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.