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Where Does My Military Background Fit in Business?
“Where does my military background fit into business?”
This is one of our most frequently asked questions. And it’s actually a very intuitive question because many military officers we speak with have considered staying in the military for a 20+ year career at some point or another. Because of this long-term goal, they have done things before entering the military and throughout their military career that would ensure they continue to progress in rank. Of course, many Junior Military Officers (JMOs) exit the military every year, often because they either reached the goals they set for themselves at the outset of their military journey or their goals change along the way.
Upon preparing to exit the military, JMOs get to choose what is next. The three avenues I typically see officers take include:
The Government Option: When officers leave their company (the military), but they stay in their industry (the government.) This can include working directly for the government in a GS role or working for a company that does business with the government (typically a defense contractor.) This option is an obvious choice because most JMOs have at least a Top Secret security clearance and have already started building a career in the government.
2. The Full-Time School Option: This is where JMOs head back to the classroom to earn a credential that they will then use to find employment. With this course of action, JMOs are choosing to lead with that credential to find employment as opposed to using their military leadership experience. They are inserting themselves in the hiring process with employers who are actively seeking that credential for their organization. Examples of this would be earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to move to investment banking, a Juris Doctorate to move into the legal field or a Master in Accounting to be an accountant.
3. Corporate America: This seems to be the broadest option with seemingly limitless possibilities. This option represents a pivot away from the government where a JMO is using his or her military leadership experience to explore leadership roles within corporate America. This option is often best suited for officers who see themselves rising to higher levels of leadership in an organization as their career progresses. When I talk to officers who are considering leaving the military and are targeting a move to corporate America, they tell me they want to pivot from the government and do not want to sit in a classroom for 18-24 months. They want to use their leadership experience to get into the business world, make an impact, and rise in their organization.
If you find yourself most aligning with a move to corporate America, the question still remains – “Where does my military background fit into business?”
In my experience, both as a former JMO as well as my experience helping countless JMOs figure this out, I strongly believe there is not a single answer to the question. A JMO typically has a broad background and a breadth of experiences whereby they can explore multiple options in order to find the best fit. Regardless, for those who desire a leadership role in business, I typically see officers start their business career in one of four broad categories:
The Career Fields
Team Leadership: The primary function of Team Leadership is leading a team of people who report directly to you. Key functions include coaching, training, mentoring, setting goals and holding your team accountable for hitting those goals. Getting everyone to row in the same direction at the same time is critical. High-performing teams do not occur naturally. It takes someone to build chemistry within a team to drive productivity and create efficiencies. Some job titles in the military that overlap with this type of work are Platoon Leader, Platoon Commander, Company Commander, Division Officer, Department Head and Flight Commander. Very often we see roles in Team Leadership that are set in an operational environment. People who like “getting their hands dirty” and “leadership by walking around” often have a strong interest in this career field.
2. Business Analysis: The type of leadership that you exert in this career field is typically more geared toward cross-functional leadership. Very often, you are leading a project or a program. Roles in business analysis are typically highly collaborative. Many roles require a strong analytical, quantitative or critical thinking skill set. In this type of work, you are usually not leading team members directly; instead, you are on a collaborative team, and you own a specific function where everyone on the team is pulling together to reach a goal. Business analysis is a broad career field that includes functions such as marketing, finance, consulting, data analytics, and program and project management, to name a few.
3. Engineering Management: This career field is unique in that it typically requires a higher degree of technical aptitude demonstrated by either your academic background and/or military experience. There are many different types of functional roles within Engineering Management that you can engage in, from leading a team of technical professionals to managing a program in a technical environment to managing a product throughout a development lifecycle. The common thread in all of these examples is technical aptitude. You will use your leadership experience coupled with your technical background and aptitude to lead projects, solve problems, motivate teams and deliver results.
4. Sales Leading to Management: The essence of Sales Leading to Management is using your leadership to build rapport, earn trust, demonstrate credibility and solve problems in order to help your customers reach their business goals. This career field is the most misunderstood of the four because many JMOs perceive “sales” to mean Business to Consumer (B2C) sales. In B2C sales, the foundation of the sale is based on a one-time transaction like selling a car. The Sales Leading to Management roles that JMOs typically go into are different – it is Business to Business (B2B) Sales where the foundation of the sale is building and maintaining a trusting relationship with the customer in order to provide business-oriented solutions. Some JMOs are attracted to sales because it is a highly autonomous career field where part of the compensation plan is based on performance and results.
So, with all of that in mind, what is the answer to “Where does my military background fit into business?”
Well, I don’t know exactly for you, but I can tell you this: you have options. If you’re still in the military and considering a switch, I have good news! You don’t have to have it all figured out. If you are genuinely curious about making the jump to the private sector, start exploring options and building an interview strategy. This will allow you to evaluate multiple options and pick the best one for you.
At Cameron-Brooks, this is one of the ways we partner with JMOs. We love helping officers discover where their military background fits into business! I encourage you to further explore your options by watching the webcast Explore Your Career Field Options, where Joel Junker, Senior VP at Cameron-Brooks, explains each of the four major career fields. Then give us a call! Let’s have a conversation about your career goals.
To learn more about career and transition strategies, check out our (free!) transition guide on the subject. Interested in exploring your options with Cameron-Brooks? Curious about how to make a successful transition? Check out our website, YouTube Channel and follow us on LinkedIn.