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BY Joel Junker

6 Tips to Crush The First Year of Your Military Transition

Get ready. I’m about to give you 6 tips to crush the first year of your military transition! Cameron-Brooks recently hired Brock Dudley, a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO). This is only the second time in our history that we hired a JMO directly from the military, and no previous business experience. I am the other one the company hired straight from the army in 1999. Now, it is my responsibility to help Brock integrate and develop his foundation at Cameron-Brooks. This blog post serves as my advice to Brock and thus also applies to all other JMOs launching their careers on how to transition in the first year. Here are my six tips for transitioning well and crushing your first year.

Remember the phrase “Big ears, big eyes, and little mouth.”

I am quoting Ted Lindell from Podcast Episode 179. In six years, Ted has earned four promotions. He says his key to success was to focus on learning as much as possible. He explained he stayed humble and realized he needed to ask questions and learn. This helped him understand the nature of his company’s business and find opportunities to add value.

How can you follow his advice? You will want to try and help and offer insight. Yet, the most significant way you can help is to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. Instead of providing many opinions and advice, listen, take notes, be intellectually curious, and ask questions. The faster you learn, the more quickly you can offer meaningful contributions.

Find Opportunities to Add Value in Small Ways

As mentioned above, you will want to add value and be helpful. Until you understand the business, your main contribution will be learning. However, you will have opportunities to contribute and make your teammates’ lives easier. When I started at Cameron-Brooks, I offered to write emails, take notes, send a message to a client, make copies, and proofread documents. My boss needed to do these things herself, but I could do them for her. This is an example of having “big ears and big eyes.” Pay attention; you will see simple things you can do and offer to do them. Do not let anything be above you.

A great example of this point is a story from C-B Alum Mike DeBock. Mike said after a storm at his company, he ran out and picked up trash across the parking lot. This led his leadership to ask him to take the lead in establishing an operations center in the Florida Panhandle after another storm. You can listen to his story in a podcast we did together several years ago.

Be Vigilant about Doing Small Things Well

Roger Cameron used to say, “Yes, the big accomplishments will get you promoted, but the small things are more important to building your reputation. People will notice what you do with the small matters.” This is especially important in the beginning because you are creating your first impressions, and you likely will not have the opportunity for significant accomplishments in year one. One of the 6 tips to crush the first year of your military transition is to focus on small things, pay attention to details, do them well, and strive for excellence in everything you do.

Study After Hours

During the day, you will engage with your team members in meetings, work on projects, and listen in on conversations. To come up to speed, you will need to spend time, or even on the weekends, reading relevant books, learning how to use appropriate software programs, and potentially even practicing presentations. In no way am I saying, “Work all the time.” I am telling you that you will have homework.

I recently spoke to a Cameron-Brooks Alum we placed a year ago. He said he is challenged in his job and received feedback that he is not presenting data correctly in meetings. I asked him what he had done to improve his Excel skills. He did not have an answer. He should take an online Excel course, watch YouTube videos, and practice in the evenings.

The learning curve is going to be steep. Expecting to establish yourself quickly is unrealistic if you focus on learning exclusively during the workday.

Seek Out Help

If you are confused, do not understand, or are struggling with something, do not wait; ask for help! In my opinion, as a group, not necessarily everyone, JMOs struggle with this. When I encourage former JMOs to connect with former JMOs, find a mentor, or talk to their boss, they tell me they are reluctant to do this because, in the military, this signals weakness. That is not what the business world thinks. They think humility, and that is a good thing.

You should know this: people want to help you and may not know you need help until you ask. If they offer support, be open to feedback and listen; never be defensive because they will unlikely offer again if you are.

During my first year at Cameron-Brooks, I struggled to give an introductory presentation to JMOs on Cameron-Brooks.  Roger Cameron gave me direct critical feedback. I asked a colleague to go to breakfast where I could explain my challenges and get his advice on changes I could make. I learned much at that breakfast and impressed Roger with my next presentation.

Have Fun

I am speaking to my 26-year-old self on this point. I focused so much on establishing myself that I never relaxed and just enjoyed the moment. While you will be working hard and struggle sometimes, take care of yourself and enjoy life. I recommend engaging with your new community, whether volunteering, playing in a sports league, joining a church, or exploring restaurants and nearby parks. Enjoy the newness of it all. Every season of your life offers unique opportunities; take advantage of them.

I’ve just given you 6 tips to crush the first year of your military transition, But I’m not done!

Finally, I highly recommend the book The First 90 Days for JMOs starting a new career. The book is full of tips on what to do and what not to do to start well.