Why are you Leaving the Military?

Why are you leaving the military? This single question is typically the most frequently asked question of all junior military officers who choose to leave active duty and pursue a business career. Many JMOs will answer this question dozens of times prior to ever sitting in front of his or her first corporate recruiter in an interview. The question will come from a wide variety of sources: commanders, enlisted members, peers and family. Often, JMOs develop different answers to this question based on different emotions that may include guilt or regret. To a highly-respected senior commander who already faced this point and decided to stay in for 30 years, a JMO develops one answer. There may be a slightly different response to a soldier who reenlisted largely due to the influence of the officer. To a parent who questions why get out in this economy, or a spouse who is concerned about “stability,” there are other responses. All of these answers may be delivered numerous times before the occasion of the first corporate interview when a recruiter asks, “Why are you leaving the military?”

As a JMO recruiter (aka JMO headhunter) for Cameron-Brooks, I have heard hundreds of answers that include frustration with multiple deployments, time away from home, and lack of pay and promotion based on performance. I understand these frustrations, but are they really reason to leave the military? I am sure JMOs recognize these will be part of their military career before they come on active duty. These same frustrations were true when I was an Infantry officer many years ago, and will be true for many years to come. To a JMO reading this I ask, did you leave college because you were tired of pulling all-nighters to get papers turned in on time, and challenging professors who gave exams unrelated to their lectures? Or, was it simply because you graduated and ended that phase of your life?
I encourage candidates applying for leadership positions in Corporate America to take time to consider the underlying question-behind-the-question: “Given your obvious success in the military, why have you decided to apply your leadership in Corporate America?” I doubt it will ever be phrased this way, though I expect this is what the recruiter really wants to know. While there is no “right way” or “approved solution” to answering this question, I do want to offer an approach.

“I have set many goals in my life. I wanted to graduate from high school with a strong enough track record to get into the college of my choice. After graduating college I wanted to serve my country on active duty in the military.  It was an important phase in my life. Now that I have completed my service, I want to find a career where I can use as many of the skills I have developed as possible. I have set my goal to come to Corporate America after weighing different career choices. I want a career in business because…”

An answer using this approach is focused on the future versus the past. It is filled with hopes and goals and dreams; not regrets and guilt. Before interviewing with a company recruiter, develop a well thought out answer to why you are leaving the military that is true to you and reflects your goals for the future. As Roger Cameron says in his guide book to JMOs, PCS to Corporate America, “Use my thoughts not my words” in finding your own unique answer.

Steve Sosland