My Personal Military to Business Transition Story and Tips
I transitioned from the military to business 16 years ago this July. The time has flown and much has happened in 16 years in business, all with Cameron-Brooks! I clearly remember my transition. The military and business have changed significantly since my military to business transition but what it takes to succeed in the transition has not. I am writing this blog from the point of view of a 16-year business person passing on lessons rather than a Cameron-Brooks recruiter.
Keys to a Successful Transition
1. Give your best to the military and give it a chance. Even if you are early in your career and you have already made the decision to get out and pursue business opportunities, you owe it to your bosses, fellow officers and subordinates to deliver results and value. In other words, do not just bide your time waiting for your commitment to be complete. I remember one of my fellow Notre Dame Army ROTC graduates saying to me, “I am looking at this as a paid prison sentence.” I don’t know what ever happened to him or what he achieved but I wonder if he gave his best? Did he give the Army a chance? What opportunities did he miss with that outlook? With a success-minded, giving and open attitude you will be much more committed if you decide to make a career change from JMO to business or decide to stay in the military.
2. Top companies want top military performers. When companies recruit JMOs from Cameron-Brooks, they want the best, the consistent top performers. This is another reason to take your military career seriously and not wait out your time. I recommend taking on as many assignments with team leadership, logistics, technical equipment, budgets or difficult projects as possible. Try to maneuver yourself to the point of action that shows you focus on the military’s key areas. This is hard for me to be specific about because each military branch is different, but I am sure you know which roles within your military branch are considered tough at the point of action assignments and which ones are staying off to the side.
3. Start early. I was fortunate to major in Finance at Notre Dame so I had a general understanding of business. However, business is dynamic, like the military, and it changed even in the first two years of my military career. I read the business section of the newspaper and FORTUNE Magazine to stay current. About 18 months prior to my anticipated separation, I started to research the available avenues for entering the business world.
4. Evaluate your options. I quickly learned that my former college did not understand how to market a JMO in a career search. I also learned that networking with family and friends could get my resume to companies with openings but that these companies typically did not understand my JMO experiences and how I could apply them in their company and industry to become a future leader. Not all companies hire the JMO and not all companies who hire the JMO focus on quality JMOs. They do not differentiate them in the evaluation process but rather put them in a JMO training program. I wanted to get out there and start making an impact by leveraging my leadership, drive and military experience advantages. This led me to JMO headhunters. I evaluated several before I selected Cameron-Brooks as my JMO recruiting firm partner. I chose Cameron-Brooks because of their selectivity, focus on preparation, experiences other respected JMOs had with them and the quality of the Cameron-Brooks Team Members. I later came to appreciate the quality of their client companies and positions as well.
5. Concerns about exclusivity. Yes, Cameron-Brooks has an agreement that if a JMO partners with Cameron-Brooks, the JMO will attend the Cameron-Brooks Conference first. After the Conference, the JMO can go out on his/her own, sending out resumes and setting up interviews. Some call this exclusive. I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as a partnership where Cameron-Brooks would invest in me with their Development and Preparation Program (DPP), individual sessions and workshops, teach me how to interview and market my unique JMO background to companies. In return for their full focus on me as an individual, they asked for their companies to have a fair opportunity to interview me first. I viewed this as a fair agreement and not exclusive since I could conduct my own search afterwards. I could not even put a dollar figure on the value Cameron-Brooks’ DPP and personal attention provided me. The agreement made sense to me but I did not blindly commit. I talked to many of their alumni. I asked them about their experience. I vetted other firms and I asked Cameron-Brooks several questions as well. When I committed, I felt this was a true partnership.
6. Start early. Wasn’t this point #3? Well, hopefully by repeating it, you understand how important this was to me. Once I started with Cameron-Brooks, I devoured (yes, devoured) the books in the Reading Program. I read and highlighted them. I shared ideas with my commander, gave professional development classes on them to other officers and implemented concepts in my military responsibilities. I conducted self-evaluation exercises in Cameron-Brooks’ Development and Preparation Program to understand my strengths and weaknesses. I took two computer courses to become more proficient in MS Excel and Access and then found opportunities at work to use my new computer knowledge.
7. Prepare for competitive interviews. I knew if I wanted to garner the top opportunities, the interviews would be challenging. I attended every single Cameron-Brooks Interview Preparation Workshop and met with a Cameron-Brooks recruiter as often as I could. I wrote out my answers to the 25 most frequently asked interview questions. I let other JMOs at Fort Hood in the Cameron-Brooks program evaluate them and I asked Cameron-Brooks for feedback. I then practiced them in a tape recorder, with my wife and in a study group of other Cameron-Brooks candidates. I got my video camera out, put my interviewing suit on and taped myself answering questions. In the end I knew myself well and I understood business and most importantly how to connect the two in an interview so company recruiters could see my fit.
8. Interview with every company as if it is your only opportunity. When I attended the Cameron-Brooks Conference, I listened to every word Rene Brooks, Roger Cameron, Chuck Alvarez, and Mary Lou White said. I took tons of notes. Then I prepared for every interview as if it was my only opportunity to transition from the military to corporate America. I ensured I knew basics about the company, industry, career field and position. I prepared questions to ask the recruiter and was ready to explain how my background fit. When in the interview, I stayed in the moment. I didn’t jump ahead to my next interview or reflect back on my previous interview. I worked hard to give 100% of my attention ensuring I built rapport, demonstrated interest and proved ability (the keys to a successful interview).
9. Focus on the one. You can only go to work for one company, so it is senseless to have a goal of earning as many offers as possible. My goal during follow up interviews was to show the companies I could make an impact early and I was committed to a career. I didn’t ask questions that were self-serving. I completely focused on earning that offer. I wanted to earn an opportunity with a leading company where I could develop a track record of success and launch my business career. In the end, I earned more than one offer and then after I had the offers, I asked some of the self-serving questions to determine the best fit for me.
10. Select the best opportunity. Positions and locations will likely come and go during a career but the company and industry rarely change. I prioritized the company and opportunity above factors like compensation, location, title, etc. I listened to Roger Cameron who told me that those factors change within a year or two and to focus on a longer term. As I looked at my choices of companies, I considered where I wanted to be in 5 years. Thinking any longer than that is too hard to do – too many things change beyond that point.
11. Be professional. I accepted with Cameron-Brooks (yes, I went straight to work for Cameron-Brooks instead of one of their client companies – another story for a later blog post) and spoke to all of the decision makers letting them know why I chose the opportunity. I also called the other companies that gave me an offer and professionally declined letting them know of my decision and that it was a difficult one. I also complimented them and let them know how much I appreciated the opportunity. I followed up with handwritten thank you notes to all of the key people I met with in the follow up process. I knew that our paths would cross again.
12. Hit the ground running in your new career. With my knowledge from Cameron-Brooks’ program and military leadership experience, I came ready to add value. I did everything Cameron-Brooks asked of me. I made copies, sent emails, organized notes, listened to phone calls. It almost drove me crazy! I could not believe as a college graduate and former military officer I was doing these things. I had other more meaningful responsibilities too, but I could not see the value of these. With 16 years perspective, I am so glad I gutted through it. I learned the importance of paying attention to detail, never asking someone something I am not willing to do myself, sales and relationship building techniques and more.
Best of success in achieving your career goals!