Approximately 200,000 military transition stories are written each year. Each story begins with a transitioning service member leaving behind the security of a steady paycheck and superb medical and dental insurance. Each story continues with letting go of a massive safety net and top cover. So it’s no wonder that transitioning service members experience anxiety and confusion as they leave behind military entitlements and benefits for the relative uncertainty of the civilian sector. Veterans cannot rely on someone else to write their stories. Each of us must author our own next chapter.
The Standardized Training You Get
The US Defense Department requires its service members to attend a transition assistance program (TAP) to improve the chances for a smooth transition. Everyone has a different experience in TAP and while it has improved over time, much is left to be desired. My experience wasn’t all bad. The instructors took pride in their assignments and seemed to truly care about service members’ transitions. That said, I identified a major gap. TAP is a standardized program that should be highly individualized.
As is typical with most military training, TAP attempts to firehose spray students with as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. That approach all but guarantees the majority of the information delivered will be forgotten. Also typical of military training, TAP targets the slowest learner in the room. Everyone is provided the same information, but not everyone benefits the same.
The Individualized Experience You Need
The single best decision I made in my transition out of the Marine Corps was to apply for a free one-on-one coach through the Commit Foundation. My mentor (more on why those are important in another article) suggested I follow his lead and thank goodness that I did. In our first conversation, my coach was very clear that her intent was not to find me a job or help me map my military skills to a civilian career field.
Her first focus was to help me figure out what my strengths are. Just look through my military evaluations, right? Not so fast. Then we worked on finding out what made me happiest. Happy?! No one in 23 years cared whether or not I was happy! Third, she was insistent that I learn what type of organization was the right fit for me. After being told for two decades where to go and who to report to, this was exciting!
Probably the most useful exercise I’ve done in my adult life was taking the Clifton Strengths Assessment by Gallup. When my coach told me about a 45-minute long, rapid-fire, multiple choice test, I was skeptical, to say the least. Then I got my results and holy smokes did that thing have me pegged! The types of insights about yourself you can expect from taking the assessment:
Self-Assurance = I know that I am able to take risks, meet new challenges, and deliver.
Harmony = I am a practical diplomat. I keep the peace by helping others see things as they actually are.
Arranger = I connect talent to tasks to maximize productivity.
Activator = When can we start?! Once a decision is made, I cannot, not act.
Learner = I am energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.
My coach recommended I give copies of the results to colleagues and family members to confirm or deny the findings. Everyone agreed with me that the assessment nailed my top five strengths. Ok, so what? How does that help you? Well, knowing your top strengths enables you to seek out only those positions or career fields ideally suited for your strengths. Therefore, you can identify poor fits more quickly, which saves you valuable time in the search for your next career.
Designing Your Life
The Commit Foundation mailed me a copy of Designing Your Life immediately after acceptance into their program. In it, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans provide several exercises that help readers figure out in which career or job they’d find the most happiness.
The Good Time Journal asks the reader to log the activities of their work day and then rank those activities on a scale of engagement (low to high) and energy (negative to positive). And really important, whether or not the reader achieved flow. The idea behind the exercise is to identify the things in your daily work life that you find exciting or draining. Exciting things we want to replicate and draining things we want to eliminate if possible.
I logged my activities for a week and found that little in my workday resulted in positive energy, whether or not I was highly engaged. So, I knew that the job that I was in at the time was not something I should seek post-military.
The Odyssey Plan exercise asks readers to develop five-year plans. Readers use mind mapping techniques to identify the activities in their life that make them happy. Then readers use that information to build several unique five-year plans. This exercise helped me visualize three potential futures for myself that I would not have considered.
Network, Network, NETWORK!
My coach left me with one final lesson. She told me that everything else I had learned would be useless if I did not get out and network. I was fortunate, in my last assignment in the Marine Corps, networking was built in. But most military members have a different experience.
So, it’s important that transitioning service members capitalize on services like The Commit Foundation. Vets also need to take advantage of social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, to expand their reach beyond the local ecosystem. Use LinkedIn to make contact with veterans inside the company where you want to work. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Especially from the folks who are best positioned to give it. In fact, there’s another non-profit dedicated to helping vets make those connections. But, that’s for a different article.
Bottom line and this is important – It’s not what you know and it’s not even who you know, finding the next best career is all about who knows you. The best case scenario for a job seeker is to have to submit a resume as a formality. So get out there and network, network, NETWORK!
Set Your Own Conditions
TAP is exactly the bare minimum you need to exit the service. There are dozens of organizations dedicated to helping veterans transition out of the military. Find the one that best suits you and your needs. Take control of your transition and set the conditions for your own success!