4 Reasons Military Veterans Should Start Preparing Early for a Transition to Business

As an active duty military officer, the odds your schedule is constantly busy are very high. You have a full time job that requires you to work late, often on weekends, and to spend long periods of time away from home. You do not have a lot of margin in your life.  As a result, Junior Military Officers (JMOs) considering a transition often put off researching, planning, and preparing, because they just cannot find the time. However, military veterans should start preparing early for a transition to business.

As JMOs planning to move from the military to Corporate America, military veterans should start preparing early for a transition to business.

I recently gave a two-hour live presentation, “Considering a Business Career? What You Should Know.” Afterwards, one JMO commented that he would be interested in working with Cameron-Brooks, but would contact us the following summer when he was closer to his transition date.  What he essentially said to me was, “I’m interested but busy, and I don’t really want to think about a transition until about six months before getting out. That should be sufficient enough time.”  If this was indeed was what he was trying to convey, I think he may have been looking at his transition in the wrong light.

I suppose that if he were not changing industry and job function, had flexibility in his timing, and wouldn’t be relocating, six months would be sufficient.  As a matter of fact, six months may be TOO EARLY to start preparing for such a transition. In fact, if he were transitioning to a similar job with no hard timelines or relocation considerations, I’d say, “No problem – I’ll call you then.” However, in his case, none of those factors were present.

However, if a JMO is planning to conduct a career search and move from the military to Corporate America, the transition is likely complicated.  So, as mentioned above, there are four major reasons to start preparing early:

1.  You are changing industries.
You are transitioning from an organization where the mission is fighting and winning our nation’s wars.  An organization where rank influences and persuades.  You work in an environment where the reward for spending your entire allocated budget is a full budget reallocation the following year.  You are moving to a career where innovation and continuous process improvements are not a “good to do,” they are a “must do,” in order to stay competitive.  You’re joining a world where competition drives action and results and profitability is paramount.  Certainly, there are similarities between government and commercial business, but the contrast is unmistakable and significant.

2. You are changing functions.
Whether you a Submariner in the Navy, a Contracting Officer in the Air Force, or an Aviator in the Army, your primary function in the military is different from what you will do in Corporate America.  Regardless of whether you accept a position as a Quality Engineer, a Senior Consultant, a Field Clinical Specialist, or a Project Manager, your function will be different.  Again, there is no denying that there are some similarities between your job in the military and positions in commercial business.  These similarities are drawn in how you lead people, how you manage complex projects and how you solve difficult problems, and not necessarily in the specific function you perform on a daily basis in the military.

3. You have a fixed timeline.
If you commit to transitioning from the military, you will likely have to submit a resignation six to twelve months prior to transitioning.  In most cases, it is difficult to interview for positions in business that far out simply because jobs are not available or vacant six to twelve months advance.  This is very different for those in business who search for jobs, earn and accept an offer, THEN resign.  You do not have that luxury.

4.  You will likely relocate.
Finally, because many military bases, posts, and ports are not located in major metropolitan areas, you’ll likely have to relocate for a position in business.  This is especially true if you have chosen to “cast a wide net” and consider multiple leadership opportunities in business that capitalize on your strengths and interests – many of these leadership roles could be in different cities and in different industries.

Transitioning from the military to leadership roles in business is complex.  Ideally, you’d interview for a position 45-60 days prior to starting terminal leave so you could start working around the time you sign out on terminal leave.  This would allow you to maximize an overlap in pay and benefits to ensure there are not pay gaps during your transition.  You can learn more about the transition process and timelines on the Cameron-Brooks website.

Returning to my example above, if this JMO were to sign out of the military in October, taking 60 days of terminal leave (thus available to start working in August), he’d likely interview in early June.  Essentially, he would start preparing to interview for a position in business the same month starts interviewing.

If your desire is to transition into a leadership role in business with responsibilities commensurate to your current role and responsibilities, you have to interview well.  You must understand yourself and your experiences and communicate them in such a way that specifically relate to the competencies of the position for which you are interviewing.  In my experience, this takes time, commitment and practice.  On average, the JMOs we partner with spend 12 months in our Development and Preparation Program, and we would recommend starting even earlier.  The more time you have to prepare, the more you can apply what you learn to your current role, and the more you will be prepared for a successful transition.

Joel Junker