FOR TRANSITIONING VETERANS
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WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PREPARE FOR MY NEXT CAREER?
Seek out people who've transitioned into careers similar to ones that interest you. Ask them what they learned in the process; in particular things they would do differently. Be open to multiple career ideas as your civilian life will be much more focused on your individual contributions at first. Be ready to learn and perform on your own without a team around you like you are accustomed to in the military. Research the geographic area you want to live and get to know the companies in that same area. Have a mindset of finding a job and getting to work instead of looking for the perfect fit. Chances are you don't know what the ideal job looks like in the first place. Click here for more tips as you prepare.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE WHEN I TRANSITION TO CIVILIAN LIFE?
In the military, you were taught that the team comes first. In your civilian career, you will work with people who do not share that same appreciation of the team dynamic. This is normal. Think about what your career would have been like had you not served in the military. Chances are, you would be focused on your own advancement, compensation and individual opportunities. That said, part of what makes you unique is that you DO put the team first. It's ok to let that instinct shine through, just don't be surprised if it feels different.
HOW MUCH MONEY WILL I MAKE?
Most salaried positions will not advertise what the pay will be. Hourly positions are more likely to do so. If you are applying to a salaried position, do some internet research to see what pay ranges are in your area for that type of work. People are offered higher compensation (pay and benefits) if they have more experience. For example, an engineer with 10-years of experience can expect to negotiate an offer higher in the pay range than a new one. Coming from the military, direct years of experience will be a challenge for you but ask for what you think you're worth according to your research and negotiate.
WHAT WILL THE INTERVIEW BE LIKE?
I tell everyone I meet that they will do great in the interview and not to worry about it. You are used to talking to a group, accustomed to pressure, and know how to prepare. You know the importance of showing up on time to an appointment (not all interviewees do) and how to show courtesy. When the interview comes, be positive and open about what you bring to the position as well as the areas you need to learn. Hiring managers want to feel like they are interviewing the real-you, not someone putting on an act. Ask good questions at the end, ask when a decision will be made and follow up with a thank you email or written letter.
WHAT DO I WEAR TO THE INTERVIEW?
This depends on the office dress code or accepted norm. More formal is not always better. If you are asked to come in for an in-person interview, you can ask about the office attire, communicating that you intend to wear a suit "unless you suggest differently." If you are not comfortable asking, it's ok, err on the side of more formality. East coast and large city locations are generally more formal than the west. If you are applying for a management position, more formal is better. In any case, pressed and clean clothes are a must - no wrinkles!
THE FIRST 6 MONTHS
Whether it's a full 6-months or not, you want a period of time where you avoid, "why don't we do it this way," comments. I think 6-months is a good amount of time for this. It's ok to ask questions but suggesting new ways of doing things can be insulting to those who have been in the company. Rather, spend a generous amount of time getting to know your co-workers and studying you role in detail. Build as many relationships as possible. If you move straight into a management position, the amount of time to do all this shrinks down as they've likely hired you to make some changes. However, you still need to find out why things are done the way they are by talking to the people in your team.
HOW LONG SHOULD MY RESUME BE?
One or 2 pages - no more. Also, you want to have different versions of your resume each of which is modified according to the type of job you are applying to. You want to put the name of the position for which you are applying at the top. This demonstrates that you've prepared for this specific interview. As far as translating your military experience, glean as much from the job posting and company website as you can and modify your past experiences to match as much as you can. This is tough, but avoid acronyms as much as possible and have someone read it over who is working in a civilian job if possible. Here are some tips on translating your military experience:
HOW WILL I BE PERCEIVED?
Managers want to hire people who will fit with the group's culture and work hard. You will be great at working hard but pay attention to the culture fit. I see a lot of transitioning veterans describing themselves as "change agents," and I don't think that's a good idea. Managers do want positive change but bringing someone in from the military who thinks they can change things (without seeing them first!) is probably not what they're thinking. Better to describe yourself as a transitioning military leader as people expect you to be disciplined and organized. That is enough. People may expect you to be extroverted and aggressive. Surprise them with your humility.
You are probably not used to dealing with customers. Customers come first, and you will be talked-to in a way that demands immediate attention. The only way to prepare for this is to be humble. You are used to things being orderly and hierarchical. In a business, the customer comes above all else and deserves your full and immediate attention. Be ready to focus on the customer's needs and make their requests your, "main effort."
HOW MUCH MONEY DO I NEED TO MAKE?
Make a budget. Research your retirement pay if applicable, list estimates of rent/mortgage, utilities, car, gas and spending. Get a budget format online. Preparing a budget will let you know how much you need to make in your next job and help you make decisions on the type of house to buy or rent, the distance you are able to commute, etc.
HOW MUCH OF MY MILITARY EXPERIENCE IS APPLICABLE ON A DAILY BASIS?
Be yourself. In doing so, realize that you are being evaluated on what you are doing for the company, not what you've done in the past. War stories are ok, but first build credibility as a member of the team. Definitely don't equate your past accomplishments to future performance. You are in a new role and starting over. Be humble and learn the job and take care of your customers.
THE RIGHT MINDSET
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that nothing could be more difficult than your past military experiences! Your new career will be a challenge; you will make it that way by being hard on yourself. People create a lot of stress based on the expectation that their new career will be easy. Nothing is free, and no one is going to pay you the big bucks without something in return. That "something" is hard work and long hours. So, expect it.