- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

The Education of Self

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Welcome to the July/August edition of Military Transition News, featuring Education as the central theme. Although this issue focuses on the importance of your academic profile and the need to apply it to your search or supplement it before that search begins, I will veer off that course in this column and approach education from a slightly different angle.

For most military personnel, the career transition process is as much about self-education as it is about finding a job. During my career I have discovered that approximately 50 percent of the people who leave the military to pursue civilian employment end up working for companies unknown to them when their searches began. Furthermore, they accept positions about which they initially had little or no knowledge. Why does this happen?

One explanation is that most military personnel have little exposure to the private sector prior to joining the service. With a few exceptions (military-sponsored graduate school, education-with-industry, defense program management, etc.), this lack of exposure continues throughout their time in the military. The result is a shortage of information about their options. This lack of knowledge is one of the largest obstacles in the military-to-civilian employment transition. How can one answer the question “What do you want to do?” without even knowing the choices?

Most military personnel base their knowledge of the business world on their experiences as consumers. They’re very familiar with companies that have high brand recognition. Most of us are familiar with Intel, The Home Depot, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and General Electric. Very few recognize names such as Patterson-UTI, Marsh & McLennan, SAIC and Xcel. All of these companies are world-class and leaders in their fields and, even more important for you, all of them are also winners of the 2016 Most Valuable Employers (MVE) for Military¨. At first glance, you might think you would prefer to work for one of the former, but with additional information, you might discover that one of the latter is better for you. Here’s another way to look at this Ð Just because you’ve never heard of that company does not mean you might not want to work there.

Regarding job categories, among those making the transition from military to civilian careers, there may be a certain amount of familiarity with titles such as technician, supervisor, production manager, sales representative and project engineer. However, titles such as business analyst, program manager, consultant and brand manager might be less familiar. If you’re not careful, that familiarity could predispose you to the former category. There’s nothing wrong with those jobs, of course, but you should allow for the possibility that the best job for you just might be in the second category. Although this choice depends mostly on your training, experience and personality, you must also consider the importance of exposure. You may feel more comfortable concentrating on the familiar, but doing so will cut your options in half.

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