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Senior NCO Retirement: No Fear!

Army Senior NCO

Proactive ammunition for Senior NCOs to ponder about entering the civilian workforce.

Fear of the unknown, especially at the close of a career in the military, is NORMAL!  I find that many Senior NCOs are, frankly, scared stiff of retiring and entering the workforce.  Some tools that can provide you with some help are found on Military.Com, such as our Transition Center and our Military Skills Translator. Also, check out the helpful articles grouped by subject on our Veterans Employment Center.

Here are a few points to consider as you transition to retirement with regards to future employment:

1. Reality check:  You are much more than what you do!

One mistake many retiring NCOs make is to identify themselves by what they do, not who they are!  There is this myth that your job classification, be it MOS, AFSC, or rate is the sum of your identity. To be perfectly frank, that is not who you are -- it's only part of your self-identity.   You must reframe your thinking around this:  You are much more than your career classification!  That does not mean you ignore your services' traditions and culture, nor does this minimize the success and expertise you have achieved within your chosen field. I just want you to realize that vocation is only part of what makes you who you are. It also is only part of what you bring to future employers.

While it matters not what your job, MOS, AFSC, NEC or Rate is, there are some common elements of experience that are usually lacking from SNCO resumes. Please consider your career in these core areas. 

Human Resources
Yep, even you infantry hard-chargers are HR managers. In what way?  How about performance evaluations, career counseling, mentoring, managing a diverse and inclusive workplace? These are all hot topics that can lead to an HR career path for you. This can happen even without a degree in HR, depending on your experience. Even if you want to work for a defense contractor in a field directly related to your experience, you should discuss this topic on your resume.

Logistics and Supply Chain Management
Every SNCO has to order, maintain, turn in, or consume materials and equipment, regardless of the job. Even folks in food service have a deep knowledge of the supply chain and are comfortable discussing that. So think through how your career intersects with this area.   Also, the moving of people and equipment is a big piece of many career fields. This is of great importance to employers, especially those in the logistics and supply chain management business. Keep in mind, though, that ALL organizations have this aspect embedded in their operations.

Resource and budget management
Have you ever thought about the value of the equipment that is vital to accomplishing your mission?  Great!  Then I should see a section on your resume that details that. For example, as a Recruiting manager,  I was responsible for offices, equipment, vehicles, computers, etc. By the time I added up all the places that reported to me, I saw a value of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And those of you working in jobs that you think have no place in civilian life (like gunners or artillery), what is the value of your equipment? Millions of dollars?  Then your resume should say something like:  Responsible for maintenance of equipment valued at $15 million. There are a ton of examples out there to help you frame the wording properly.

Akin to resources is budget and financial management. Most SNCOs are department chiefs or run divisions that have large budgets. Again, my observations are that many folks never mention their budget experience, unless their job was in a financial field.

Remember, even if you are not planning to seek employment in any of those areas above, it is crucial that you mention your experience with them. This leads to quicker promotions because every senior manager has these types of skillsets.

2. Be patient with civilian employers…and yourself.

Your expectations are not entitlements.

While you have high expectations based on your status as a SNCO, those expectations may not be shared by employers. Remember, you have a common language with those in your service; so also does the civilian workforce. Many times there is a language or cultural barrier that hinders effective communication. Also, in this economy, the best strategy is that old adage: "Get your foot in the door, and then work your way up". Promotions will come! 

You may have been well known at one duty station, where you were top dog, because of your longevity and reputation. But upon being assigned to a new duty station, you may have had to rebuild that credibility by starting over with supervisors, peers, and subordinates.

That is the civilian workplace to a 'T'. They don't know you, and while you may have sterling credentials, they may not have an opening meeting the criteria of your expected status. However, there may be other jobs open that can quickly lead to great managerial positions. They can only offer you what they have open in many cases. So take the job and do what you do best:  Build a credible reputation and network by hard work!  It will pay off, just as it did in your military experience.

3. Finally, really think about what you want to do when you get out.

Don't just call your friends and go to work where they do. Take time to consider what really interests you. I know that is not viewed as an option because of the paralysis of our first point. People identify what they can do with what they have done.   If that is of interest to you, by all means make it happen. But don't just capitulate to that without really exploring your desire!

Although you may be starting over in a new place, new career, and whole new culture, you are not a novice employee. Do your homework, find out what you really what to be and do, and go for it!

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