It’s a common experience. You hit the end of your military career—four years, 10 years, 15 years—and you believe you’re on the cusp of big things. You’ve developed leadership ability, work ethic, international experience, and a range of skills that you’re pretty sure will make you a hot commodity in the private workforce. Then you realize that if your goal is a career that pushes beyond sales, retail, or a straight-up service industry, you may have work left to do.
For many military personnel entering the private workforce, that’s a bit of a wake-up call. Most need to add to their knowledge and skills, be that with a short stint at a code school or completing a college degree or getting an MBA. Some have been injured and are dealing with physical issues even as they strive to make the professional transition. In short, the transition isn’t as easy as many think.
Your next step is up to you.
A lot of veterans might expect someone to tell them what’s next after military service. It’s understandable: After all, day after day, you’re used to being told what to do and how to do it.
In the civilian world, it’s entirely up to you to map your own path.
The good news is there are vast resources available to veterans. There are grants and funding for adding to your training and education. There’s a wide network of fellow veterans who have successfully made the transition, and who are eager to help you with yours. There are nonprofits in pretty much every town that offer veteran support services, training, help with resumes—you name it.
But at the end of the day, it all comes down to you deciding what you want, followed by you going out and getting it.
You’ll feel like you’re starting over. Because you are.
When you start at a new job, you’re going to feel like the newbie in the platoon and you’re not always going to get assigned the most “glamorous” work.
As you toil over spreadsheets or build out presentations, remember that you’re setting a foundation for your career that’s not much different than doing push-ups or completing a checklist at the start of your day duty.
It helps to have that clarity of purpose and perspective. Even at times when tasks seem rote, keep in mind that you’re doing all the little things that help facilitate your team’s ability to do much bigger things. Focus on that, and soon you may be in a position to use those leadership skills you learned in the military.
Freedom has its challenges.
There’s a level of autonomy in professional services that can be alien for someone coming out of the military, depending on your former rank. Most days in the military are framed by deadlines set by other people. In a professional environment your time is your own to manage.
Going from a highly structured environment to one that’s much more independent is something military people often don’t think about and sometimes struggle with. Success ultimately comes down to calling on self-discipline, taking initiative to use your freedom in ways that improve professional skills, and holding yourself accountable to colleagues, clients, and yourself.
You may feel like you’re learning English as a second language.
There’s a surprising language gap between military and civilian workplaces. It’s partly the little things: you may get blank stares when you ask your manager to “pre-wire” you. But it’s also bigger than that.
While you will still have a manager to answer to, the way you’re expected to answer him or her will feel much different. Co-workers—including your managers—may routinely thank you for performing a task. They will probably discourage you from saying “sir” or “ma’am.” They’ll expect you to collaborate rather than dictate—with your managers, your peers, and the people you manage.
This is your chance to engineer your future.
In the military you pretty much know from the outset what your career path can be, provided that you do your work, master a defined set of skills, perform your duties well, and stay in the service.
In most organizations your career trajectory is fueled by one thing: your ability to engage. That means creating efficiencies and new practices that help your clients or your employer (or both). It means taking on assignments—like leading nonprofit committees or getting involved in afterhours professional groups— that at first seem extracurricular, but are valuable in connecting with co-workers, building team skills, and learning to lead in a professional environment. It means continuously looking around you, finding what’s interesting and going after it. Just because you start in Federal Consulting in DC doesn’t mean you can’t move into cyber security in San Francisco. Just because your first position is in the states, doesn’t mean you can’t apply for a position in Europe.
Sponsored: For military personnel making the transition to professional services, Deloitte’s CORE program can be invaluable. Click here to learn more and apply. To track available positions and connect with military professionals who are considering the same transition you are, join Deloitte’s Military Talent Community by clicking here.