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Eight Hard-earned Tips on Military Transition

Retired Colonel John Buckley
Retired Army Colonel John Buckley's hard earned advice for military transition.

Conquer the Transition: Part 1

Read Part 2: Five Steps to Find Your New Career

Read Part 3: How to Write an Effective Resume

“Transitioning to civilian life was a challenge, and I want to share some lessons learned to hopefully make it easier for others.” – John Buckley, Koch Military Relations Manager

Despite 33 years of service to our nation – including multiple combat and peacekeeping tours – my transition into the private sector was one of the most challenging periods in my life. As an honorable soldier, I conducted an after-action review to capture my lessons learned. A compilation of my notes and other tips are presented in Koch’s Ultimate Guide for Transitioning Veterans, or more affectionately called, the Transition Guide. Through this series of articles, other veterans might benefit and enjoy a less challenging transition into their new career. 

I began my transition woefully unprepared for the challenges that awaited me. I was wildly shooting over one hundred resumes “down range” in hopes of hitting an unseen target – a blind, Kentucky windage-style approach. I received no feedback in return. It wasn’t until I put structure to my problem and began using military problem-solving tools that my performance and results improved. Sun Tzu, a military strategist and philosopher, became my guide: 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu 

I realized to achieve success in my transition “battle” I needed to properly prepare for combat. So, I studied the “enemy” (the recruiter), their methods of war (the application and selection process), and myself (by defining my own career interests). Soon, I overcame my challenge and stood victorious. 

Principal Transition Advice

Start early, study and analyze the new complex operating environment – the private sector – before launching resumes “down range.” Don’t make the mistakes I made. 

1. Focus on your objective of shaping a new career. It is more complex than a job hunt. You don’t want to resume job hunting one year later because you didn’t do it right the first time. 

2. Aggressively conduct informational interviews with professionals in your career field of interest. It’s ok to listen to recently transitioned veterans, but you really need to interview someone who’s been working in your desired career field their entire professional life.

3. Build a network that is focused on your career field of interest. Then leverage that network to learn about job opportunities, professional organizations to join, what certificates or education to pursue, and the cultural environment of potential employers.

4. Build a professional profile on LinkedIn and other job networks, supported by a professional picture. Remove your official military photo, and remove all military jargon and references. Treat others on these networks professionally. It’s not Facebook. To connect with another professional, use a connection in your network to “introduce” you to the professional, or draft a detailed message explaining why you want to join the professional’s network. 

5. Write a unique resume for a specific job description. You’ll never be successful in Korea if you use the OPLAN and operational graphics from Operation Desert Storm. Likewise, you’ll never be invited to an interview if you use a resume that is not distinctively written for the job to which you applied. Finally, write for your audience. Think about what’s important to them, which is simple because it’s an open book test – the answers are in the job description. 

6. Prepare for the interview like there is no tomorrow. Rehearse your actions on the objective. Practice how to answer situation-based interview questions. Learn how to speak a complete sentence without using one single military term, title or acronym. Also, be aware that there are preconceived ideas about veterans. Try not to play into them. During the interview, be candid, honest and humble. Try to be conversational and relaxed, and provide complete answers. 

7. Companies expect you to negotiate their offer, so be ready. Don’t wait for the offer to arrive, prepare early in your transition planning. Review the entire deal. Don’t fixate on the salary. Compensation packages may provide programs that will strengthen the salary offered and may also be negotiated – perhaps even more easily. Be reasonable, knowledgeable, flexible, enthusiastic and avoid ultimatums. 

8. Never leave a fallen comrade. When you have succeeded, turn around and help another military veteran. 

The Warrior Ethos 

“I will never leave a fallen comrade!” – Warrior Ethos

The Warrior Ethos, the principles that define my values, was the driving force behind the development of this series of articles and Koch’s Transition Guide. I accepted the challenge of my transition battle, and my instincts told me to turn around and help other veterans overcome theirs. We hope these tips will help others endure the rigors of their transition and lead them to an overwhelmingly successful career in the private sector. 

Check out Koch’s Transition Guide or stay tuned for more tips in our upcoming articles:

Part 2 – Prepare for Combat (Find Your Career)

Part 3 – Destroy the 1st Echelon (Write a Resume)

Part 4 – Defeat the Second Echelon (Apply for Jobs)

Part 5 – Engage the Third Echelon (Prepare for Interviews)

Part 6 – Settle for Peace (Negotiate an offer)

John C. Buckley, II, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret) is a veteran, career coach and mentor, author, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. He currently assists Koch companies develop and implement military recruiting and retention programs. Prior to civilian life, he commanded Infantry Soldiers in combat and peacekeeping operations, and directed two of the Army’s most prestigious schools. He teaches transition courses, gives seminar presentations, writes about the military-to-private sector career transition, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His recent article “Dance With The One Who Brung Ya,”was published in Military Review by Army University Press in 2016. Email John at veterans@kochind.com.

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