TAO Self-help

Title:Know Thyself

Author:© 2016 Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, potomacbooksinc.com.

Date:January 2017


For most military personnel, the career transition process is as much about self-education as it is about finding a job. During my career I have discovered that approximately fifty percent of the people who leave the military to pursue civilian employment end up working for companies unknown to them when their searches began. Furthermore, they accept positions about which they initially had little or no knowledge. Why does this happen?

One explanation is that most military personnel have little exposure to the private sector prior to joining the service. With a few exceptions (military-sponsored graduate school, education-with-industry, defense program management, etc.), this lack of exposure continues throughout their time in the military. The result is a lack of information about their options. This lack of knowledge is one of the largest obstacles in the military-to-civilian employment transition. How can one answer the question, What do you want to do? without even knowing the choices?

Most military personnel base their knowledge of the business world on their experiences as consumers. They are very familiar with companies that brand their products or services and aggressively promote that brand to build recognition in the market place. Most of us are familiar with Intel, Xerox, The Home Depot, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, and General Electric. Very few recognize names like Applied Materials, Marsh & McLennan, SAIC, and Xcel. On the surface, you might think you will prefer to work for one of the former, but with better information, you might decide that one of the latter is better for you. Here's another way to look at this—just because you have never heard of that company does not mean you cannot work there.

Regarding job categories, among those making the transition from military to civilian careers, there may be a certain amount of familiarity with titles like technician, supervisor, production manager, sales representative, and project engineer. However, titles such as business analyst, program manager, consultant, and brand manager might be less familiar. If you are not careful, that familiarity could predispose you to the former category. Nothing wrong with those jobs, of course, but you should allow for the possibility that the best job for you just might be in the latter category. Although this choice depends mostly on your training, experience, and personality, you must also consider the importance of exposure. You may feel more comfortable concentrating on the familiar, but doing so will cut your options in half.

Educating yourself to companies—known and unknown—and jobs—known and unknown—will improve your odds of finding the right match, the first time. Sounds logical, but now the tough part—how to do this? Here is a good way to start.

Much can be said for initially interviewing for everything for which you are qualified, either because you already know you are qualified, or trusted advisors tell you are qualified, or an employer believes you are qualified. As you learn more about these options—through research, preparation, and interviews—you will also learn more about yourself. Your level of interest in each will start to clarify and an elimination process will begin. Cross off the job categories that do not interest you and focus on those that do. This process works both ways. If you are rejected every time you interview for a particular type of job, maybe you should reconsider your suitability for that position.

A certain amount of this self-education process occurs before the interviewing phase of the job search begins. Although reading, information interviews, and informal discussions with family members and friends can give you a sense of what is out there, for most people it is the actual interview that produces the most important information. One way to view this phenomenon is to consider a job hunt as an information gathering and self-knowledge enhancement process, a by-product of which is the job offer you really want!

By Tom Wolfe, Career Coach
© 2016; Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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