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Veterans who serve as top executives as well as other career experts offer tips for servicemembers transitioning to and currently in their post-military careers.
Take transition assistance programs early. “It's important to start transition-thinking before you're out,” says Capt. Ken Barrett, USN (Ret), General Motors Co. global chief diversity officer. “I started three years before I transitioned.” He also recommends servicemembers regularly update their résumés. “Update it every single month,” he says. “Get input from others. Make sure it's focused outside the military. Define the roles you've filled in 'corporate speak.' ”
Focus on skills rather than military specialties. “Employers are seeking people with intangible skills: leadership, problem solving, and analytical skills,” says Tom Aiello, who served as an Army combat engineer but switched paths to marketing and advertising and now is president of March Marketing LLC. “[Junior officers] coming out [of the military] can go into virtually any career field they want based on how corporate America views them, which is as an experienced MBA.” According to Aiello, fields junior officers might want to consider are logistics, plant management, consulting, sales, and banking.
For older veterans, the biggest career fields include supply-chain management, plant management, and defense contracting, Aiello says. “First, do a self-examination of what you really enjoy - what you feel you're good at,” he says. “Then match that with career fields.”
Network, network, network. Make a list of your target 20 ideal companies and then research their one- to five-year initiatives and business plans, says Linda D. Henman, president of Henman Performance Group in Town and Country, Mo. Then look at your skills and figure out why those companies can't live without you. Next, take advantage of your military contacts. “In certain [companies], like Boeing, every person knows every employee by three degrees of separation,” Henman says. “Find out what those are.” Then look for contacts you know at those companies and ask them for advice about breaking into their company.
Match your values. “If you were in the military, you have a high set of values, and you're somebody who wants to serve the country,” says former Marine Corps Capt. Mary Kennedy Thompson, who served in the Marine Corps for eight years until 1992, before opening multiple franchises. “So look for companies with those values. They should actively talk about them and live them every day and should be the right cultural match to who you are.” Thompson.
Look for long-term opportunities. “Take a look at the companies that are growing rapidly and that have the long-term commitment [and] excellent developmental programs for individuals,” says Russ Hovendick, president of recruiting firm Client Staffing Solutions in Sioux Falls, S.D., and author of Deployment to Employment: A guide for military veterans transitioning to civilian employment. “Veterans can plug into a system and almost be guaranteed success. If those attributes are in place and you are at the level that you command leadership and bring vision, you'll do really well.” He also suggests looking for “under the radar” companies, the industries that might not be as appealing. “They're not 'flashy,' but man, are there opportunities there!” Hovendick says. For example, you might overlook a trucking company because you don't want to be a driver. However, “you may have tremendous value in logistical knowledge from your international experience from the logistical side and [be able to] work with importers and exporters,” he says.
Don't forget professional development. “Training is critical,” says former Maj. James R. Schenck, USA, Pentagon Federal Credit Union CEO. “The military is a great model of this. It encourages higher education and training at every level of command. Leaders set future conditions for success.”
Be passionate. “One of the best things anyone can be known for is making a positive impact,” says former Air Force Capt. Stuart Parker, CEO of USAA. “That's much harder to do if you're not engaged and excited about your role. If you lose the passion, find a way to get it back - or find something else to do.” He also advises veterans to keep their integrity above all else. “The business world is full of stories about executives who cut corners. Don't. Ever,” he says.
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