Strengths and Weaknesses

I’m my own worst critic.  I beat myself up more than anyone else ever could.  On self-assessments, this is easy to see; I’m the one giving myself C’s when my bosses are giving me A’s.  Is it a lack of self-confidence?  Or do I not understand the questions?

Recently, it became a requirement in the Army for officers to complete a Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback module before an evaluation.  (You need to be in the Army with an AKO e-mail and CAC capabilities to complete the module.)  Within the MSAF, you do a self-assessment of your performance based on different categories, then ask a required number of Superiors, Peers, and Subordinates to complete the same assessment of you.  The categories are:

  • Prepare Self to Lead
  • Overall Leadership
  • Lead Others
  • Lead by Example
  • Get Results
  • Extend Influence Beyond Chain of Command
  • Develops Leaders
  • Create a Positive Environment
  • Communicate

After everyone has completed the assessment, your results are compiled, and you are able to see how your self-assessment compares to the assessment of others.  This is an incredibly valuable tool for leaders, whether you plan to stay in the Army or not.  This information will help you with your career for life.

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Success Story: Mark

I met Mark during my second deployment to Iraq.  We both were Army brats whose fathers left active service during the Clinton-era cuts, watching them complete their military careers in the Army Reserves while starting civilian jobs.  Mark, however, was not a traditional active duty Army officer like me.

Mark joined the Army Reserves as an Automated Logistics Specialist, attending both Basic Training and AIT.  He then attended college and completed Army ROTC, earning a commission in the National Guard.  A shortage of active duty officers allowed him to be placed on active duty orders, bringing him to join my unit in time to deploy to Iraq.

During his time as a logistics planner for our Brigade Combat Team, Mark remained on the fence about whether he wanted to remain on Active Duty or to leave upon completion of his contract.  He had close friends and mentors in the unit, and learned a lot about contracts, vendors, and business.

“More importantly,” he emphasizes, “[it] allowed me to support soldiers within our Brigade and see a direct, positive effect on them.”

Mark remembers eating at the DFAC during the deployment with a friend, discussing plans for mid-tour leave, or R&R.  They happened to be sitting beside some of the other Brigade Staff , including our notoriously emotionless Brigade Executive Officer.

“The Brigade XO turned to us and asked us where we were going for leave,” Mark said, “We told him, ‘Australia, Sir.  We’re going to see a lot of the cities, and we’re going to go cage diving with great white sharks.'”

The Brigade XO’s eyes lit up and he actually smiled.

“That’s great!” he said, “You know I always wanted to be a marine biologist and travel the world.”

Mark recalls the man’s eyes quickly dimming, his smile disappearing, as he ended, “And then I got wrapped up in the Army.”

“I knew from that moment,” Mark said, “I was getting out.”

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Army Drawdown: What Current Officers Need to Know

Everyone (still serving) is talking about the Army drawdown… will it be reminiscent of the Clinton-era personnel cuts?  How many will be cut?  Who is at risk?

There was a great article published in The Army Times about this very topic, and it specifically addressed how these changes will affect the Army’s officers, and possibly their career futures.  As a former human resources officer, I’ve been fielding frequent questions/concerns from friends over these upcoming changes.

Most of the cuts are going to come from the enlisted side.  They are the largest, and so they contain a lot of the folks that will be eliminated by misconduct, overweight/PT failure, tenure rules, etc.  But that doesn’t mean the officers are safe.

Promotions are going to be tougher.  It used to seem like a pulse and an APFT could get you promoted.  Now, there have been adjustments to evaluations and boards to ensure the best officers get promoted and the others get passed over.  And after being passed over enough times, that leads to involuntary separation, the Army’s version of a pink slip.  Mostly this seems to apply to senior Majors, where the selection to higher ranks is more exclusive, but the lower ranks should pay attention too.  My father was a senior Major when the 1990’s cuts were happening, and my entire family was affected.  Being an Army officer used to mean job security until retirement, but as the needs of the Army change, so do its ranks.

I don’t think anyone should hit the panic button yet.  It’s too early, and all changes take time.  But if you’re on the fence about staying in, take this into consideration.  And don’t slack off on the job; your performance is of ever-increasing importance!

JMO Recruiting Firms

One of the biggest debates I have with my peers transitioning from the Army to Corporate America is whether or not using a recruiting firm is the way to go.  For me, as a business newbie, having a recruiting firm help me was a no-brainer.  But then again, location is a non-issue for me; I’m all about finding a job that I want, after spending years being placed/selected for jobs by the Army.  I really credit my recruiting company with helping me feel more organized and prepared; I am currently working on my resume and interview prep for a career conference in just a couple of months.  I’m excited, and having constant contact with the company makes me feel like I’m not in the search alone; they WANT me to succeed.

Recruiting firms aren’t for everyone.  I have peers who have acted as free agents and landed great jobs, working with ACAP, attending career fairs (if you’re a Service Academy grad, check out the Service Academy Career Conferences) and putting themselves out there on LinkedIn and individual applications.  Some of them felt like the recruiting firms treated them like just another ‘piece of meat’, especially since they receive a commission equivalent to a certain percentage of your first year’s salary; they don’t get paid until you get hired.  Other friends had specific geographic areas they wanted to relocate to, so recruiting firms would narrow their field too much for them to feel comfortable.  Some didn’t see the companies they wanted to work for at the conferences, and sought them out on their own.  The exclusivity agreements turn a lot of people off; it can feel like putting your eggs in one basket, if you don’t have other backup plans if the recruiting firm doesn’t work out.

That said, having an aggressive recruiting company working for you can be beneficial.  They want to get you the highest salary, so they work to make you the best candidate for their companies.  They walk you through it.  You may be required to promise exclusivity through the end of their career conference, or be limited by the companies/locations they have available.  But you have someone working with you every step of the way, and you aren’t forced to take a job you don’t want; you’re free at the end of that career conference.

I’ve heard good and bad things about every single recruiting firm.  Some from people who actually tried to work with them, others from people who just distrust recruiting firms in general.  And that’s to be expected, because every job hunt is a unique monster.  But here’s what I have learned, from word-of-mouth and Internet research.

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How I Told My Boss I’m Quitting

One of the hardest things I’ve done was to give the Army my ‘notice’.  It’s not like the civilian world where you give them a few weeks, maybe even a month; the process of leaving the military takes more time, so you have to let them know 6-12 months in advance.  You do the paperwork, get counseled by your commander, and start the Army Career & Alumni Program (ACAP).  As an officer, choosing to leave upon completion of your contract is called a REFRAD, or Release from Active Duty.  Enlisted soldiers doing the same are choosing to ETS, Expiration Term of Service.  It’s a similar end result, but a different process.

I worked directly for the same Battalion Commander for three years.  He presented my first award, promoted me twice, and served as a constant and steadfast mentor for me.  We didn’t always agree, but we had a strong mutual trust and great professional relationship.  He was there through some major ups and downs in my life, and I felt I owed much of my success to his mentorship.

Like many military leaders, he wanted to help retain the best people for the organization.  He spoke to me often about his career path, the great opportunities the Army had afforded him, and why I should stay in for 20+ years.  I always listened to him, weighing my pros and cons.  When I made the decision to submit my paperwork for REFRAD, he was one of the first people I told.  (Well, I had to tell him, or he’d have found out anyways.  But it wasn’t a conversation I looked forward to.)

It’s hard to tell someone that while you respect them, you don’t want to follow in their footsteps.  I felt like I was saying, “Sorry, I don’t want to be you when I grow up.”  I didn’t want any hard feelings, because the decision was entirely mine.  It’s not you, it’s me!  The Army isn’t for everyone!

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I’m a LinkedIn believer!  I even bought a book about it.  I’m a social networking addict, but LinkedIn was something I avoided for a while.  I didn’t sign on until I knew that I’d be making my transition.  I knew it would be important for networking, building my connections with others to find out about career opportunities, get advice, and keep in touch with fellow professionals.

LinkedIn isn’t magic.  You don’t create a profile and suddenly have an Inbox full of job offers.  You need to work on building connections with people you know, picking their brains, researching companies and available jobs, and ultimately doing the legwork on your own.  But it’s still a great resource and first step for those considering leaving the military for the civilian workforce.

My LinkedIn Tips:

  • Have a complete profile.  Work on it!  Just like your Facebook page, you are representing yourself and how others see you.  Make a good first impression, and make it complete.  Use a professional-looking photo.  Use your resume as a guide.  Make it complete, so you look put-together; a crappy profile looks like you didn’t make the effort.
  • If you find a profile you like, let it be your guide!  I learn a lot from seeing other people’s profiles.  They may include something that I’ve overlooked, like an accomplishment I forgot about.  They may have some great verbiage that sounds more professional than mine.  My LinkedIn profile is a fluid thing, and I actually get messages from people complimenting me on it!  But I owe thanks to the people who’ve already established themselves and set a good example for me to follow.
  • Get recommendations.  I’ve been told 1-2 recommendations per job can make a difference.  I found former bosses/professors on LinkedIn, and sent them a recommendation request.  When a couple of them asked for suggested comments, I provided them some examples of great ones I’d seen on other profiles.  It’s like a mini-reference for your profile, and you aren’t ‘complete’ without a few.
  • Find people.  Look for fellow college alumni, join groups for veterans, and seek out good, solid connections.  The great thing about LinkedIn is that is will recommend people for you to connect with, based on your current connections.  It’s a great thing to review every once in a while, to build your base. You can also use the search box to reconnect with former employers and coworkers.  This is a great way to find people who can give you those recommendations.

Do you use LinkedIn?  Any tips?

My Story

I feel I owe my story, because I’m asking some of my friends and peers to share theirs.  I’ve chosen to remain anonymous, and I’ll be doing the same for the people and companies I blog about here.  I think that the information is still important, but it’s better to give everyone some privacy.

I was an Army brat, growing up in some amazing places like Europe and South Korea.  My Dad was a military officer, who later transitioned to a career in finance.  I attended the same college he did, choosing a military service academy.  I was attracted to the combination of prestige, education, and military service.  I loved the challenge.  I would then spend the next five years after graduation serving as an officer in the United States Army, including two deployments overseas to Iraq.  I was fortunate to work with great units, leaders, and mentors.

The decision to leave the military was a tough one.  (And I believe it is for most people!)  I didn’t enter my service believing I would leave; instead, I left myself open to either possibility.  In the end, I knew I’d accomplished my goals in the military.  I had an interest in business; I even took the GMAT twice to prepare myself for business school!  As I researched different opportunities, established myself on LinkedIn, and talked to my peers going through similar transitions, I decided to work with a professional recruiter.  I chose a well-recommended recruiter that specialized in military officers transitioning to Corporate America, had a rigorous professional development program, and was a good match for my career goals.   I’m excited about my career conference with them in just a couple of months, and I plan to keep you posted throughout the process!

My ultimate goal is to find a good job in business, working for a company I like and believe in. I want to enjoy my work, which I believe is a goal/dream that everyone has!  Completing my MBA is still a top goal and priority of mine, but I haven’t decided yet how I want to do it.  I’m a work in progress.

What’s your story?