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Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Updated May 2022
I wrote and published this blog a year ago. At the time, the Delta variant of COVID was just beginning to move throughout the U.S., and Omicron was just a Greek letter most often used when talking about a fraternity or sorority. As I read through this blog, the points I made a year ago while the nation and economy were still facing a significant amount of uncertainty are still as relevant today as they were last year.
I have the pleasure of speaking to military officers as they begin the decision-making process regarding staying in the military or getting out and doing something else. Often I get asked directly if I think someone should stay in or get out. While the choice is binary, the decision most certainly is not.
Though not the best of forms, I like to answer that specific question with a question. Where do you see yourself professionally in 3-5 years? How about 5-10? And 15-20 and beyond? If you see your “career” as the natural progression of your professional life, then the decisions you make today will unquestionably affect the path that you are either on or the one you will eventually maneuver towards.
Do you like working for the government? Do you see the mission and role of the government as meaningful or admirable? Can you see yourself being a leader in an agency or department that affects the national or geopolitical landscape from a policy perspective? If so, either stay in the military or leave the military, but stay on the government path in either a government service/General Schedule (GS) position or at a defense contractor. If you were to get out of the military, the way I like to think about this is: leave your current company but stay in your industry.
Do you want to work on Wall Street or in the world of finance and trading? If so, get into the best school you can and complete a Masters’s degree in business, finance, or data analytics. Do you want to pursue something in the professional arena, such as being a healthcare professional, a lawyer, or a teacher? If so, earn a credential that you can use to gain employment. In this case, you will primarily be using the credential, not your military leadership experience to find employment and reset your career.
Are you attracted to an environment where the decisions that are made bring value to a customer or optimize internal processes? Do you like the idea of being in a world where efficiency is important, not just because it feels good, but because it directly affects the lifeblood of the organization (profitability)? Down the road, can you see yourself as a strategic leader in a business? If so, then set a goal to learn about and prepare a move to Corporate America. In this case, you want to lead with your military experience but want to pivot away from the military/government complex.
The point is, for the JMO with 4-9 years (typically, but there are certainly exceptions to this time frame), the world is your oyster. You have agency. You get to choose. My advice is to choose with a longer time horizon in mind versus “what does my next assignment look like.” Unfortunately, I’ve talked to officers who stayed in the military for the “really attractive next assignment,” only to be in a place where they feel frustrated in the role after that one.
So WHAT should you do? Research! Talk to people who have decided to stay in the military AND talk to those who have gotten out. Talk to folks who are in grad school and those who have finished. LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for research!
What about the economy? Well, by all available metrics and data, we are well past the high point of a global pandemic. We saw unemployment rise to 14.4%. Not so fun fact – the unemployment rate rose faster in 3 months (Apr-Jun ’20) than it did in the two worst years of the Great Depression. And through all of that, I continued to see companies hire leaders! That’s right – even in one of the worst economies this nation has experienced, companies DID NOT STOP hiring leaders. Because of that, I am convinced that short of a global catastrophe, companies will always hire leaders.
Want to learn more? Let’s have a conversation … and not so I can convince you to get out of the military. I do not want to do that! And you’re probably thinking, “Wait, you are a recruiting firm – don’t you want me to get out?” No, not if it’s not right for you or not if it’s not where you see yourself down the road. I offer a conversation, completely free of charge to explore options! (You can email me at email@example.com, and we’ll find a time for a quick chat.)
If you are not ready to talk, let me point you to a few recent podcast episodes that have really helped officers in their process. You can find our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Pandora (search “Cameron-Brooks”). Check out Episodes 114, 130 and 138.
And as always, if you’re looking for valuable information and tools to start or continue your military-to-business transition journey, we’d suggest the following resources:
- “Master the Military Transition” Webcast — https://www.cameron-brooks.com/jmo/the-process/webcasts/
- FREE Transition Guide PDFs — https://www.cameron-brooks.com/jmo/transition-tools/transition-guides/
- Personal Marketability Assessment — https://www.cameron-brooks.com/jmo/the-process/personal-marketability-assessment/
Pete Van Epps