Here’s a recent question from one of my fantastic students. He’s a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and now in the middle of a major transition:
“Do you have any advice for me, as I’m about to finish college this summer and looking to enter the workforce? I’m hoping to translate intelligence analyst into business operations analyst type positions. I have a solid resume, and I honestly think I will be fine if I can get into an interview, but that’s its own hurdle. I also don’t want to undervalue myself by applying for a job below my level of experience. Thanks in advance for any advice or words of encouragement you could provide!” – “Joe”
Below is my reply. He asked if he could share it so I decided to do the same in the hopes that perhaps there is a nugget of advice in here for other vets. This stuff is all just my opinion based on personal experience. Your mileage may vary. – Randy
I see three questions here – (1) transition/graduation tips for Vets, (2) job search/interview tips, and (3) how not to undervalue yourself. I’ll be brief, use bullets and shoot straight.
Transition Tips Specifically for Vets:
– There was a time not too long ago where we had very few vets in the U.S. Not so now – there are millions. Keep that in mind and stay humble.
– Don’t scare the civilians! Seriously, the 99% who have never served get freaked out easily if you kick the door off the hinges on your first day. Slow down. Breath. Take it easy. Go out of your way to tone it down a few notches. Being too intense pushes people away from you when you want to attract them. Listen a lot. Keep war stories to a minimum. You don’t want people to see you as one-dimensional. You’re a vet and that means a lot of things. But that one thing does not define you as a person. You want people to see you as “Joe” who happens to be a vet…not “Joe the Vet.”
– You can drop “Sir” and “Ma’am” for the most part. First names are usually fine. Pay attention and you’ll figure out quickly who is called Mr. or Ms. Excessive “sirring” makes people uncomfortable.
– Learn new jargon and save the milspeak for drill weekends. If confuses people and makes them feel stupid. Listen to how people in the new organization talk. Then adjust the same way you did at basic training and AIT. Practice explaining your NCO experience in words civilians can understand. Nobody will understand or care that you “were responsible for the health, welfare, and moral of over 15 combat soldiers conducting support operations under stressful battlefield conditions.” Soften it up and emphasize your interpersonal skills and ability to motivate people. (Note: one notable exception to the jargon rule is the AAR. For some reason that has spilled over into the civilian/business world.)
– I have always admired and am glad when I get to work with special ops guys. What I like most about them is that the higher they are on the “hooah scale” the more humble they are (SEALS, CAG, SF, etc). Nothing to prove. Quiet professionals. Take a page from their book. It’ll go a long way. (Note: please don’t show up to the company picnic in your PT gear or decked out like a civilian security contractor who spent all his time in Afghanistan guarding an airfield but thinks he is a Delta operator. I say this only half-joking. Military guys often still look military when they wear civilian clothes. Or they dress in the clothes that were “in” when they first joined…forgetting that was 10-20 years ago.)
– Do not look down on or criticize your new civilian counterparts. Yes, many of them are soft and slow and things in general move at a glacial pace in the civilian world. Adjust your expectations and don’t let these little things get to you. After all, you’re the weird one because you handle things immediately and without complaining. Don’t ever think or say “this guy would have never made it in Fallujah.” No kidding. That’s why he wasn’t there and what does it matter anyway? That guy may be a great ally in the new organization and you may need him. It’s like being a brand spanking new 2LT. If you come in with the right attitude your NCOs will take care of you. If you don’t, they will let you fail miserably.
Job Search/Interview Tips:
– This is a tough one. Online sites with jobs are OK but so packed with candidates it’s tough to set your self apart. Still – use them, but remember that personal networking is much more effective. You can surf listings for open jobs but you can also identify places you’d like to work and start trying to get to know people there.
– Have a solid, professional Linkedin profile. It’s pretty much mandatory these days. They may never be asked for the link but trust me everyone will expect you to have one. It’s also a decent tool for expanding your network. If someone receives your application for a position, they will Google you and expect to find it. That’s your first opportunity to make an impression.
– Keep a positive attitude. Sometimes job searching sucks. Most of the time you get rejected or blown off completely. Keep going. Once you start to get interest and opportunities – the floodgates will open.
Knowing Your Value/Worth:
– This is so important and something people sacrifice all the time. Yes, sometimes you have to kiss a toad or get your foot in the door so you may want to accept a less than optimal offer. But you should also shoot for jobs that are commensurate with your skills and expertise. Shoot high and you may also be considered for other jobs. Shoot too low and they’ll never even think of you for the higher positions. Why should they? You didn’t.
– Don’t be afraid to say no and turn down an offer if it’s not a good deal or your intuition (which kept you alive in combat) tells you there is something wrong. Follow your gut or you may end up miserable and looking for a different job within a few months. I’ve been there before. It’s not fun.
– Be realistic. Everyone thinks they are underpaid. Everyone wants a million dollars. Few of them offer a million dollars worth of value in exchange. Pricing products and services is very difficult. Charge too little and you end up leaving money on the table. Charge too much and you may starve. Be realistic and keep in mind that you are transitioning careers and looking for the first job with your new college diploma. Getting your foot in the door does not usually come with a corner office.
Most of all – just know that everything will work out if you are doing the right things. Step aside and take a breath when you get frustrated and know that it’s just part of the process. Keep things in perspective. When you get really frustrated – remind yourself that nobody is shooting at you and laugh. You survived war and performed your job in combat. You can handle anything the job market/economy throw at you.
This was probably more than you asked for but I hope there are at least a few valuable nuggets of advice above. – Randy
Knowing that my advice was coming from the other side of the fence, I reached out to my good friend LTC John Palo (U.S. Army) and he added the following nuggets:
-Apply to the American Corporate Partners program— it’s free. They will talk to you and match you up with a mentor. The mentorship lasts for a year. It’s invaluable. You’ll get real time data on resumes, interviewing, etc.
-Get in the habit of selling yourself. We like to recognize the team’s effort in the military. You need to make it clear that you were one of the major reasons your section performed so well. It’s uncomfortable – it is to me anyway – but it’s necessary.
–Glass Door is a good website to research companies and determine salary ranges for the positions you are applying for.