I received an interesting email the other day. It was in response to an email I had initiated asking a Junior Military Officer whom I had previously met where he was in the thought process of transitioning from the military. He said he was strongly considering a transition in June 2014 and he would like to potentially engage in a partnership sometime in late December 2013. The way I interpreted the email was, “I’m interested, but busy and don’t really want to think about a transition until about six months before I get out, which should be sufficient time.” If that was indeed what he was trying to convey, then I would have to think he may be looking at the transition in the wrong light. I suppose that if he were not changing industry and job function, had flexibility in his timing and was not relocating, six months would be sufficient. As a matter of fact, six months may be TOO EARLY to start preparing for such a transition. However, in his case, none of those factors were present. As a matter of fact, if his were a straight forward career search where he transitioned to a similar job with no hard timelines or relocation considerations, I’d say, “No problem – I’ll call you then.”
However, if a Junior Military Officer is planning to conduct a career search, moving from the military to Corporate America, the transition is likely complicated. Essentially, as mentioned above, there are four major factors at play:
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 improvement are not a “good to do,” they are a “must do” in order to stay competitive. A world where competition drives action and results and profitability is paramount. Certainly there are similarities between the 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; however, primarily lie in how you lead people, how you manage complex projects and how you solve difficult problems, not in the specific function that you perform on a daily basis in 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 that far in advance.
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 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.
So, back to the email I recently received. If this person signs out of the military in June, taking 60 days of terminal leave (thus available to start working in April), he’d likely interview in late January. Essentially, he is saying he is going to start preparing to interview for a position in business a month before he starts interviewing. If your desire is to transition to 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 that we partner with spend 12 months in our Development and Preparation Program and we recommend starting even earlier than that. 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.
Pete Van Epps