A Cautionary Tale: Military Transformation Gone Wrong...
Updated: 2 days ago
Learn from my mistake, do not pay for executive placement services, resume writing, or interview prep until you have exhausted all of the fantastic FREE veteran service organizations programs. I take full responsibility for my transformation failures, but I would like to give you some “best practices” on avoiding these mistakes if you have some time.
You have to build a network, ask many questions, do a ton of research, and seek a career that you believe is a good fit and will make you happy. The best way to do that is through well-established veteran service organizations, not an agency that is unfamiliar with your military training and professional experience in uniform. I was naïve and arrogant when I began my transition/transformation odyssey out of the military. When you leave the military, you are NOT transitioning. Transitioning suggests that you are merely changing careers and starting something new. When you leave the military, what happens is a TRANSFORMATION because every aspect of your life changes. Work, family, where you live, how you go to the doctor, where you shop…they all change. Leaving the military is a massive transformation for everyone in your family unit.
For me, I thought it would be easy. Hell, I was a Colonel, a ton of experience, led large organizations, planned and executed huge budgets, and thought of myself as a gift to any organization. It’s pretty arrogant for someone who had spent nearly all of their life in uniform…but hey, isn’t that how every senior military leader assesses their skills…no arrogance there, huh?
My goal was to jump straight to the C-Suite, and I was willing to find every advantage to make that happen. With no knowledge of how to find a job, I started the process before I went to the Army’s official Transition Assistance Program. To this day, I do not know if that course would have enabled me to avoid the tiger trap of an executive placement agency. Still, it may have enlightened me on the availability of primary veteran service organizations that could help me. Instead, I used the omnipotent Google, searched for “Executive Placement Agency,” and began my journey into the abyss.
After researching, listening to multiple pitches from different “firms,” and determining which team would meet my needs, I forked over $15000 for someone to “help” me build my network, write my resume, introduce me to C-Suite insiders, and find my “dream job.” These professionals claimed a greater than 98% placement rating, with the caveat that if you were not placed, it was due to your failure to follow their program. That is an interesting caveat, given the price tag. So, after two years of weekly calls, referrals that had no connection to C-Suite leaders, and ZERO job leads and interviews, I walked away from their program.
Throughout the two years with the “firm,” I reached out to people to build my network as I was instructed. I had over a thousand cups of coffee; I counted them…even through COVID. The people I spoke with were always stunned when I told them the service I had purchased. Repeatedly, I was told that job seekers do not pay for placement – corporations pay headhunters to find the talent. One of my closest friends was blunt – he told me I had been taken. Multiple people told me the colorful and aesthetically pleasing resume would never make it through an Applicant Tracking System due to the different fonts, colors, and formatting.
After multiple engagements where I heard these same points, I became very depressed, and I gave up. I had made so many mistakes in my transformation that it seemed as if I would never find my place beyond my military career. I was in a dark place. I believe most veterans understand what I mean. By the time Summer 2021 rolled around, I needed to find something to pour myself into, so I started doing a massive manual labor project at home. As I stated in a previous blog post, my daughter helped me realize that there were still opportunities out there for me. I started researching again, but I used a different lens this time, engaging veterans I knew had successfully transformed. I reached out to them and asked them what their “secret sauce” was for making the leap from the Army to the Corporate world. There was no single solution; for most, it came down to luck, timing, and tribe (their network). Every transformation had a different path depending on the goals of the veteran. Veterans who wanted to go back to school had to learn to navigate the education system. Veterans who wanted to gain a trade certification had to find a program to teach them to be HVAC repair persons. Finally, Veterans seeking a life in the corporate world had to learn how to communicate their experience and skills to the board room. Veteran Service Organizations enabled success in each of these pathways.
So what…right…Here are the five things I want to leave with you as the bottom line, so you don’t spend your hard-earned cash on things that are available for free.:
1) At the two-year mark, find at least three people you know who have completed transforming out of the military. Find out what worked for them and listen to their advice, even if you don’t think it will apply to you. Discuss with your family where you want to live; pick a few spots where your pathway will give you options. If you chose one location, understand that you are limiting your options.
2) Start researching the pathway you want to follow as you transform out of the military – BEFORE you go to any Transition Assistance Program classes. Your expanded knowledge will enable you to ask better questions and find the resources to boost your success. That research should include discussions with your family and friends and may even include a skills aptitude test at the education center.
3) Find a mentor – it can be someone you know that has already blazed the transformation trail. Maybe it is one of the first three you spoke with in step one. It could be through a great team like Veterati or American Corporate Partners if you are going the “corporate route.” If you are headed back to college, find the college Veterans group where you will attend and find the resources available to Veteran Students.
4) Use the tools that will help you transform the most and will help you develop your network, write your resume, and educate yourself on the corporate environment. The Transition Assistance Program on your installation is a starting point, and this will help you get to the finish line.
a. DOD Skillbridge is a program that you can only use while still in uniform and places you in apprenticeships and internships to help you find your future. “The DOD SkillBridge program is an opportunity for Service members to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships, or internships during the last 180 days of service. SkillBridge connects Service members with industry partners in real-world job experiences.”
b. Hiring Our Heroes is another program only available while you are in uniform. “Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) connects the military community—service members, military spouses, and veterans—with American businesses to create economic opportunity and a strong and diversified workforce.”
c. HireMilitary works with ALL transitioning military, Veterans, Mil-Spouses, and Veteran Spouses. HireMilitary is a Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business. “Our Mission: We’re always moving forward to decrease Veteran and Military Spouse underemployment by bringing employers and our Military Community together.”
d. FourBlock is my favorite. “FourBlock’s mission is to successfully equip veterans and military spouses to transition to meaningful civilian careers. Our vision is to build a national professional network where transitioning veterans and military spouses can connect locally and attain the skills, resources, and relationship-building opportunities necessary to reach their career potential.”
5) Finally, stay connected to your TRIBE. Join veterans groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, or Team Red, White, and Blue. These brothers and sisters can help you through the tough times. Don’t try to execute this transformation alone; get a buddy, just like you did in the military, and find success together.
In the end, I learned some harsh lessons. The biggest lesson – there are no shortcuts to success during the transformation from the military. Success is gained through preparation, focus, hard work, self-discipline, persistence, and optimism. I hope this post was helpful to you in your quest to transform out of the military.
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