TAO Self-help

Title:The Other Side of the Fence

Author:© 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:Septemper 2013


With all of the uncertainty that surrounds the transition from a military to a civilian career, one thing that is certain is the high likelihood that you must continue to work. Career transition is a stressful time for most people and that is particularly true for those in transition from the military to civilian status. Although the job search can be difficult for civilians, they at least know the terminology and the titles. Military-to-civilian job seekers on the other hand not only have to deal with the stress of the search but also the lack of knowledge about career options and job titles. How about you? Are you wrestling with that uncertainty and wondering what to do next? That is perfectly normal. Take some comfort in knowing that thousands of veterans have dealt with that stress successfully and you will also.

What jobs are available? The good news is there are hundreds of companies hiring thousands of people like you into jobs with hundreds of possible job titles. The bad news is that there are far too many of them to cover here. I can however discuss the three general categories of jobs available and in so doing perhaps give you some insight into which category is best for you. Every one of those jobs can be categorized in one of three ways: Individual Contributor, Team Member, and Team Leader. Furthermore, every job you have held in the military can be similarly categorized and a comparative analysis will do much to point you in the right direction.

An Individual Contributor is one whose contribution to the mission comes directly from that individual. The work product is his or hers alone. He or she is not directing the efforts of others. The blood, sweat and tears are those of the individual. Do not however confuse individual contributors with loners. Individual contributors can have much interaction with others, both internal and external to the organization — e.g., co-workers, vendors, clients, suppliers, and managers. They enjoy autonomy. They do not have to supervise others to be fulfilled. They prefer to see a direct link between their individual effort, their work product, and, perhaps, their compensation. Examples of individual contributors include tradesmen, tech reps, accountants, analysts, consultants, sales reps, designers, engineers, field service representatives, and recruiters.

Sometimes a group of individual contributors band together, either formally or informally, and form a team. This leads us to the second category — Team Member. There are many situations where no one single person can handle all the responsibilities of a project or tasking. It often makes sense to put together a group of individuals to form a team. Although levels of expertise are often similar, each member has a different area of expertise and is responsible for his or her own contribution to the team as a whole. Whether or not there is a designated team leader, often an informal leader will emerge. Regardless, it is the combined, collective effort of the entire team that constitutes the contribution to the goals of the organization. An excellent analogy is the athletic team — individuals playing different positions on the team, with the goal of winning the contest. You can find examples of the team member role in matrix organizations, companies that use self-directed work teams, product development, and brand management.

The final category, Team Leader, is the one that probably requires the least explanation. The team leader is assigned personnel, material, financial resources, and a task. The areas and levels of expertise among the team members vary. The team leader builds the team, trains the team, motivates the team, and provides a safe working environment. The collective efforts of the entire team under the direction and control of the team leader become the contribution to the mission. Sound familiar? Most military personnel spend the majority of their time in team leader roles. Many civilian organizations are aware of this experience and focus on hiring veterans because of it. Some typical team leader roles include operations manager, crew leader, production team leader, and manufacturing supervisor.

Which category is best for you? To answer that question, review your time in the military. You have probably held jobs in all three categories. In which ones were you the most effective? Satisfied? Happiest? Answering those questions will give you some clues. By knowing in which one you tend to thrive, you will be on your way to finding the best category for you. Although you will not necessarily be any closer to articulating exactly which job you want, you will at least be able to focus on jobs in the category or categories that are best for you.

Good hunting!

© 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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