Back to Jobs & Education

Ten tips I wish I would have done to depart the military

Having a plan and applying your military skills to business are key

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. File photo

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Military transition is just like a military operation. You need a good plan, people to help, resources, rehearsals, and back-up plans to make sure that you accomplish your goals. When I transitioned, I did not have a good plan, I was not prepared to be unsuccessful, and I did not know how to translate and apply my military skills to business.

1. Attitude is everything.  Attitude is one of the most important mental criteria that will make an employee shine in terms of both performance and leadership. Ensure you have a positive and constructive attitude for even the most seemingly mundane tasks.

2. Be Open to New Experiences.  Often when we are exposed to a vast array of new experiences, we fall back on our military ways and mind sets. All these uncertainties in the economy, fluidity of roles in a commercial organization, and differences between the veteran and non-veteran employees can encourage a status-quo or "pull back" approach by the veteran employee. No matter the expressed definition of workplace activity and company roles, you should dive into whatever roles and experiences are offered immediately.

3. Have a Back Up Plan for Everything -- Jobs, Finances, Everything.  All good plans create multiple options to achieve the mission objectives and to accomplish critical tasks. In the U.S. military, operational planners use the concept of P-A-C-E (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency) to ensure that they have a minimum of four different ways to accomplish a critical task. For career transition planning, P-A-C-E can be used when you are looking at Industries, companies, geographic locations, and types of positions.  For example, in selecting geographic locations, one city or one state may be insufficient. You will probably need to look at Washington, Colorado, Texas, North Dakota and Missouri as opposed to only Washington. For industries, if you are interested in the Energy industry, you may need to expand into Natural Gas, Drilling, and Light Manufacturing. The entire point of P-A-C-E is that once you have expanded your geography, industries, companies, and positions, you now are looking at 15-20 viable options that can be investigated and explored instead of the two to three at the top of your head. The use of P-A-C-E forces you to explore and expand your interests and ensure that you look fully at ALL available options.    

4. Networking Is Not A Dirty Word -- It's How Jobs Are Found.  Networking is the process of meeting key individuals in the companies, industries, professions, and geographies that you are interested in and then exchanging information that can make you a more viable and informed candidate. Once you have a location and industry selected, for example, Electrical Power Generation in the Denver metro area at the Denver Power Company (hypothetical company) focused on customer service, you can start to build a network. Your goal for networking is to create four to six separate contacts outside of Human Resources that you are interested in working at. These contacts can then provide you with information about the company's hiring practices, arrange informational interviews, and let you know about available opportunities. Having multiple contacts at one company really demonstrates your interest. Networking is hard work, but a large network is essential to a successful career transition.

5. Use the STARS Format to Answer Interview Questions.  Interview questions in any job or industry can be answered using the STARS format.

6. Situation, Task, Action, Result, Skills (STARS)

Situation: Describe the context within which you performed a job or faced a challenge at work.

Task: Describe your responsibility in that situation.  

Action: Describe how you completed the task or endeavored to meet the challenge. Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or coworker did.

Result: Finally, explain the outcomes or results generated by the action taken.

Skills: Skills you used to be successful -- includes both hard (technical) skills and soft skills (leadership, teaching, etc.)

Create 6-10 sentence answers to frequent questions on leadership, improvements, cost savings, and how you learned a new skill.

6. Have 10 Common Interview Questions Memorized in Advance.  Having 10 great answers to standard interview questions is a terrific way to have an outstanding interview even if you are nervous. The 10 standard interview answers will reinforce other skill sets listed on your resumé. Remember, use the STARS format to create answers for all these questions.

  • How does your background make you the ideal candidate for this position?
  • Provide an example of how you lead a team to success on a project?
  • Provide an example of how you taught a group a new skill? How did you measure the outcome?
  • Describe an instance where your first project plan was not successful? What did you do to change the outcome?
  • Give a detailed description of how you created an innovation and how did you convince others it was a promising idea? Why was it innovative?
  • Describe an instance where you saved money or reduced cost for an organization.  How did you go about implementing the change?
  • How have you dealt with an unhappy customer? What did you do to make that customer happy and retain their business?
  • Illustrate an instance where you had to deliver unwelcome news to your boss. How did you do it, what was the outcome, and what did you learn?
  • Provide an example of how your military training will make you successful in this position. How do your military skills help make you an ideal candidate?
  • What are three things that you would tell a candidate interested in this company about our products? How do our products make us superior to our competitors?

7. A Letter Writing Campaign for Networking Makes a Great Impression.  One of the largest problems creating a networking campaign for finding a job or expanding your career prospects is finding contacts. The use of your local library branch and resources such as Hoover's and InfoUSA, you can easily assemble a list of several hundred people in mid-level and executive positions that you can network with. Once you have your list, you can use Microsoft Word and Excel for a letter writing campaign ("The Campaign of Me") to create contacts and discover more options.

8. Ensure a Professional Appearance.  John Meyer, an Air Force veteran and the former CEO of Acxiom, stated in a Harvard Business Review Blog post, "I think professionalism and professional appearance is pretty important because it gives you the first impression, the benefit of the doubt. If you look the part, you get the opportunity to show whether you're competent or not." The New Year is a great time to refresh your wardrobe and ensure you look the part. Remember, as a rule, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

9. Use Professional, Understood Language.  Your quality of speech needs to be clear, understandable, free of non-industry jargon, no use of military acronyms, no use of military phrases, confident, and compelling. Absolutely avoid swearing, insulting other cultural or ethnic groups, and demeaning language at all costs, even if others do. In the corporate world, expect to use a first name, but defer and treat seniors respectfully as if they were higher military officer. A senior vice president needs to be respected like a general / flag officer even though you use a first name.

10. Create and Maintain a New Sense of Purpose.  One of the greatest challenges that military veterans face when returning from military service, combat service, and overseas deployment is finding and restoring a driving sense of personal purpose that their military service gave them. Post 9/11 military veterans are proud of their service and believe the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other locations around the globe have made them better, stronger people and better U.S. citizens. Veterans have given a lot to the people of the world; military veterans also have a lot to give to help solve the greatest challenges facing the United States. Look for opportunities to teach young people, perform community service, and help others succeed. Having a sense of purpose is critical to a successful transition.

Every veteran when they return from military will have to chart their own course. Others and I have offered the steps and advice that we wish we had known about when we came back from the military. The experience of military veterans is universal in that military has changed us, but we are all seeking to use the experience of military and what it taught us to improve our daily lives and the lives of others. Military veterans are changed by their military experience, but they can use it to better themselves and to ensure that they have a fulfilling, happy, and satisfying life, career, family, and financial transition.  

Chad Storlie is an Iraq combat veteran, a retired U.S. Army officer, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota -- Carlson School of Management, and a widely published freelance writer.

Read next close

Spouse magazine

SPOUSE magazine - October 2018

comments powered by Disqus