Interested in Subscribing to our blog?
My Military-to-Business Transition Story and Tips
I am writing this blog post from the point of view of a former officer who recently made the transition out of the military. Yes – this is my military-to-business transition story and tips, but I hope it is more than that. If you are reading this, you might be thinking of making the transition. Some of you might have already submitted your resignation, and some of you might have already made the transition and launched your new career and some of this content may resonate with you. My real hope is to provide you with personal lessons that my father and other mentors in my life have taught me along the way on how to be the consummate professional and to give you some tips on how to successfully make the military-to-business transition.
I transitioned out of the Navy 2 months ago to the date. September 30, 2023, was my last day in the Navy. Being so recent from the transition, I know exactly how some of you are feeling. Timing. Location. What am I qualified for? Will my Chain of Command support me? Where do I start? Where will my significant other be happy? Where will I be happy? Am I making a mistake by getting out? How is this economy? Will I have time to make the transition while on Sea Duty with a high OPTEMPO?
I went from being unsure of my future and where I’d land, to being confident in my decision to get out of the Navy because I gathered as much information as possible, found a guide in Cameron-Brooks, developed a plan together, and executed my plan.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am the newest Transition Coach at Cameron-Brooks and a Cameron-Brooks alumnus. I spent 11 months in the Cameron-Brooks program and was scheduled to attend the August 2023 Career Conference. While in the program, I read over 25 books. I knew that if I was going to make the transition, I had to speak an entirely new language and I had to get up to speed on how the Business world operates. I knew that I had to effectively communicate my experiences and accomplishments so that Hiring Managers would understand what I did in the military.
Ultimately, I knew there was a lot that I didn’t know and that was okay. I trusted that companies wanted me for my leadership experience. They wanted me for my learning agility and the mindset I’d have from day one. I was confident that if I worked hard, read as many books as possible, and prepared to interview competitively, I’d land in a place that valued me and vice versa. I put my trust in Cameron-Brooks to be my guide and to help get me prepared and they delivered. I learned from a young age there are NO guarantees in life. I knew the only thing I had 100% control over was my attitude and work ethic. I’ve relied on that for every major decision in my life as well as sound advice from others and it led me to learn more about myself, meet great people, have great experiences, and do fulfilling work. My mindset was the same when it came to the transition.
Remember I said I’d read 25 books? I am convinced THAT was the linchpin to me landing the job and launching my career at Cameron-Brooks. I still don’t think I know how it all happened, but I remember getting the call from Joel a couple of weeks before my Conference. If I hadn’t been as motivated to learn and read, I don’t think Joel would have been as interested in hiring me.
A time for reflection
We just celebrated Thanksgiving and I was able to reflect on all the amazing things that have happened in my life recently. Almost a year ago to the day, I partnered with Cameron-Brooks and then I shipped off for my third and final deployment. I have A LOT to be thankful for. I spent the first half of 2023 on deployment, prepared to attend the August 2023 Career Conference while out to sea, completed a SkillBridge with Cameron-Brooks, and launched my business career with no gap in employment. During all this, I got married, moved, and just got an 8-week-old puppy! Time sure has flown and I didn’t realize how much could happen to someone in such a short time.
I was able to sit and reflect over the Thanksgiving holiday on everything that has occurred in the past year. I used the time to compile lessons I’ve learned from my father and many other amazing mentors in my life: coaches, former commanding officers, and many friends who made the transition before me. My hope is that something here will resonate with you and provide you with some good advice as you move forward in your transition or professional career.
Things I’ve learned along the way.
*These tips are organized in a sequential manner. I find this sequence helpful as it may help you pinpoint where you are in the transition.*
Give your best to the military.
It doesn’t matter where you are in your military. You may have already made the decision to transition out, or you may be considering the transition. Regardless, you owe it to yourself, your subordinates, your bosses, and your peers to give it your best. Be a team player. The military has given you a lot to be thankful for. Excellent training, leadership experience at a young age, steady income, and maybe has even paid for your education. The business world values you for many reasons and it is important to not be negative. I know at times it can be very easy to be negative – I’ve been there, and I’ve heard the conversations on the deck plates or throughout the ship. OPTEMPO is high, your bosses rely on you more than others, duty, missing holidays, etc.
I strongly encourage you to be different. Take a positive approach and be a positive light in your organization. Be thankful in the workplace, be a giver, and it will serve you well when you decide to make a career change or stay in the military.
Evaluate your options and create your best plan.
First off, please don’t take this as not being committed. Be committed to your organization as I discussed above. However, it is important to always evaluate your options so that you can do what is best for you and your family. Do this EARLY and do it OFTEN. If you do decide to transition out, you need to decide what success looks like for you and your family in 5 years, in 10 years, etc., and then plan backward so that your plan aligns with your long-term goal.
I knew that I wanted to have a career in Business. Other common options are DoD, GS work, or pursue and MBA right away. I did consider pursuing an MBA right away, but that didn’t line up with my timing. More importantly for me, I didn’t want to sacrifice over $200-250k in Salary for 2 years. I decided that it’d be better for me to get into a company where I could have 2 years of experience, learn the business, add value where possible, and then put myself in a position to obtain MBA compensation at that 2-year point or prior to that point. For anyone thinking of getting out and pursuing an MBA right away, I have multiple friends who went straight to get their MBA and they did very well and landed great jobs in great companies. That was the right move for them! However, every single one of them has told me that they got hired because of their ability to effectively interview, connect, and explain their experiences to Hiring Managers, and that is why they beat out other MBA candidates.
When is a good time to start? Please, start now! You can never start too early. My colleague Pete Van Epps and I recently recorded a podcast on starting early. If you’re interested, give it a listen here. One of the biggest mistakes some military officers make when they exit the military is assuming that their military experience is sufficient preparation to make the move from the military to business. That is a logical assumption if you are moving from active duty to either a government (GS) job or a role as a defense contractor. There is so much overlap with those types of opportunities that the transition is seamless.
When you move from the world of defense to the world of customers and profitability, everything is new. The stakes are higher. Getting into a role at a leading company in the business world and into a role that is commensurate with a JMO’s level of leadership requires a different type of preparation. It requires you to speak effectively to a hiring manager and explain your experience in such a way that helps the hiring manager “see” your military experience (jets, tanks, intelligence, air defense, etc.) in their world (manufacturing, medical devices, consumer packaged goods, energy, etc.)
My advice is to read as many business books as you possibly can. Read the Wall Street Journal. Read Forbes. Read FORTUNE magazine. Understand the basics of economics, interest rates, inflation, unemployment, etc. Learn the Fundamentals of Project Management, Lean Six Sigma, and Data Analytics. Don’t wait! Invest in your future now.
Communicate Early and Often with decision-makers in your life.
This one is easy! Involve your significant others in the decision. Ask them what their thoughts and opinions are. Build a plan with them. Remember to ask yourselves, “What does the next 5 years look like for us? Where do we want to be then?” If you are going to have them by your side as you walk down this road, it is important that they be part of the process. Go carve out your best life together!
Gather Information from credible sources.
There is a lot of information out there. Technology has given us the ability to consume a lot of information. The important thing here is to gather information and filter it. Obtain it from credible sources.
Military Officers are non-traditional hires, so I needed a non-traditional approach. When I decided to make the transition, I had a lot of people who were still on Active Duty telling me what I should do. I thought it was funny because none of them had made the transition out, and most of them weren’t even officers. I wanted to be a development candidate in business. I wanted to interview for developmental positions that led to higher levels of leadership in a company and not an internship or rotational program.
My father told me to gather information from credible sources. He defined this as people who had made the transition and had experience in doing this. Not just people who were in business, but people who were like me at one point. That is where Cameron-Brooks came into play. I wanted to leverage their over 50 years of experience in doing this for military officers. I didn’t want a headhunter, I didn’t want to attend a job fair, but I wanted a guide. I wanted someone who was going to help me prepare, develop an effective plan, stay organized, and increase my business knowledge. I was looking for a partner to walk with me along the way right by my side and who could help me do a career search and give me access to interviews I wouldn’t have been able to line up on my own.
Build a plan and work your plan!
Break it down. Run the numbers. Develop multiple courses of action. For each course of action, establish tripwires. This is what I did, especially when it came to my timeline. I presented multiple plans to my Commanding Officer and had a diagram mapped out. If he says yes to this and the mission can support, here is where I go next. If he says no because the mission can’t support this timeline, here is where I go next. One of my former Commanding Officers used to always say: “No plan survives first contact”. It’s so true. You must be organized. Organization is a key component to your success. Change happens, so keep moving. Anticipate change, know when it is happening, and get ready. Move along with the change and savor the new adventure.
Prepare to Interview competitively!
I knew if I wanted to garner the top opportunities, the interviews would be challenging. My mindset was “this is going to be like I am talking to the Captain or the Admiral.” When I went to talk to my Commanding Officer, a full bird O6, I knew I needed to be prepared. I knew when I spoke to him or her, it was serious business and I had to speak clearly and succinctly. It would be the same when I had to interview with hiring managers and decision managers.
The way I prepared was by reading as many books as possible, and practicing my answers as much as possible. I got involved in a study group where I met with other Officers for 2 hours, 4 times per week, 3 months out from my interviews. I filmed myself on my computer on my own time. I studied my tendencies and analyzed my filler words. I observed my body language and my facial expressions. In the end, I knew myself well and I understood this was serious. Most importantly, I understood how to connect so hiring managers could see my fit.
Select the BEST opportunity for you.
Positions and locations will likely come and go during a career, but the company and industry rarely change. I prioritized the company culture and work satisfaction above factors like compensation, location, title, etc. Cameron-Brooks was not only right for me, but it aligned with my long-term goals. No one knows where they will be in 20 years because too many things can change in that time frame. I knew that I wanted to be at a place like Cameron-Brooks. Culture was it for me, and it’s hard to define that or explain it. It was a feeling. I knew this was the place that I wanted to be, and the rest was history.
Launch your new Career.
Joel recently wrote a blog on how to crush your first year out of the military. It serves as his advice to me and applies to all other military officers launching their careers and transitioning well. Your transition isn’t defined as your separation date, but rather the entire process. From the moment you submit your resignation until you are well integrated into your new company. You can view his post here, but I’ll summarize it for you: Add value in small ways, do the small things well, study after hours, seek out help, ask questions, and have fun!
BONUS: NEVER STOP LEARNING!
Don’t get complacent. Be a great listener and communicate your desire to learn. Be teachable and receive feedback well. In fact, I recommend you ask for feedback. Remember to take your armor off and know it’s coming from a good place. Learn to observe: “Big Eyes, Big Ears, and Little Mouth”. Use this skill in the assessment of people, habits, moods, and behaviors. Ask questions and be the best you can be in your position. Finally, never let your confidence drop. Never! The change from the military to business will require you to learn a lot so come ready to learn.
If you’d like to learn more about Cameron-Brooks or speak to alumni who have gone through our program and successfully launched their careers, please feel free to email me below. You can also give us a call at 210-874-1500 or schedule on our website. All the best to you in your career!
Principal, Transition Coach