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Why 6-10 Years into Service is the Sweet Spot for your Military-to-Business Transition
Don’t let the military’s dangling carrots cause you to miss your transition sweet spot. What does this mean? Let me explain.
Often times when interviewing potential new candidates, I’ll ask the candidate where they are in their decision process to transition from the military, and I’ll get a plethora of answers, including being on the fence, leaning towards getting out, etc. When I ask what factors are driving their decision to stay in or transition, a very common response would be something to the effect of “I want to see what my next potential assignment will be.” In other words, what carrot is the military going to dangle in front of you to keep you active?
The Transition Sweet Spot
For JMOs wanting to transition to a leadership career in business with growth potential, the 6-10 year mark is ideal. You will have gained the extraordinary leadership experience that Corporate America desperately wants. Yet your traditional college graduate peers are just now stepping into that type of role. The more years you stay in, the more time they have to catch up — and potentially surpass — your marketability.
My Own Carrot Story
I was stationed at Fort Lewis, WA and getting close to finishing my company command time. I was at a crossroads as I knew my next decision may very well dictate my career for many years. As I was contemplating whether to transition or stay in, my branch manager offered me the opportunity to teach at West Point. My initial thought was, “What an assignment!” I could earn my masters degree and teach at USMA for three years, and it would be a great assignment. Then reality set in, and I started to do the math. By the time I would complete that assignment and fulfill my obligation for the Army paying for my graduate school, I would be at roughly 13 years on active duty; a mere 7 more years until I could retire. I wasn’t exactly enthralled with what those last seven years might look like opportunity-wise. This prompted me to sit down and really clarify my short and long-term goals. Where did I see myself professionally in the next 5 years? 10 Years? What 3-5 things were most important to me in my career? After much reflection and forward-thinking, I decided that although it would be a great assignment, I would most likely be making a decision that would keep me in the Army until retirement; and that was a decision that ultimately did not align with my goals.
This is not to say that I couldn’t have taken that position and exited at 13 years, but imagine how much harder it would be to exit when you’re more than halfway to the military retirement finish line? And, by that time, the opportunities to land roles with rewarding growth potential would be more difficult to find.
Do you want an assignment? Or a career?
My point in all of this is the military does a pretty good job of dangling carrots — that next great assignment, in front of you, especially when you reach natural decision points in your career. The challenge with this is that assignment is just that, an assignment. It’s a finite period of time, and then the rest of your potential career remains.
As a recruiter at Cameron-Brooks and as a former military officer myself, I have seen many officers be persuaded by that carrot without real regard for what lies ahead after that assignment/opportunity is completed. They manage their careers one assignment at a time without thinking long term and big picture, and before they know it, they are at a position or timeline in their military career in which transitioning out is no longer an option or at least a less viable one.
Some of you reading this blog may find yourselves at that juncture in your military career right now, or if not, in the near future. I encourage you to think about your goals, both short and long-term, and if your goals align with staying in the military (the dangling carrots), by all means, stay and serve for as long as you are able and willing. However, if your goals begin to diverge with the path of staying in the military, it may just be time to consider other options. So even if that “carrot” presents itself, maybe, just maybe, the stick is waiting on the other side.
Originally posted September 2016 and updated October 2022
Cameron-Brooks is a Military-to-Business career transition specialist who partners exclusively with Junior Military Officers to launch rewarding careers in Corporate America.
If you are interested in making the most of your military-to-corporate transition or are just looking for resources for your decision-making process, we invite you to call us at 210-874-1500, check out our website, or follow us on YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. We have been helping JMOs launch successful business careers for over 50 years, and we have a wealth of resources including:
- “Master the Military-to-Business Transition Webcast
- Transition Guides
- PCS to Corporate America Podcast
- Cameron-Brooks Blog
- One-on-One First Call Coaching