Retirement for a military servicemember differs in significant ways from the typical concept as understood by the average civilian. Most civilians facing retirement are at the end of their working life and contemplating how they will spend their newfound leisure time. Most servicemembers, however, are instead planning to embark on an entirely new career. If you enlisted at a typical age—often shortly out of high school—and did the mandatory 20 years, you’re looking at retirement around age 40. Even those who spend longer in the service still have plenty of working years ahead of them at retirement.
That means the military retiree is thinking about the beginning of a new career, not the end of an old one. The priorities, the skills, and the process are all very different. This blog will address many of the issues facing transitioning servicemembers and DoD civilians, but here we’d like to touch on just a few issues that you need to start considering.
Times Have Changed
You may well have had the odd job or two prior to enlisting, whether that was in high school or afterward. Keep in mind, however, that (1) you probably weren’t looking for a career-type job at the time and (2) the job market has changed fundamentally in the 20 (or more) years since you were in it.
Assuming that you will be seeking “serious” employment (in terms of responsibility and compensation), you’ll need much more preparation beforehand. Just knowing how to interview is a vital skill. You may be perfectly at ease briefing complex material to field-grade or general officers and assume that those skills will translate to dealing with a hiring manager or HR representative. The good news is that some of your experience certainly will help, but an interview is a conversation, not a presentation of information. In the military we rehearse nearly everything we do—you should apply that same principle to getting ready to interview.
Even the fundamentals of job hunting are very different today. Once upon a time, it demonstrated respect to show up at a potential place of employment and apply in person. Now technology rules the process, and (to offer just one example) having a résumé capable of making it past the electronic gatekeepers is a must.
Employers Aren’t in the Military (and Neither Are You Any Longer)
It’s no secret that your civilian workplace will be a far cry in many ways from the military environment to which you’ve been accustomed. You can’t treat a wayward colleague like you would an E-2 fresh to your unit, and you can’t assume that your coworkers will automatically understand and embrace many of the values that your fellow servicemembers did. It’s one thing to “know” this intellectually but another entirely to experience it and learn how to handle it.
Translating your military occupation into civilian terms can be a challenge, but if you throw around lots of military jargon and informal terminology while trying to explain it during an interview, you’re not going to connect (unless you’re fortunate enough to be interviewing with someone who’s former military themselves). Many people in the corporate world have an “elevator speech,” a short (15-20 seconds at most) canned explanation of what they do. Before you ever go to your first interview, sit down and analyze your military experience. Think about simple ways to explain and quantify it. Use objective facts along the lines of “I managed X Soldiers and X pieces of equipment totaling $X in value.”
While your explanation should be fairly standard, consider what the specific job you’ll be interviewing for requires and try to map your skills and experience to those requirements. A time-honored piece of job-hunting advice is that you should write a custom cover letter for every job application that addresses your specific qualifications for that specific position. Your translation of your military skills to a civilian context should be no different.
We look forward to exploring how to successfully transition through military retirement to a new civilian career in this blog. The good news is that you’ll find that in many respects the process is much like what you’ve been doing for years: plan, resource, rehearse, execute, and assess.
If you seek assistance in determining what your next move will be, schedule a free Discovery session with Coach Margaret today to learn more.