- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

“...Stars waiting to happen.”
by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

Those words were used in the March 22, 2010, issue of FORTUNE magazine by Brian O’Keefe in his discussion of the benefits of hiring people with experience in the military. Although I wholeheartedly agree with his premise - the military is providing the private sector with a tremendous pool of “star” talent - I take issue with the “waiting to happen” descriptor.

As you read the profiles of forty of those stars in the “Top 40 Under 40 for Military” feature of this issue of Civilian Job News, you will notice or suspect a fairly common denominator - they are all individuals who have made it happen in an environment in which waiting for things to happen is a recipe for failure.

As those forty people go about their post-military careers or those recently transitioned, I doubt they will be satisfied with waiting for things to happen, nor will their employers be happy playing the waiting game. Based on their track records, those forty men and women will continue to make things happen. This distinction is very important for all of you who are transitioning from military to civilian employment for two reasons, both of which deal with managing and meeting expectations.

First, consider the mindset and attitude of the potential employer. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies with veteran-friendly hiring practices. For example, take a look at the ones with employment ads in this publication. You would be wise to focus your attention on those and like-minded employers as you look for a job.

To get an offer and land a great job means you will have to convince a company that you are the right person for the job. But what if prior to reaching that point you also had to convince the employer to even consider hiring a veteran? That can be a tough sell when the company has little or no history of doing so. Fortunately for you, there is no need to do that, if you target companies that have previously identified that market and believe in the product. A company in that category wants the product and now it becomes a matter of which brand of that product best suits its needs - hopefully the brand called you!

However, just because they have been pre-sold on the concept and the value, you also need to understand why they are hiring veterans and what expectations they have of them once they are on the job. This is where your mindset and understanding comes into play. A company decides to hire someone for one of three reasons: experience, potential, or a combination of the two. When a company hires a veteran, it is frequently the combination that is most appealing and that is very good news for you. Your contribution is reflected in (and your paycheck is based on) the initial value you add to the company; that is why experience is so important. However, if you and the company also care about your future, then your potential for growth, both vertical and lateral, is just as important as the experience component. The money you earn from doing your job shows up on the company’s balance sheet as an expense. The money the company spends on training and developing you for the future shows up as an investment - in you.

Regardless of why you are hired, the important thing is you were hired - congratulations! Right? Not necessarily. It would be a mistake to disregard the why. Remember this also: expectations must be met. Your star may have shined in the military and both you and your new employer expect it to shine in your civilian job, but neither party can afford to sit around and wait for that to happen. Unlike the moon, whose glow is simply a reflection, a star’s energy comes from within. The company will provide the training, the encouragement, the mentoring, and the support system, but you must provide the attitude, the motivation, the commitment, and the make-it-happen mindset that caused them to notice that shining star in the first place.

Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military-to-civilian career transition and a Contributing Editor at Civilian Job News.  He served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978. Contact him via e-mail


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