Transitioning From the Military: Been There, Done That, Got the Green T-Shirts To Prove It
By Shawn P. Conlon
Twenty-one years earlier I had laughed as my friends at The College of the Holy Cross labored over their resumes, stumbled through practice interviews and waited for an offer of the perfect job; I had a secure job lined up as an officer in the United States Marine Corps and was unconcerned with such matters. Over two decades later, as I was making the decision to begin a new career, I attended a retirement seminar designed to ease the transition from military to civilian life. Seminar topics included resume writing, job search resources, interview techniques, and salary negotiation strategies. At last, I understood the anxiety my college peers had once faced.
Embarking on Transition
The seminar was packed with information about how to execute a career decision and an effective job search; although, it did not help me to gain insight into what I would do in the next phase of my life. Like many people, I had a pretty good idea of what I did not want; however, figuring out what I did want was going to be a challenge. I admit that I envied those around me who knew what they wanted. They were busy researching defense contractor positions and government job websites, looking for their next job to be an extension of what they were already doing. I wanted to make a career change, and I had no idea how to do it, or where to turn for help. I was nearly overwhelmed.
As a Marine Lieutenant Colonel, for twenty-plus years I had been accustomed to setting goals, establishing priorities, making decisions, giving direction to others and meeting challenges head on and helping those around me to do the same. I had given presentations to three and four star generals, argued the cost and benefits of plans, and presented my analysis of problems to senior civilian leaders. I had also sat quietly with young Marines who were returning to the civilian sector and helped them set their own goals and life plans. I had mentored young officers, helping them select the next school or work assignment that would fill-in skill sets missing from their career development. I had accomplished all of those things, but had never written a resume or looked for a job myself.
Given all my experiences, after retiring from the Marine Corps I would again be a novice. What a unique situation that was going to be. How many of us have ever thought about “doing it all again, knowing what I know now?” That was exactly the journey on which I was about to embark. I had the opportunity to set the course for the rest of my life, based on my rich experience. What an advantage; if only I could discover the next steps toward a satisfying new occupation.
A New Direction
After another twelve months of soul searching, reflecting on my challenges and successes to date, and devouring several life and retirement planning tomes, I discovered that the most enjoyable times I had spent in my professional career had been the times I had the privilege of sitting with another person to help him or her sort out their future. Around that time, I stumbled upon the career counselor occupation, and intuitively knew this was to be my next challenge. Today, studying to become a career counselor is providing me a roadmap for the next steps in my career journey.
My personal passion is helping other people to be the best they can be. I want to tap into that passion by assisting others, especially people who are transitioning from military to civilian life. Finding an occupation is an involved process, something I am experiencing first-hand. I intend to assist transitioning service members to explore their own interests and passions to find a fulfilling occupation.
Tips for Career Practitioners
My transition from the military to the civilian world has given me several unique considerations to pass down to other career practitioners.
First, do not assume that transitioning military members are committed to working in the defense industry or government. Approach them as you would any client, beginning with helping them to understand who they are, what they value, and how they can contribute.
Second, there is a transition period, and it is different for everyone. Some folks will make that transition more easily than others, and some will need time to re-wire their brains to focus on themselves instead of on the mission and the people they lead. It may take some time for them to work through the process of self-discovery and options knowledge.
Third, military personnel are used to thinking in terms of “team”, as opposed to “I”, and may be reluctant to take full credit for all they have accomplished. Help them to realize that they have plenty of transferable skills, and take the time to understand their accomplishments so you can help them translate from “mil-speak” to language employers will understand.
Finally, the transition programs for separating military members are designed to provide people the basics of career exploration and planning. However, they do not assess the readiness and capability of each individual in the program. Service members are required to attend, but are not required to be fully engaged in the process, so counselors should be prepared to work with veterans at varying stages.
When working with people transitioning from the military, keep in mind that possibly, just like it was for me, the process of finding an occupation may be new territory for veteran clients. Every client faces different hurdles when moving in a new direction after they've "been there, done that." Your future transitioning clients may have varying degrees of readiness, and taking full credit for their own accomplishments may be an unfamiliar concept.
Shawn Conlon is in his second year of study at Florida State University, where his is pursuing Master of Science and Education Specialist degrees in Counseling and Human Systems. In 2010 he retired from the United States Marine Corps after serving 22 years on active duty. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.