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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Military & Government Career Transition Articles

Stay ahead of the curve with insights from our CTL Associates.

  • 28 Jul 2011 3:36 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    On active duty, the mission is everything. And the tempo of operations can be fast enough to banish all thoughts of your second military career. But even if you stay for 20 years, you’ll have lots of years ahead of you for your second civilian career. So now is the time to capture the problems you solved, how you solved them, the results you help delivered.

    If you can quantify those results, compare them to previous performance, and put them in context, so much the better. I encourage you to document what you do every week without fail. Don’t worry about format or even spelling. Just capture your worth before you forget. I’m not suggesting you “sell yourself.”

    That’s demeaning. You have excellence that others need. But they’ll never know how you can help them if you don’t capture your proven abilities. You may want to use your notes to help your superior prepare your performance review. And you’ll certainly find those examples priceless when it comes to competing in the civilian marketplace.

    When there is talk of cutbacks in military personnel and programs, it may be harder to remain on active duty status. But if you make it a habit of preserving your examples of excellence, you’ll have the edge when you start on that unavoidable, second, civilian career.

  • 14 Jul 2011 4:09 PM | Anonymous
    By Don Orlando

    The closer you get to separation or retirement, the more you start noticing the culture difference between the world of the uniformed services and the planet where more than 95 percent of people have never served on active duty. Even if you live off base, the differences don’t seem to mean much until you start hearing about them in the transition assistance program or in stories from other veterans who have already made the leap. But there is one, very subtle, cultural difference that can delay or derail your career. The good news is, you can avoid it. And when you do, you may also be far ahead of your civilian job-seeking competition.

    This fundamental difference starts when you take the oath. The services like to think of their people as leaders. Of course, you have your MOS, AFSC, or job rating. But a key factor in getting promoted is your leadership ability. That’s why higher grades and ranks can take you into new fields. Said another way, the services focus on—I hate this term—the so called “soft skills.” By the time you end your military career, you’re able to do so many things well because you know how to motivate people to support the toughest missions under difficult conditions. And so you start looking at job postings. After a while, you begin to notice how badly companies announce these “opportunities.” Typically, the announcements start by selling the company. Then comes a list of soft skill requirements. You’re an expert a communicating well, solving problems, and leading people. And so you apply. And you wait…and wait…and wait. What most companies didn’t tell you is the rest of the story: the specific capabilities they want. In the best of all words, you’d see announcements that look like this: “Wanted: Office Manager - Your resume will have living, breathing, transferable, verifiable examples of your ability to deliver the following capabilities: Get the right information to the right people in time to beat the competition; free senior decision makers for the things only they can do; be the voice of our corporate brand to every customer—internal and external; and translate senior leadership’s vision into results by guiding people who do not work directly for you. Resumes without such example will go directly to the shredder!” Since we never see such a posting, too many veterans chase one disconnected “opportunity” after another. Since they can’t match their excellence precisely against corporate needs, they fail.

    Let me suggest an approach to stop that problem in its tracks. First, most important, your campaign must be focused on the career field you want to follow. A career field is a collection of knowledge, skills, abilities, and passions generally abbreviated by a job title. Only then can you match power with efficiency and speed. After all, the skills associated with any career field can be practiced nearly anywhere. Office managers manage offices—it really doesn’t matter if the office is large or small, in a private firm or a government office, in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine. Once you have the career field identified, it’s time to consider the three sectors: private, public (government), and non-profit. Most career fields have openings in all three sectors. But if you have a preference, you’ll know where to focus your efforts. Next comes the choice of industry. Think of an “industry” as a collection of goods or services generally under an umbrella term. So we have the healthcare industry, the defense industry, the service industry…you get the point. Then, and only then, should you think about the specific organization you want to target.

    While that approach is different from the military way of managing people’s careers, it not only works in the civilian world, it’s a wonderful way to concentrate your efforts and build a long and rewarding second career.

  • 02 Feb 2011 4:22 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    You will be hired as soon as you meet two requirements. First, you must prove that you will make the target organization more money than it takes to find, recruit, hire, and retain you. Second, you must provide “living, breathing” transferable examples of you solving the kind of problems a company needs you to solve in your career field. It is so tempting to just show the results. But there are two problems with that approach. First, it’s backward looking. An employer, swamped with hundreds of resumes, may incorrectly conclude his organization doesn’t look anything like the one you worked for. Since he can’t see the value of your success story to his business’ success, he may stop reading your resume. Second, you probably had much more responsibility that your age group in the civilian world. I’ve known E-5s and O-4s who were responsible for millions of dollars in resources. It’s not that civilian employers don’t believe your claim; it’s just that they can’t see how it applies to them.

    Here’s how to counter such difficulties. Think about the problems you solved that are related to your target career field. What was the problem? Remember to concentrate on the problem and not the symptom. Example: Falling sales is not a problem. It is the symptom. Ask yourself what caused the symptom. In this example, falling sales could be due to a new competitor in the market, a fall in demand, an understaffed sales force…you get the idea. What did you do to solve the problem? Specific actions count. What were the results? Quantify if you can. The person with the number wins. If the number sounds overwhelming, use a conservative approach. Does a $23M program seem intimidating? Consider describing it as a “multi-million” dollar program. If you can compare your results with your previous performance or the company standard, so much the better. Was there an unusual context? Did you do two weeks’ work in three days? Was this a problem you have never worked before?

    Now you are on your way to providing vivid, vital proof that you can return an employer’s investment in you to your mutual benefit.

  • 03 Jan 2011 5:05 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    Among the most persistent bits of folklore about starting a new career says when people change occupations, they must start at the bottom. To use a familiar military technical term: BS! In today’s world, people get jobs by matching their expertise in a given career field to organizations’ needs in that same field. Said another way, an HR specialist does human resources things no matter where she’s employed. Of course, the details of the job will change, but the main thrust of the profession doesn’t.

    Think back to your last PCS in your given rating, MOS, or AFSC. Yes, you were still a logistics person. And it took a little time to know the people and the unique culture of your new organization, but you were productive from day one. By the way, the situation is the similar in the civilian world. A sales professional is a sales professional, no matter which product or service he’s been selling. Why do some companies hint that you must “start at the bottom?” Most probably it’s because they want to pay you less than you are worth.

    You’ve worked hard to build your military career. Chances are you can use much of your experience in the civilian world. If a company ever hints that you’ll have to “start at the bottom,” ask them why. If you don’t get a good answer, walk away.

  • 06 Dec 2010 5:50 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    Your transitioning military clients know all about networking. The concept has been part of their culture for more than 200 years. The NCO who can always seem to get what the unit needs—even when official channels seem to block him—knows how to network. The staff officer who’s been asked to brief a general officer on a subject the staffer knows little about knows how to network. Every person who wore a uniform and planned his or her career knows how to network. These masters of military networking may be a total loss when it comes to social networking, specifically how to get the most out of LinkedIn. People like Jason Alba have written entire books about using LinkedIn so I won’t attempt anything like a comprehensive review here. Rather, let me just note the key points that apply particularly to your military transitioning client.

    Headlines (the brand statements that appear just below the name on every profile) are vitally important. During a Global Career Brain Storming Day, Wayne Mitchell, a top recruiter, said the headline is one of the first thing independent recruiters look at. But it can be hard for a veteran to write because she’s done so many different things well. The typical military client thinks of himself as a leader. Yet leadership isn’t a career field, or even a well-developed brand statement. It’s a vital tool used in almost every endeavor. You may have to work extra hard to help your military client determine his or her career field as a first step to defining his or her brand. That will lead to a powerful LinkedIn headline. LI’s special groups might be particularly useful for this kind of client. Enter the terms “military veteran” in the LI Group Directory search engine and you’ll get hundreds of matches. With the career field in mind, your client can narrow her search to the right groups. Once she finds the right group, have look together at a few profiles for group members. You are looking for two examples. First, find a typical profile: little more than a posted resume, a very small network, and sparse updates. Then search for a top notch one. Your client will see the difference at once, and you’ll both have a standard against which to aim.

    Your military transitioning client probably has much better networking skills than his civilian counterpart. But he needs our help to make the culture shift that will put those skills to work in his new career.

  • 02 Nov 2010 1:08 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    The services grow leaders. You were promoted based on how well you could solve leadership challenges. Your MOS, AFSC, or rating was certainly important to the mission. But, if you spent any time on active duty, chances are you found yourself doing a variety of jobs. And you did all of them well. Therein lies the culture trap. Private, government, and non-profit hiring decision makers ask applicants to provide specific capabilities—abbreviated by job titles. They don’t want leaders so much as they want marketing leaders, or sales leaders, or IT leaders. Too often, all those jobs are poorly announced.

    The postings often include what you think of as minimum requirements: management, strong communications skills, and the ability to solve problems. Your natural reaction is: “I know I can do that job!” And so you respond enthusiastically. Just after you do, you find another “opportunity” in a field unrelated to the first. Soon you “active” job search has you applying for many, often unrelated, jobs. But if your resume doesn’t provide a close match between your excellence in the specific career field the employer wants, you won’t get the job. Worse yet, you can hardly apply to the same company again. The more you follow this flawed model, the longer and more unsuccessful will be your job search.

    Avoid that trap by focusing on a specific career field. Think of a career field as a collection of knowledge, skills, abilities, and passions that provide a given service or product. Career fields are approximately defined by a job title. Now you can apply for any position that calls for a given career field. For example, a production professional understands manufacturing very well. It doesn’t much matter if the manufacturing company he applies to is large or small, in Maine or Washington State, is privately held or publicly traded. To a large degree, it doesn’t much matter what the company makes. Production professionals do production kinds of things.

    There are entire books written on the subject of how one gets clear and compelling proof about which career field is right for you. But do get the answer to that question before you apply for that next job.

  • 12 Aug 2010 6:18 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    You’ve seen the questions often enough: what are your salary requirements? What is your salary history? Your first reaction is probably the right one: it’s none of your business! But in the private sector, it is part of their business. A big part of every corporate budget is compensation they pay employees. Firms have a right, even an obligation, to get the greatest return on the every investment they make, including payroll. And most companies honestly try to pay a full day’s wage for a full day’s work. But those in the private sector have an advantage retiring or separating military professionals don’t have. Their pay isn’t a public record as it is for anybody wearing the uniform.

    There are many fine books on the subject of negotiating for salary, benefits, perks, and severance. The “bible” is Jack Chapman’s Negotiating Your Salary: How To Make $1000 a Minute. I won’t repeat any of his guidance here. But I do want to touch on the special circumstance of the retiring military individual. Sometimes, uninformed hiring officials let it slip that they’ve “adjusted” their salary offer because…after all…you do have retirement pay. Those same interviewers wouldn’t think to ask a private sector applicant to reveal her bank balance. How then might you react if you find yourself in this situation? First, cut the interviewer a little slack. Chances are he’s never served on active duty nor has anyone in his immediate family who has.

    Tempting as it is, don’t try to “educate” the interviewer on the differences between your years on active duty and any job in the private sector. Yes, I know you were probably underpaid. Yes, some of our younger enlisted members qualify for food stamps. And I can never remember a failed general being offered a $12M severance package. But that is all beside the point. Offer the interviewer the return on investment he is seeking. After all, he got approval to fill the position only after he gave his pledge to his boss that the next person he hires (you?) will make the company more money than it takes to find, hire, and retain you. So use the success stories in your resume to document that ROI.

    Here’s an example: “Payoffs: Produced $1.6M savings by streamlining production,  just as the tempo of operations shot up to wartime standards with little notice. Reduced deferred maintenance  and functional check flights by 66 percent, cycle time slashed from 120 to 21 days.” Then guide the conversation back to the issue at hand. You want to know (and the interviewer certainly knows) what the bottom and the top of the salary range is for the job you’re shooting for. You can then compare what they are offering to the range, a measure of your value on the market.

    If the interviewer continues to low ball you, consider walking away. If you can’t do that because of the current economy, there is another option. You can offer to share the risks and the rewards by asking for an early performance review. Make it clear during that review, you’d want to review your contributions as a baseline reevaluate your pay. If the reviewer agrees, get the arrangement in the letter of offer.

  • 15 Jul 2010 1:19 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    Military professionals, with their in-depth knowledge of the Federal culture and their experience in responsible jobs, often tell me they want to continue to serve, but in the private sector. What better way than to join a contractor’s team dedicated to a Federal contract? If they are still on active duty or recently retired, it’s important to check their service’s ethical guidelines as a first step. Huge Federal spending initiatives attract thousands of companies all across America. In response, the government has a powerful website that can work for job seekers and their coaches.

    While much of the private sector may be unsure of how the economy is going and thus be reluctant to hire, a Federal contract is a serious offer of work. Consider tapping into Federal Business Opportunities website (https://www.fbo.gov/) to find this information:

    - Which companies might boost their chances of winning a Federal contract by benefiting from the skills military professionals have?
    - What are the contract decision makers' names and contact information?
    - When will this opportunity expire?
    - What are the target companies' competition (by name)?
    - How much is this contract worth?

    As always, job seekers look to offer value, in this case, helping with the dilemma those contractors face. Companies who bid on a contract must convince the government they have the resources (people) to do the work. But companies cannot afford to hire those people before the contract is awarded. Transitioning military professionals may be able to help, if they begin their campaigns before their last day on active duty. When they go beyond the usual value in their resume to show they understand a contractor's unique challenges, they open the door to building relationships that land jobs. Considering the average job search can easily take up to a year, this strategy can help lock in a commitment even before people leave active duty.

  • 10 Feb 2010 9:27 PM | Anonymous

    By Don Orlando

    It’s natural to assume the high esteem in which the public holds the military today should give transitioning military clients an edge. It does…but three, persistent stereotypes held by hiring officials about veterans dull that advantage. These stereotypes have persisted for years, at least as long as we’ve had the all-volunteer force. Before the end of the draft, one in four Americans either had served on active duty or had an immediate family member who served. The ratio is 1 in 400 today.

    Most people’s view of military life comes from the entertainment industry. Many transitioning military aren’t even aware of these stereotypes. When I list them, veterans are astounded by what they see as laughable perceptions. Since they do exist, let me introduce you to the major ones.

    “Military people don’t have to think.” They just give and take orders. While that may have been true 60 years ago, it just isn’t so today. I think I am typical because, in my twenty six years on active duty as a commissioned officer, I gave precisely one direct order. Our military members are smarter than they have ever been. They insist on understanding how they contribute to the mission.

    “Military folks always have unlimited resources.” If only that were true. Doing more with less is a phrase that came from the uniformed services first. 

    “Military people don’t understand profit and loss.” It astounds civilians to learn that military organizations buy and sell goods and services to other military organizations. And I suspect not many civilian managers could survive the constant evaluation senior officers and NCOs get in their ability to manage every kind of resource.

    For career professionals, our challenge is to counter those stereotypes, not just in the resume, but in the cover letter and social network profiles we help build.

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