A retired lieutenant colonel chronicles the challenges of transitioning from the military to civilian life. He describes how companies have a hard time equating his experience as an Army Field Artillery Officer to expertise in the private sector. He has not given up on his job search, however, and reveals how the lessons he learned in the military now qualify him for employment.
Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
As an Army officer, I had many job titles. I spent half my career in an artillery unit, and the other half doing jobs that had little to do with field artillery. Through some of these positions, I gained valuable experience to help me search for a civilian job. For example, I used the experiences and skills I had learned working in military logistics to find a job in operations or logistics in the private sector.
Q: In what ways does your military experience help or hurt you or change the way you do your job compared to your peers?
I found that a long military career seemed to be a hindrance more than a help. I discovered that when looking for a civilian job, it was hard for the interviewer to understand how my experience would be useful for their company. Much of my accomplishments in the Army had intrinsic similarities to the skills required for the civilian job. I felt like I was sometimes overlooked because the employer did not understand this. Some employers would even tell me they were very serious about hiring veterans, but then they would never call back even though I felt like I was a good fit for the next level of interviews.
Q: Please tell us about your transition from military to civilian life. What challenges have you experienced and what would you do differently if you could redo it?
I targeted private sector companies because I did not want a government job. I wanted to try something different. I think this added an additional level of difficulty because of what I mentioned previously. The one thing that I would stress more than anything is to network. We do it within the military, but I did not do it at all before my retirement. If I had to do it again, I would have started the networking process a year before retirement. After four months of searching for a job full time, I was offered a job thanks to a network connection. My neighbor knew the vice president of the company that hired me. As he reviewed my resume during my second interview with the VP, he told me that I could probably fill several positions at the company, and asked me why I didn’t pursue them. I told him that I had applied four times to the company but that this was the first interview I was given. To me, this confirmed the fact that the only way I finally got an interview was because of networking connections.
Q: Based on your experience, what advice would you give other veterans thinking about transitioning to civilian life?
Work on translating your military experience and skills to sound as civilian as possible on your resume. Going to the TAP course is a good start, but also have several people—preferably without military experience—to review your resume, and see if they understand what you are trying to say.
Q: Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
I’m currently searching for a job, and it’s all about numbers. Finding a full time job IS a full time job. I suggest going to a local state employment center. They are free and provide good advice. Everything is online so a lot of time is spent searching for jobs on the web. Most veterans have a wealth of experience and skills so it’s better to not be too specific on the kind of jobs sought. The more applications sent the better chance to get an interview. It started out slow for me. It took maybe six weeks before I got my first interview. In four months I applied for about 95 jobs and out of those applications I received 10 interviews, which is roughly 10 percent.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I started my military career as a short term goal. I was a college student looking for some extra money. I joined the National Guard to help with college expenses. When I did it, however, there was no tuition assistance; I just got a monthly check. I enlisted for six years, expecting to leave the military after my initial enlistment was over. During this time I graduated college and started working in a civilian job. After a couple of years I grew dissatisfied with my job and decided to go active duty to determine if I liked the Army—full time—better. A couple of years after, I realized that I did enjoy the Army and everything it had to offer. I decided I was going to make it a career and since I already had my college degree I would apply for Officer Candidate School. I was accepted and spent the rest of my career as an Army Officer. If I were to do anything differently, I think I would have tried getting commissioned through ROTC. My time enlisted gave me valuable experience, but since I ended up an officer anyway, it would have been easier to get commissioned as soon as I graduated college.
Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You only need a bachelor’s degree to become a successful officer. It’s not because you gain great knowledge pursuing the degree. Rather, it’s the most important requirement to be commissioned. Once you’re an officer it is really on the job training that makes you successful. As an officer I was asked to do many tasks and missions that I had no training for, yet I was expected to figure out how to accomplish the missions successfully. Once I was sent to Bosnia in charge of 12 Soldiers to conduct the equipment up load though I was a Field Artillery Officer and not a Transportation Officer. But our superiors didn’t care, they just wanted results. I quickly learned that we needed to be in Croatia at the port inventorying equipment and vehicles as they came off the ship. Then we loaded them on trains to Bosnia for the unit to use. The many experiences I had in the Army provided me with the results-oriented experience that helped me get a civilian job after retirement.
Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
The military isn’t for everyone and that’s ok. But serving in the military does give one a sense of purpose and service to the country. One moves a lot and is away from his/her family much of the time and that is a shared sacrifice the whole family experiences. One gains experiences unobtainable in any civilian job. One will go places and do things that most people can only imagine doing. One can serve proudly knowing that only about two percent of the population serves in the Armed Forces, definitely setting them apart from almost everyone else.