Mar 22

Find Common Ground to Smooth Workplace Transition

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Dr. Fred Mael is an industrial organizational psychologist who has talked about the shock that veterans may experience, coming from a team-oriented culture, when they encounter new civilian colleagues who seem more self-focused rather than focused on the enterprise as a whole. I asked Dr. Mael to share his perspective on this and other related issues with Military Leaders in Transition.

VSB: Dr. Mael, how can transitioning military leaders become better prepared to succeed in a civilian workforce environment that at times may appear to “devalue teamwork” and instead tend to reward individually-focused and rewarded effort?

MAEL: Serving in the military often (though not always) involves working under intense conditions, living in close proximity with coworkers, and undergoing traumatic and/or exhilarating experiences together. The possibility of sacrificing one’s life for other team members intensifies the team experience. Officers who leave military service often say that what they miss most about military life is the teamwork and camaraderie, as well as the patriotism and higher purpose.

It is a natural human characteristic to want to identify with a higher purpose and to be embedded with others in common cause – however those who join the military for extended periods are probably on the high end of these needs.

The typical civilian work place cannot adequately satisfy these needs. The purpose of the work is more mundane, the stakes are lower, and coworkers, even competent ones, may be less invested in the “cause”. People work a set number of hours and then scatter into their different non-work worlds – that is, if they even come to a communal office at all. Trends toward telework, reliance on virtual teams, and electronic communication can increase feelings of isolation and depersonalization of relationships. There may be some room to inject a degree of teamwork but, except in rare cases, it won’t be the same as the team experience in military service.

Transitioning military leaders should be prepared to understand and accept that:

  • civilian coworkers have equivocal commitment to the work organization (they will leave for better jobs);
  • the work organization has equivocal commitment to the employees; in the private sector, they may hire you today, but let you go next week if they so choose.


The purpose of the work (in the civilian workplace) is more mundane, the stakes are lower, and coworkers, even competent ones, may be less invested in the “cause”. …Trends toward telework, reliance on virtual teams, and electronic communication can increase feelings of isolation and depersonalization of relationships. There may be some room to inject a degree of teamwork but, except in rare cases, it won’t be the same as the team experience in military service.

VSB: Some would suggest that the longer one has served in the military, the harder it can be to find new purpose and focus in a second career. What are your thoughts about that?

MAEL: Transitioning senior military leaders will likely be entering a civilian workplace in which their new co-workers do not necessarily understand nor fully appreciate past military accomplishments. Subordinates and peers in the new environment may be unaccustomed to hierarchy, obedience and may have a completely different set of values from those shared in military life.

It is essential that transitioning service members take time to understand and learn the value system of new colleagues and subordinates. Make the effort to find commonalities that exist and establish a common frame of reference. Demonstrating your competence can go a long way to win new colleagues over, even if you think your seniority and experience should speak for themselves.

VSB: You have talked about the need for transitioning veterans to find outlets, outside of the military, “to express their higher values of teamwork and altruism.” Would you elaborate on what this means and why it is so essential?

MAEL: A person needs to know themselves – their personalities, their hierarchy of values, and what will give them purpose. Some veterans may find the lack of team-orientation a relief and smoothly transfer their life goals into making a good living and enjoying recreation. Others may find that working for a nonprofit captures some of the altruism though it may still lack the cohesive bonds of military life. For some, the workplace will never be enough and other options – such as religious involvement, volunteering and/or political activity – will be needed to satisfy higher order needs.

VSB: Any other advice you might share with senior military leaders in transition?

MAEL: Many civilian coworkers will have never met anyone who served in the military, much less in uniform. Depending on age, gender, or political views, they may react to you with awe, guilt, disinterest, or disdain. Be prepared to win people over in terms that are relevant to them. Ask questions of co-workers and do your best to understand their value system. You do not have to accept their values as yours but you will want to exhibit empathy, the ability to see the world from another’s viewpoint. You have already done this as a leader – it just means expanding the scope of this skill.

Dr. Fred Mael has worked as a consultant for over 25 years, including applied research, and project management in areas such as organizational culture, employee and customer loyalty, best practices studies, and development of performance management systems.  He worked for the US Army as a researcher/manager for eight years and has been a consultant to private and public sector organizations including the US Army, US Navy, and US Air Force.

Dec 05

Finding Peace of Mind during the Holidays

The holiday season may be a time for social gatherings, parties and glittering decorations, but in spite of being surrounded by family and neighbors, this time of year can leave transitioning military members feeling isolated and out of sorts. The music, the chatter and some of the more superficial commercial aspects of the holidays can be at complete odds with what a veteran returning to civilian life may be feeling on the inside. This can be compounded by a lull in the job search process, as many prospective employers wind down their interviewing and recruiting until after the New Year.

It is important to recognize your own needs and to find ways to make meaningful connections during this especially stressful time of year:

Let those closest to you know that you may need to occasionally step away from large gatherings to focus on conversations in a quieter space with just one or two people. They may not immediately understand why you are gravitating away from the crowd.

  • Reach out in person, via Skype or by phone or email with former military colleagues to say hello and to ask how they are doing. Reconnecting with them will remind you they still “have your six” even if they are not physically nearby.
  • Revisit your spiritual needs, whatever that means to you, to rebuild connection to what grounds you in your life.
  • Give yourself time for introspection and meditation, not just “zoning out” in front of a videogame or watching endless hours of reruns. Take a walk, go work out, take a deep breath of fresh air.
  • Volunteer your time to help others who need help. Shoveling an elderly neighbor’s driveway, organizing a food drive, or providing another community service are all ways to reinvigorate your sense of purpose and are reminders that you still have much to contribute.

Most importantly, don’t lock yourself in the cave. Reach out and reconnect. Help those you trust understand how you feel; they can’t read your mind.

For those who know a veteran in transition, a great way to lend support beyond expressing thanks for their service to country, is to reach out during the holiday season and throughout the year to ask “How can I serve you?”  or “What can I do that would be most helpful to you as you transition to civilian life?” The veteran may not always have an answer to your question, but what matters is that you asked and are ready to lend them your time and support.

Sep 24

Opening the Door to the Private Sector

There are many ways to begin making connections and building your network inside the private sector.  The best case scenario typically involves reaching out to someone you know – perhaps a former military colleague or a neighbor – working at a company of particular interest to you.

Social media offers another avenue to do research and scout out potential points of contact in your target industry.

And of course, attending select career fairs and other veteran service organization events that offer a chance to meet with private sector representatives provide a way to meet face-to-face with individuals in the sectors of interest to you.

Another effective strategy is to tap into area chambers of commerce and other key business organizations with programs and networking opportunities specifically designed for veterans. Many groups are looking for ways to connect with veterans, highlight job opportunities, offer mentoring and other support. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t always reach their intended target audience, in part because veterans don’t always recognize these groups as an important avenue to explore during the transition process.

One example in the Northern Virginia area is the Veterans’ Employment Initiative launched by the Northern Virginia Technology Council. You can find out more about this organization’s efforts to connect transitioning military leaders with private sector opportunities by visiting

Across the country, local business organizations are stepping up to lend support and open pathways. Whether you are interested in starting your own small business, seeking to connect with a major employer in your region or looking for a place to begin building business connections, it makes sense to explore organizations in your area to learn more about what they offer and consider, in turn, what you might offer them. For example, you might offer to serve on a chamber committee or to lend a hand at one of their networking events. This gives you direct interaction time with the organization’s membership and a chance to become more familiar with staff and the organization’s leadership.

If you are interested in exploring the private sector as a second career, do your homework and take the time to reach out to area business groups; you may be surprised at the doors that might open as you seek out a new career niche in the corporate world.

May 18

Remain Open to the Possibilities

Retired senior military leaders in transition often find it helpful to consider key drivers that may affect second career choices. Is it that sense of purpose, a greater work-life balance, a time to recommit to family or a geographic commitment that may shape what happens next?
These were just some of the factors that played into retired Rear Admiral Mary Landry’s decision-making process before she accepted a position in the Senior Executive Service in the U.S. Coast Guard.
VSB: After a long career in the U.S. Coast Guard, how did it feel to return as a member of the Senior Executive Service several months later? Were there any surprises?
Landry: Returning to the Senior Executive Service less than a year after military retirement is not something I had planned ahead of time. I had a very specific reason for retiring. I had promised our daughter that I would attend every ice hockey game of her senior year playing for Brown University. My husband and I had both missed events in our children’s lives because of the demands of our military career, and I was determined to have this last opportunity.
When the Coast Guard called about the posting of this new SES position, I did the math of how long the hiring process might take and knew I could make it through hockey season. So I guess my surprise was that I was back at work in less than a year. What also surprised me was how different it is to be a civilian because there is more of a sense of permanence as opposed to the military where you transfer every two to four years. It is not to say that you may not move as a civilian, but you have a little more control of your destiny.
VSB: What advice would you share with others contemplating entry into the Senior Executive Service?
Landry: I strongly encourage other retired military members to consider the Senior Executive Service. It is the same “purposeful” work and gives you a chance to be part of a team of professionals committed to public service. I am not trying to sound trite here. If you are someone who enjoys a sense of purpose and can be patient with certain aspects of the bureaucracy, such as restricted budgets and the length of time it sometimes takes to gain consensus on policy or regulation, you will be glad you came back.  It is a very easy transition because you already understand how government works and you can hit the deck running.
VSB: How can women coming up the ranks in the military or in federal government best prepare themselves for senior leadership positions?
Landry: The best way for women to prepare themselves for senior leadership in the military and federal government is to continue to seek out positions of greater responsibility and to not underestimate themselves. Sometimes women are their own worst enemy when it comes to judging their own qualifications and believing they can do the job. Also, if for some reason they end up in a position that is less career enhancing, they should look for additional responsibilities such as volunteering for a collateral duty project.
My husband and I literally agreed to alternate tours and take turns with our assignments. His tour had first preference on one assignment and mine, the next. If the other person could also find a career enhancing assignment, then it was a bonus, but each of us had to be flexible. I remember thinking I would never make O5 when I followed Mark to a command tour. I volunteered for additional duties and the next thing you know, my unit reorganized and I became the most junior department head because what I volunteered to do became part of the reorganization and I moved up with it.
I would also suggest that women focus on what I would call “optionality”. Don’t look at any situation as an “end all” to advancing. Keep your nose to the grindstone and make the best of the given situation. Leave yourself open to any possibility that may be just around the corner. If you let a situation drag you down and lose sight of the rewards that come with executive leadership, you sell yourself short as a contender. Whatever current challenge you are experiencing feeds into that richness of experience that makes you a better leader, rather than disqualifying you.
VSB: If you knew earlier in your career what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
Landry: I love this question, but I have to say that I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, a rich career, and very good health. I would just offer the advice “know thyself”. Each person is different and you really need to understand who you are. There is no single right way to do things or to find balance in life, it is all about knowing what works for you. The earlier you learn that, the better chance you have of traveling the journey without a lot of regrets.
Retired USCG Rear Admiral Mary Landry is a member of the Senior Executive Service and holds the position of Director of Incident Management and Preparedness at the U.S. Coast Guard. As a Flag Officer, Landry served as Director of Governmental and Public Affairs and as District Commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District. In that capacity, she served as Federal On-Scene Coordinator in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Mar 18

Becoming an Executive in the Nonprofit Sector

jgrahamJohn H. Graham IV served the American Diabetes Association for 24 years, the last thirteen as Chief Executive Officer. Today, John serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of ASAE, the center for association leadership ( )  ASAE includes more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations in the United States and around the world.

I asked John to provide his perspective on the association/nonprofit world for those considering a career transition into this sector.

VSB: John, what do you see as the key skill sets needed to be a successful association executive?

Graham: Association management is not rocket science.  To be proficient, it requires knowing a little bit about numerous areas including public affairs, communications, non-profit finance, sponsorships, meetings, tradeshows and technology.  However, the most important skill is a high EQ and being able to be a servant leader putting volunteer leaders first.

 Association management is not rocket science…the most important skill is a high EQ and being able to be a servant leader putting volunteer leaders first.

VSB: Those new to leadership in the nonprofit sector may not realize there are many different types of organizations. What are some of the important distinctions between leadership of a membership association versus leadership of a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization? Are there any similarities of note?

Graham: There are broadly three types of volunteer organizations:  charitable (American Red Cross), individual membership (American Bar Association) and trade associations (American Plastics Council).

  • Charitable organizations usually focus on a specific cause and tend to be dependent on, and engaged with, volunteers in addition to maintaining a paid staff. They typically rely on contributions from individuals, foundations and other grants for support.
  • Individual membership or professional societies focus on a given profession and rely on active volunteer leadership to ensure the organization is as effective as possible. Membership and event dues often provide the backbone of financial support.
  • Trade associations generally tend to focus on advocacy for an industry and require little volunteer engagement other than around governance. Financial support is provided by the companies that belong to the trade association.

Each of the three types have boards of directors and committees that focus in on specific areas of importance to the organization.


VSB: What additional guidance would you like to share with senior leaders retiring from military service who are thinking about a second career as an association executive or perhaps taking on a volunteer role as a nonprofit board member?

Graham: Serving on a non-profit board and being as staff member are two very different paths.  Becoming an association executive is a career choice that can be very rewarding but it is a definitive career path.  Board service is an avocation and, within the nonprofit sector, is typically an unpaid opportunity.


VSB: Does ASAE Center offer any resources that might be useful to military leaders exploring a transition into the nonprofit sector?

Graham: ASAE has a micro site called Career HQ which helps interested people navigate jobs in associations.


VSB: What about getting a Certified Association Executive credential?

Graham: Among association leaders, the CAE designation has become known and appreciated as a mark of distinction that offers a wide range of benefits.

Individuals pursue the CAE for a variety of reasons, including professional development, career planning and professional pride, dedication to their career, a personal belief in the association profession, and self-fulfillment.

At the same time, individuals cannot sit for the CAE exam until they have five or more years of experience as an executive working in an association.

Feb 18

Career Transition Insights to Jumpstart Your Search

Jim Carman I had the honor of meeting retired Navy Captain Jim Carman nearly three years ago, soon after he joined the team at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), following his stint as a career and talent management consultant with Right Management.

Today, Jim is the Director of MOAA’s Transition Center, which provides career transition consulting, benefits and financial education, and veterans and survivor disability claim assistance to the military community. We have the good fortune to work with one another several times a year, team-teaching the organization’s Military Executives in Transition (MET) program.

I asked Jim to share some of the great counsel he continues to offer so many active duty military and vets in transition:

VSB: Jim, what do you see as the most common challenges senior military leaders must overcome as they compete for jobs in the civilian workforce?


The job market remains very competitive. 2014 was the strongest year of hiring since 1999; at the same time, companies report an average of 383 applications for every open position. Landing a good job may take some time, so it is essential to start researching and networking well before your expected retirement date.

Given the realities of the marketplace, transitioning military leaders are well-advised to be realistic in the job hunt. Specifically:

  • Look for positions where your skills, experience and passion align with a reasonable economic motivator; don’t let the salary be the primary determinant in your job search.
  • Grow your network to help you explore a wide range of industries and sectors.
  • Be prepared to consider reasonable offers that may not be perfect in terms of pay or geographic location, but do provide a chance to learn about the world of business and acquire new skills.


VSB: Current wisdom suggests that military leaders should begin preparing for transition 12-24 months before separation from service.  What specific steps would you recommend for those still on active duty?


  • Reconnect with alumni groups associated with where you earned your undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Join LinkedIn and create a thoughtful profile without the  military acronyms and with a photo in civilian business attire that highlights the skills you will bring to a prospective employer in the civilian workforce. Join LinkedIn groups that align with your post-military career interests.
  • Look for opportunities to attend conferences and make connections with thought leaders. It’s a little outside the comfort zone for many of us, but it can pay huge dividends through exposure to new ideas, new thinking and new possibilities.


VSB: How can transitioning senior military leaders more effectively negotiate their salary and benefit packages once offered a position in the civilian workforce?

Carman:  First, it’s important to know your own worth and equally important, the appropriate salary range for the positions you are considering in the industries of interest to you.  Don’t rely solely on the popular online salary sites since those numbers are based on self-reported data and everyone tends to exaggerate personal levels of compensation.  Instead, connect with individuals working at a similar or more senior level in the same industry and geographic area in question.  Once you nail down the accurate range, build a case as to why you should be placed in the top half of that range: education, experience, contacts, passion and energy can help justify bringing you on board near the top of the range for the position in question.  If you can’t get together on salary, consider asking for a six month performance review, presuming you are confident you will be able to have significant impact in that timeframe.

Second, try to delay the discussion about salary as long as possible.  Employers are increasingly following one of two practices: either they ask candidates for salary expectations right up front or they wait until the very end of the interview process. The latter approach will generally work in the candidate’s favor since, by that time, the candidate has presumably provided ample evidence of being the right choice to fill the job. Companies are typically impressed when a candidate never raises the compensation question or expectations. Be patient, it will come up in due course.


VSB: Many transitioning senior leaders leave behind their military careers in pursuit of a new job they expect to hold until they fully retire from the workforce. How does that mesh with current trends in the civilian workforce?

Carman: The reality is that most of us are going to have to leave our current civilian role in 5-6 years, if not sooner, in order to gain more responsibility, new challenges, increased compensation or a combination of all of these factors.  In addition, sometimes the first couple of jobs taken are not always the right fit, due to a mismatch of cultural expectations, poor communication or other factors. This is not uncommon, but it is important to learn from those mismatches to ensure a better fit the next time around.

After you land your first civilian role, take time to thank all of those people who helped you; let them know where you landed and stay in touch. Don’t assume that, once you have a job in hand, there is no need to remain active on LinkedIn. Make an effort to connect with one or two people each week; you never know who will open the door to your next opportunity.


VSB: What does MOAA do to help military leaders transition more successfully into the civilian workforce?

Carman: MOAA offers its Premium and Life Members every service and support needed to launch a successful campaign in an economy that still feels like a recession to many people. This includes:

  • Resume and LinkedIn profile development assistance
  • Interview preparation using an online video prep tool available to all of our members anywhere in the world
  • Negotiation support
  • Live and Virtual Career Fairs
  • Connections to other MOAA members working in similar industries
  • A LinkedIn career networking group. Search MOAA Career Networking under LinkedIn Groups in order to become a member.

For those who wish to go beyond ETAP for more intensive, customized career transition assistance, MOAA offers periodic, one-day, executive transition seminars in the metro DC area that also include several hours of follow-on, one-on-one career management consulting services. The cost of this one-day, executive-level seminar, follow-on consulting services and related benefits is less than the cost of one hour with most executive coaches; you can’t beat the great value of MOAA’s Military Executives in Transition (MET) program if you want to kick start your post-military job hunt into high gear. The next MET session takes place on April 2, 2015.

To learn more, visit:

Jan 19

Gauge Your Openness to Change in Transition

It is fair to say that we are largely creatures of habit at work and at home. The creation of personal and professional daily routines gives us some feeling of control in the chaotic world in which we live.  That said, there comes a time in both our professional and personal lives when we are facing a change. It is not always easy to do.

Disabled American Veterans’ National Chaplain, Michael P. Dover recently shared some of the common reasons that people resist change.*  His thoughts were presented in the context of people quickly abandoning well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions, but I think several of his points are equally relevant for those finding themselves stymied in the process of a major professional transition:

  • People are unwilling to give up the safe, predictable and familiar.
  • We have no real conviction that change is better than the status quo.
  • We feel safer staying where we are, uncertain what life will be like if the change takes place.

No question that with change, comes risk.  We want to avoid failure, making mistakes, feeling embarrassed in front of colleagues or family members who know us as high-achieving, highly competent individuals.

Professional transition, whether by your own choice or someone else’s, mandates change in routine and a departure from established activities and behaviors. It may be challenging to shift gears in mid-life, but it can be done. As with the proverbial joke about the number of psychologists it takes to change a light bulb, the answer is “One, but it must be willing to change.”

It may be challenging to shift gears in mid-life, but it can be done. As with the proverbial joke about the number of psychologists it takes to change a light bulb, the answer is “One, but it must be willing to change.”

Keep Chaplain Dover’s suggestions in mind:

  • You have to be committed to change — in your heart and in your head.
  • Set attainable, specific goals for yourself, rather than flap around in the ambiguity of motivational slogans that “all things are possible” — you may, indeed, not be able to compete any longer as a U.S. Olympic javelin thrower.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Talk with others throughout the transition process to learn from your peers’ experiences. Don’t think you have to do this in a vacuum.

Here are some basic ways to get started:

  • Replace that LinkedIn headshot of yourself in military uniform to a more recent one you have taken while wearing a well-fitting business suit.
  • Reevaluate your current resume and LinkedIn profile to see how you can reframe your military experience into terms that anyone could understand and appreciate.
  • Remove all the acronyms and highlight how the experience you’ve gained can make a quantifiable difference for a civilian employer who is comparing you to another veteran applying for the same job.

Let us know some of the ways you have brought about change in attitude, perspective or delivery as you navigated your transition from military service. Others are waiting to learn from your experience!


* “We must learn to change”, Michael P. Dover, National DAV Chaplain, DAV Magazine, January/February 2015



Jan 09


Skip BowenHanging up the uniform need not mean walking away from the opportunity to continue to serve others.  There are a number of efforts that have emerged in recent years as a way to enable veterans to continue to serve their communities and their country.

Recently, I learned about the U.S. Coast Guard Retiree to FEMA Reservist Initiative, spawned through conversations about how Coast Guard retirees can help meet the disaster response personnel needs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  I asked Charles “Skip” Bowen, former Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard, to share the background on this new program.

VSB: Tell us about this innovative initiative and how it came together.

Bowen: As a new co-chair of the Commandant of the Coast Guard National Retiree Council, I was looking for ways that Coast Guard retirees could “give back” by applying the experience they gained during their military service. Throughout my own Coast Guard career, I took pride knowing that I was part of a humanitarian service; search & rescue and emergency response are the missions that initially attracted me to the Coast Guard and are largely why I remained for so much of my career. I know that many Coast Guard retirees share my desire to continue to serve by applying our training and skills where they are most needed.

During my research, I learned that FEMA — one of our sister agencies within the Department of Homeland Security — is experiencing a personnel shortage in its Reserve program.  Over 2700 FEMA Reserve positions are vacant.

I know that many Coast Guard retirees share my desire to continue to serve by applying our training and skills where they are most needed.

After further exploration and many conversations with respected colleagues, it became clear that Coast Guard retirees’ experience in disaster response, rescue, hazardous material handling, survivor support and recovery operations could bring a reliable and dedicated source of support to help meet FEMA’s current response and recovery needs.

Our dialogue led to the creation of the U.S. Coast Guard Retiree to FEMA Reservist Initiative.

This effort is intended to increase “the depth, reliability and skill set of FEMA’s incident workforce … (by enhancing) its corps of intermittent employees who serve on the ground during disasters…” 

The Initiative provides an opportunity for Coast Guard retirees to support one of several Incident Workforce Cadres. These include, but are not limited to, roles in acquisitions, disaster emergency communications, disaster field training operations, hazard mitigation, logistics, safety and security.


VSB: Are there any prerequisites to be eligible to participate? Is there specific training that will be required?

Bowen:  While there is no age restriction, FEMA’s Conditions of Employment includes the following stipulation: I understand the Agency may ascertain the fitness of applicants as to health, character, knowledge and ability before appointing them to the Reservist Program.

Once a Coast Guard retiree is accepted, he or she will participate in an in-house FEMA training program. FEMA Reservists are trained and qualified to perform a myriad of tasks during a disaster response.  When they are deployed, Reservists will be reimbursed for travel and paid as intermittent FEMA employees.


VSB: How can veterans from the other Armed Forces lend their support to this new program?

Bowen:  Reaching out to Coast Guard retirees will serve as Phase I and “proof of concept” for a larger initiative targeting all military veterans. During the second phase, our Council will work with FEMA to reach out to retirees from the other Armed Forces.  Phase 3 will entail a targeted effort toward all military veterans in general and to wounded warriors in particular.


VSB: Where can our readers learn more about this opportunity?

Bowen: Interested Coast Guard retirees can learn more about how they can help fill a critical need in FEMA’s disaster response and recovery capabilities by visiting:


Nov 11

Honoring Veterans 365 Days a Year

Though it has become commonplace for civilians to thank military members in uniform for their service, a deeper acknowledgement and appreciation of veterans’ sacrifices and experiences occur with far less frequency.

At a certain level, it is difficult for those who have not served in one of the five Armed Forces to truly understand the life or death decisions that have to be made in an eye-blink, often with irreversible consequences. Or to appreciate the difficult responsibility of letting parents know their young soldier is not coming home again. Or to know what it means to train for months and years to become part of a team of people who will put their own lives on the line to keep each other out of harm’s way and achieve the intended mission.

At a certain level, it is difficult for those who have not served in one of the five Armed Forces to truly understand the life or death decisions that have to be made in an eye-blink, often with irreversible consequences.

Is it any wonder that, upon separation from military service, many veterans feel as though they have been left alone on an island, uncertain about their own next steps? It takes more than the offer of a job or a “thank you” on Veteran’s Day to truly honor service members no longer wearing the uniform.

It takes more than the offer of a job or a “thank you” on Veteran’s Day to truly honor service members no longer wearing the uniform.

Here is how you can make a difference in the life of a transitioning veteran:


  1. Become a mentor. Listen to concerns, be a sounding board, provide guidance and remain a solid presence in the veteran’s life; don’t abandon ship once the vet has landed a job.
  2. As an employer, once you hire a veteran, make sure your on-boarding program goes beyond the typical administrative focus on leave policies. Give the individual time to meet co-workers, ask questions, learn the overall agency/corporate mission and understand the new culture.
  3. The sooner you can engage the veteran as a contributing member of a productive team, the smoother the workplace transition will be, regardless of rate or rank.
  4. Find ways to engage veterans in the community. Nonprofit organizations will find that veterans, on the whole, have much to contribute as board members, hands-on volunteers and in other capacities. Take the time to connect with veterans and let them know their time, expertise and engagement is truly welcome.
  5. Remind the veterans you know that you “have their six.” Whether you are a family member, friend, relative or neighbor, let transitioning veterans know you are ready to look out for them and their families in whatever way you are able.

Let’s show our veterans that honoring their service to country is what we do 365 days a year; let them know they are not alone in their journey back to civilian life.

Sep 23

Tough Love from a Retired Navy Vet

SultanRecently, I came across some “tough love” advice from career transition and LinkedIn expert, Sultan Camp, who writes a monthly blog and shares his perspective as a recruiter on Twitter and through other social media. I asked Sultan to share some of his thoughts with our readers:

VSB: Many senior military leaders struggle with how to begin developing a civilian job search strategy while, at the same time, still giving their all to the military service that has been their professional and personal home for so many years. What advice would you give to help these leaders avoid waiting until days before retirement to start working on what comes next? 

Camp: Let’s imagine that you’ve been given an OPORDER to deploy to a hostile environment. Would you wait until you’ve set the navigation detail or started your deployment to begin developing your OPLAN training, assessment, evaluation, and tracking the metrics on your PO&AM? Of course not, yet that’s what a lot of senior military professionals do every single day when it comes to their own transitions.

When you receive your OPORDER to separate from Active Duty, it will be one of your most challenging assignments: deployment to a “place” you have never been before. Preparing two years in advance is generally agreed upon as being optimum. That way you can gather intelligence, practice training scenarios, get evaluated, review lessons learned, receive feedback and track your progress.

We are in an era where the Federal Government is shedding jobs at a historic rate; competition for Federal jobs is literally pitting Veterans against civilians. Terms such as “Lowest Price Technically Acceptable” and “sequestration” are common place in today’s world of shrinking defense budgets and reduced contracts.


VSB:  You’ve been quoted as saying that a senior military leader’s resume should not be a history paper, filled with details designed to showcase an illustrious military career? What strategies would recommend instead?


1. Find one of your peers who has recently transitioned and gotten hired. Ask to see his or her resume that was used to get the job. You may find that there are components of it that would be relevant to you as well, but at the same time, it will be important to make it contextual and unique to reflect who you are and the talents you bring to a prospective employer.

2. You may also want to ask your colleague HOW he or she got the job. I’m pretty sure that you’ll quickly discover something that you already know. In both the public and private sectors, it’s NETWORKING that will get you those opportunities.

3. Don’t wait until you have 90 days left to start “testing” your resume; this puts you at a huge disadvantage. Even though hiring managers won’t seriously want to hear from you until you are 90 days out, start applying for positions about 6-8 months away from your availability date to “test the waters” so that you can see if you get any callbacks requesting interviews. If you’re not getting calls or are only getting calls for sales positions, that’s a true indication that your resume is failing you. Better to find that out sooner rather than later.

 Don’t wait until you have 90 days left to start “testing” your resume; this puts you at a huge disadvantage.

VSB: What are some of the best ways senior leaders in transition can market themselves to stand out from their military and civilian competition?

 Camp: Each day, 600-800 service members are  transitioning off of active duty, which means that at least 150-200 officers leave the service every day. Translation: You are going to have to stand out from both your military and civilian competition.

One way to do that is to leave your rank at home and push yourself to get out and meet people. I know that this can be difficult. You worked hard to reach this point in your military career, but trust me when I tell you that those of us on this side of the uniform can tell when someone is wearing their rank even if they are wearing a business suit and it does not leave a good impression. As you network, in person and online, make it a point to listen more than you speak; learn more about the people that you meet and discover ways to help them. One of the best ways to do this is to ask “What are the biggest challenges that you are addressing in your current role?” Offer to help and then do what you say that you’re going to do.

Develop a reputation as a linchpin or connector outside of the military.

In addition, make the effort to join and participate in at least two professional organizations. For example, you may want to consider joining one with a military affiliation, such as the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and then join another one that reflects your intended industry. Ideally you should try to do this 24 months in advance of your transition. One or two evenings invested each month will yield more return in terms of gaining industry insight and, more importantly, building your reputation and network outside the military. Also, consider LinkedIn Groups as a virtual way of doing this, but, don’t let it be a substitute for in-person networking.

On a final note, get past your reservations, learn as much as you can and embrace the use of all of the Social Networking Sites as a Professional (yes, that includes Facebook and Twitter).

 You worked hard to reach this point in your military career, but trust me when I tell you that those of us on this side of the uniform can tell when someone is wearing their rank even if they are wearing a business suit

VSB: Any other advice you’d like to offer?

Camp: Realize the importance that geographic flexibility plays in terms of income, types of jobs and employability. I know that the temptation is to “buy the house and settle down once and for all.” However, when location becomes your top priority, it means that salary and the type of job take a number two and three ranking. I understand that this may be unavoidable because of family considerations, but any recruiter can tell you that the more flexible you are in your transition, the more opportunities you can create and that may be opened up to you.

Secondly, as you build your network, find ways of keeping in touch. Social networking helps in this endeavor. You can periodically post relevant articles, maybe even create a blog that would be of interest to those in your online networks.

Create a 360 degree professional network by going to LinkedIn and searching for those old Commands or units that you were attached to using the search bar. Then take a look at the profiles that show up in the search results. Chances are, that young O-3 or E-5 who separated four, six or 10 years ago may now be in a position to link you to a great civilian career opportunity.

Finally, get out there and start building your business wardrobe and start wearing it as you network (hint: ditch the uniform). You’ll be amazed how much this simple act will help you in your mental preparation to hang up the uniform and make you more approachable by civilians.

Sultan Camp is a 20-year Navy veteran, a recruiter with Orion International and is based in Norfolk, VA. Feel free to contact him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @careersultan.. Sultan works with Navy candidates who are 4-18 months from transition who are planning their career search and preparing for their transition from Active Duty.

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