Why are you getting out?

“Why are you getting out?”  This has got to be the number one question people have for transitioning officers… whether it’s your chain of command, peers, or potential employers, inquiring minds want to know!

When talking to your boss, I’d recommend honesty, with social tact.  With your peers, you can be more candid.  But with potential employers, tread carefully.  Don’t take it as an opportunity to slam the military.  Express gratitude for the opportunities and what you’ve learned, but focus on why a post-military career truly interests you, will fulfill you, and meets your needs better than the military could.

Officers are leaving the military at a high rate for a number of reasons.  In one poll, 82% of veterans said they left the military because of “frustration with military bureaucracy.”  But there are even more stated reasons to list…

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The Value of Your Military Experience

The other day, I had a friend tell me on Facebook that it was exciting that I was going civilian, but that he felt like he didn’t have any valuable “civilian-world” skills other than leadership.  I couldn’t believe he was selling himself so short; he’d attended a service academy, one of the country’s premier leadership institutions, and served successfully as an Army officer.  If he wanted to get out, I’m sure he’d succeed!

I think it’s common for veterans to sell themselves short in this regard.  It’s hard to get civilians with no military experience to relate to us, so we assume it will be hard for us to relate to a civilian career.  After all this time in uniform, a business suit seems uncomfortable in more ways than one.  But while the jargon/environment may be different, the skills we’ve acquired during our military service are actually invaluable.

Some of the things we have to offer:

  • grassroots leadership
  • ability to make decisions under pressure
  • ability to adapt
  • ability to prioritize
  • risk management skills
  • discipline and work ethic
  • integrity
  • understand technology in the workplace
  • cultural inclusion and teamwork
  • ability to delegate responsibility
  • confidence
  • real-world experience
  • security clearances

It seems like Corporate America has already figured out that the military is a great place to find leadership and experience when they need to fill job openings… give yourself the credit you deserve!  If you want to be a leader in the military, you can do it.  If you want to be a leader in the corporate world, you can do that too.

Articles I read:

“Battle-tested: From soldier to business leader”, Fortune Magazine, March 2010

“Military vets: MBA job recruiter’s dream candidates?”, Fortune Magazine, July 2011

“How Military Veterans Are Finding Success in Small Business”, Entrepreneur, February 2012

“A vanishing breed: CEOs seasoned by military combat”, USA Today, January 2005

“Do Officers Make the Best CEOs?”, Military.com

“The Value of Veterans”, Military.com

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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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!

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?