's really not about "you." Remember when I stated earlier that you now have to look out for yourself? True, but not all inclusive. Realize, that when you walk away from your last military assignment, when you hang up that uniform for the last time, when you accept your retirement certificate at your ceremony ... there is someone who will fill your shoes and will probably do a good job at it while they are there. The job market is no different--center your focus around the needs of others and you will reach your destination quicker. I recall my first in-person interview nearly 10 months back. During the interview, I talked more about myself than ever--look at me, look at what I can do, look how much money I saved my last organization, blah blah blah. The blah blah blah is likely what the panel of interviewers heard as I mumbled my way through nothing but me. During the interview that landed me my current position, I focused much more of the attention on what I did--but more importantly, how what I did will help the company, how what I have previously accomplished will translate into moving the company forward. Unless a company has only one or two employees, they have a diverse group and team of employees working towards common goals. Figure out what you can do for them--not the other way around.
Center your focus around the needs of others and you will reach your destination quicker.
I am continuously asked the following question:
"Geoff, how do you like being 'out' of the military?????"
My answer, 100% of the time, is a very enthusiastic response: "It is absolutely fantastic, the grass is very green on this side of the fence."
While the grass is green, and I am enjoying once again being a "civilian," this takes nothing away from my pride of serving our great nation, and the title of being an Airman in the world's greatest military.
The grass is very green on this side of the fence.
To those facing an upcoming transition, and to those facing the battle right now: I wish you the best and certainly wish your continued success outside of the military. If I can offer any assistance to you, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Thank you for your service!
By: Geoffrey Phillips
Mr. Phillips is an IT specialist and professional policy writer / content editor; a non-starving writer always in search of opportunities; a USAF veteran; and a devote Church Elder and family man. His passion is in the pen and the people; he absolutely loves to assist transitioning veterans, and finds himself at peace when he is doing some sort of writing.
Photo courtesy of author