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Words By Robert F. Griggs, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (retired)
Wow. Transitioning can be so taxing.
Regardless of the stage of transition you find yourself, do you have a solid self-assessment to know what your real strengths are? Have you contemplated what your employment paths are tied to your passions, which jobs opportunities are tied to your experiences and which of your career accomplishments can be “translatables”, offering the greatest appeal to the civilian organizations hiring in the area(s) where you want to work (both geographically and in select business sectors)? Having a detailed self-assessment will help you in the process so that you can receive advice and adjustments to make you more appealing to the civilian sector while also avoiding the pitfalls with changing your image/record so much so that you are no longer who you are professionally or who you want to be.
When a veteran makes that major life-changing decisions he/she does so full of energy, optimism, and confidence. As the transition date approaches, those aggressive/assertive/positive feelings are often replaced or encroached on by feelings of fatigue, pessimism and plenty of second-guessing as to what the future holds and in some (many?) cases, thoughts of whether or not this decision to transition is the right transition at all.
This is an interesting dynamic whereby a process by design attacks a major strength/asset of a transitioning veteran, making this professional shift so much harder than it really has to be. Compounding the problem is that while this acidic erosion of attitude and confidence is known and should be anticipated, it rarely ever is anticipated AND in many cases, the majority of the advice given to the transitioning veteran (albeit well-intended) only exasperates the situation.
Case in point – in the Army, as part of the Army Career and Alumni Program, every veteran is given a block of instruction from a non-military employee, a professional hired by the Department of Labor, to learn how to write an effective resume (and learn how to navigate the numerous hiring resources focused on veterans). While many may not see the value in the course at the time, the process of building an effective resume is taught in a very professional manner and produces a very effective product. But it quickly goes downhill from there.
The next step a veteran often takes before sending the resume out is to get a “civilian” set of eyes on their resume. Maybe they join a few groups on LinkedIn and ask for feedback as to how their resume reads. Others may directly interact with civilian human resource professionals to see if their resume makes them viable candidates for position X or job Y. While there is often good advice to be had and obvious value in getting honest feedback to make the veteran’s professional record better, all veterans going through this process needs to know there is a point of diminishing returns.
Where exactly is this point of diminishing returns? Where does the process go “off the rails” and what can the veteran do to stay ahead of this pitfall? The key is approaching the transition process with a detailed self-assessment and to ensure throughout the transition process there is a continued re-assessment of one’s self. You – the transitioning veteran – knows you better than anyone else. You truly know your strengths. While resumes do not focus on weaknesses, you know better than anyone those things traits/experiences that are listed which are not as strong as others. The slippery slope occurs as the veteran loses confidence as the actual transition approaches (will I get a job, where will I live etc.) and because we all can become susceptible to well-intentioned advice that is at best not-helpful and at worst, disingenuous and deceitful.
While some of these are invaluable – we do overcapitalize and civilians are generally not comfortable having a discussion about what happens in combat, as least in terms or prospective employment – often times this advice when compounded takes the veteran away from that confident professional to the indecisive, wavering, soon to be former military member. In particular, there was a discussion with these exceptionally competent human resource professionals about slightly altering the emphasis of experience for a former Army squad leader, a staff-sergeant who served mostly in a small-unit leadership role in a combat arms unit. That sergeant’s strength is clearly his leadership and all that goes with leadership in a military context. If that sergeant excelled, it was because he could take orders, guidance or direction, formulate a plan of action and lead an 11-employee section to accomplish the organization’s assigned mission. A common critique from the human resource people was that this set of skills would be hard to translate to a civilian job; that if there was focus on supply or logistics, or if the sergeant to quantify in some dollar amount the value of the project, that would be something that a civilian personnel department would better understand. This issue was highlighted to me a few months ago as I was having a conversation in general with a couple of human resource personnel from a couple of different organizations (different people, multiple conversations). The discussion started on the process of “civilianizing” a veteran’s resume – e.g. refer to Soldiers as employees (and quit capitalizing everything); change tactical references to something relating to management or leadership; focus on experiences dealing with supply systems, logistics; avoid acronyms, do not focus on actual “combat” exploits…and on and on.
After a couple of hypothetical revisions of the above statement “civilian-ized”, my question to the human resource folks was “Will you hire the veteran now? Now that the changes were made, does the Staff Sergeant move to the top of queue; is he the first recommendation to the hiring board?” None were committal, and a couple said probably not. The truth is, changing your resume or your professional narrative too much does not necessarily make you more hire-able to employers; having a civilian-ized resume does not give you skills that you did not already have. But getting away from your strengths and highlighting those things that were never strengths will put you on a slippery slope which will erode your confidence, fill yourself with internal self-doubt and make the transition to the civilian more much more difficult.
All free advice should be listened to, and all good advice should be adhered to. But you, the veteran who is actually transitioning, needs to be solid in your self-assessment, so that you know what your true strengths are, while also being cognizant of having a record that misrepresents who are really are or what you are truly capable of. Working too hard to change to land a job often leads to little job satisfaction and either little job-success or requires so much effort as to not make it a good fit for either you or the employer.
Being self-aware and knowing using the self-assessment as your guide, will help you be more comfortable in knowing what jobs you truly think you will be a good fit for and will re-instill the confidence (during the application and interview process) that transition often erodes. Maintaining that optimism and confidence is critical, as you must remember that what made you successful in the service will undoubtedly make you successful in any endeavor. You must believe that you are the asset and the employer will be lucky to have you in their organization. Being true to yourself and staying consistent with what made you successful in your first career, will keep the “tax” we pay during transition to a minimum.
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