How A Retiring Infantry Officer Can Start A Career Transition

March 2004

by

Randall Scasny

This past month I was posed the following question on three occasions:

"I am beginning my career transition. I had a satisfying career as an Infantry Officer but how do I translate that into a meaningful, well-paying job in private industry?"

The first person posed this question to me by email. I responded to him with some ideas of how to begin. Then a second person emailed me.

I bumped into the third person while we were both waiting on a Saturday afternoon in a very crowded auto parts store. He was waiting to buy an oxygen sensor for his son's car; I was waiting for a windshield wiper motor (I know...I thought they never fail, too!).

By the end of our long conversation--he asked me a zillion questions about career transitions--I realized the question merited a deeper treatment.

What was common about all three people was that they all emphasized the words "meaningful" and "well-paying." I got the impression they would not just take any old job. They were prepared to find the right one even if it took a while. This is the textbook definition of a career transition.

Where do I begin trying to answer this important question?

I'm a firm believer in taking the path of least resistance to start and seeing where it takes you. That path starts with learning where their vet friends and colleagues are getting jobs in private industry. These people can help because they have lead the way by example. A career transition could very well begin and end with a friend's referral. It could as simple as that.

Another way to begin is by asking another question: Where are a lot of veterans getting hired? The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a press release in January this year that answers the question.

New veteran hires by the Federal government increased by 19.2 percent over the past year, says the OPM press release.

The OPM release goes on to say: "For the second year in a row the new hires of veterans in the Federal government showed strong improvement. Over the past year, new veteran hires increased by 19.2 percent. Veterans represent 17 percent of all new hires in the Federal Government and 26 percent of all full-time permanent new hires" (OPM, January 5, 2004).

You can go ot the OPM website (see reference below) to read the entire press release but I think you get the picture. Lots of veterans find employment with Uncle Sam. This is another good good place for our Infantry Officer to start. He may find just what he is looking for with the Federal Government.

But what if our Infantry Officer does not find any job that he considers meaningful at the right salary with Uncle Sam? What should he do next?

Then his career transition turns a corner.

He now has to search for an organization in private industry that needs his kind of background, experience, skills and, most importantly, his kind of attitude and ambition. For some people, this is a direct path; for others, not so direct.

I did some research to find out how workers, in general, start a career transition. I went to a number of job-hunting websites, those that cater to veterans and those that do not.

The answers I found were surprising.

The non-veteran websites basically claimed our Infantry Officer had to begin "networking." Okay. But with whom does he network with? "Networking" is the super-buzz word of every job-hunting guru, recruiter or consultant but few of these folks really tell you how to do it. So much for understanding veterans!

The vet websites answered the question as if they were a drill instructor shouting an order: Your career transition comes down to three things: Money, Geography and Job Title. Decide how much money you want to make, where you want to live and look for a job you are qualified for. Then go for it!

Well, I won't say this is totally wrong advice. But I have not found this strategy plan alone to be necessarily right, either.

When I read the Money-Geography-Job Title strategy, I get the feeling that job-hunting is being equated to a procedure for, say, cleaning your weapon or side arm in the field: disassemble-clean-reassemble. For most people, a career transition is simply not a 1-2-3 process.

Prior to deciding on money, geography or a job title, our Infantry Officer needs to do some career-transition prep work. This work is a three-step process:

  • Communication
  • Competition
  • Industry Sector

Let's examine these three steps and come to understand why they are (i) important to a career transition and (ii) why they must be answered prior to applying for a job or looking for a home and a "well-paying" career.

Communication

I'll start this important section by asking a question: What does an old sailor like myself know about being an Infantry Officer?

Do I really know enough about what an Infantry Officer does to advise him or her on his career transition?

Well, a long time ago, I was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a year and was "volunteered" by my C.O. for infantry training. I learned to fire and operate all kinds of weapons.

I spent most of 1982 in Beirut, Lebanon on an amphibious ship. I had a bird's eye view of how terrorism can destroy a country.

Do these experiences qualify me?

I'm sorry to disappoint you but the only honest answer I can give is No Way!

Like most civilians, I have only a vague notion of what our infantry men and women go through to perform their jobs and to survive. Even though my Dad was in the infantry in World War II, a veteran of campaigns in Italy and North Africa, I can only guess what he really went through because he was quite tight-lipped about his experiences, like many men of his generation. War does that to you.

I'm revealing these factoids of my life to make a bigger point.

Like myself, very few hiring or human resources managers know what an Infantry Officer does. Most are intelligent, well-educated university graduates who sit in offices, attend trade shows, go to meetings and interview potential employees.

Qualified or not, these people are the judges and juries of our Infantry Officer's career transition. To judge him fairly, these managers must be told by our Infantry Officer what he or she is capable of doing relative to an employer's needs. Our Infantry Officer must acknowledge this and communicate his aptitudes and job skills in an appropriate and understandable fashion.

All career transitions begin with communication.

If you were to sit in my chair, reviewing resumes and cover letters, I'd tell you emphatically: Communication is a difficult task. It takes a lot of effort to do it effectively.

Let's see how we can make it easier. Let's go through a process that takes us from our Infantry Officer's military experience and learn which skills and experiences transfer to civilian employment as well as areas of private industry that really need his particular skills and aptitudes.

To begin we need to make some lists: Take a sheet of paper, divide it into three columns. The columns should have the headings: Knowledge, Direct Experience, General Experience.

The Knowledge column should be a list of anything our Infantry Officer knows well enough to say "I am competent" to "I am an expert."

The Direct Experience column should be a list of the day-to-day activities of his job.

The General Experience column should be a list of the general background one needs to accomplish the items in Column 2.

Here's an example:

Knowledge Direct Experience General Experience
1. Munitions
2. Artillery
3. Firearms
4. Sports
5. Fitness
6. Mechanics
7. Maintenance
8. Surveying
9. Safety
10. Construction
1. Close quarters fighting
2. Concealment and camoflauge
3. Counter-terrorism tactics
1. Supervision
2. Equipment maint.
3. Leadership

By performing this exercise, we have found that Column 1 is a "rough" list of the private industry sectors or sub-sectors that our Infantry Officer could find employment in. These industry sectors normally consist of hundreds of companies; in other words, there is plenty of opportunity in private industry for our Infantry Officer. This list will be used later in this article.

Column 2 lists the military skills he needed to perform his job as an Infantry Officer.

Column 3 is a list of the general skills needed to perform the job tasks in Column 2. These are areas of direct interest to a civilian employer. These are his transferable skills. Many times they will be called "Required Qualifications."

Competitiveness

I hear many frustrated job hunters complain that there is something wrong with the system. When queried why they think so, they generally say, "I have the experience and the skills but still no one calls me for an interview."

I can empathize with them. I had the same feeling until I had a revealing experience many years ago.

Back then I sent out my resume in response to a newspaper ad. A few days later I received a call by the company's personnel office. The office secretary said she wanted me to come in to take a test. After five years of experience, I didn't think I needed to take a test. Besides, I had another job offer. So I told her I wasn't interested. She was surprised! She told me that my resume was chosen from 100 others. "I mean you only have to take the test and you'll get the job. The test is a formality. Believe me, I heard them talking..." she said.

I never went in to take the test. However, the exchange made me aware for the first time how job skills are only a part of an employer's hiring decision. Competitiveness between other job hunters is what gets people hired.

To be competitive you not only have to be qualified but your skills have to stand out, relative to other job hunters, to make an employer's top 10 list of people to be interviewed.

Here's how we can put the lists we created in the last section to good use and articulate for our Infantry Officer his competitiveness.

We'll need to create another table.

In Column 1, we will write down the General Experiences we listed in the last exercise. These are the transferable skills our Infantry Officer has to offer a civilian employer.

In Column 2, we will ask our Infantry Officer about the experiences in Column 1. We want him to describe or give examples of these experiences when he performed exceptionally well. (I'm only giving one possible example.)

In Column 3, we will ask him what kind of organizations would really need the particular abilities he listed in Column 2.

Here's an example:

General Experience Exceptional Performance Who Needs You?
1.Supervision
2.Equipment maintenance
3.Leadership
1. I supervised a team of 10 men in a dangerous operation that required strict adherence to safety procedures and unrelenting attention to detail.
1. Businesses where financial success depends on safety rules and attention to detail.

This is a focusing exercise. We go beyond job skills and qualifications to discover what about his transferable military skills are unique, hence, valuable. Upon answering this question, we take a shot at trying to judge what kinds of companies really need what our Infantry Officer has to offer.

In the particular example I cited, we took his supervisory abilities and gave an example of how he performed well. We discovered that safety and attention to detail are two ways his supervisory skills can stand out.

Finally, we determined that his greatest value would be for a company who's business success hinges upon safety and attention to detail. He will use this finding in our final prep section: Industry Sector.

Industry Sector

The other day I was doing some business in Chicago's Sears Tower when I heard three middle-aged men dressed in business suits talk about their careers. One of them said, "I worked at American Express, Hutton, Fidelity before I went over to Keystone and ended up at McLaughlin Piven & Vogel." The men smiled and nodded their heads when the elevator doors opened and stepped out.

This little anecdote is a good way to open up this section on Industry Sectors. This conversation is common shop talk in private industry. All the companies the man cited were in the Financial Services industry sector. All the men knew them well. Why?

While civilians may change jobs often, they rarely stray from the industry sector they have a history with. People change jobs and go to work for a competitor in the same industry sector. People change jobs to work in a different capacity in the same line of business. People change jobs because they were enticed by a friend or ex-colleague who is building a "team" at another company in the same kind of business.

My point is this: you may need to change jobs, positions, titles, or companies in private industry, but rarely will you change industry sectors unless you are undergoing a career transition.

By determining which private industry sectors would be in need of our Infantry Officer's skills and experience, he will reap two important benefits:

  • He obtains the necessary business context which is at the heart of a career transition.
  • He will obtain the necessary information to expand his career opportunities, which means one thing--control of his transition.

These goals cannot be accomplished by focusing too early on applying for particular positions (job titles) without respect to an industry sector.

So, what is a private industry sector?

It is a body of many for-profit companies and non-profit organizations that serve a consumer base's needs for a particular product or service.

For example, Microsoft and IBM are part of the Information Technology sector. Whirlpool and Maytag are important members of the Home Appliance sector.

The organizations in an industry sector many times serve different functions. Generally. they are defined as: original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), major and minor suppliers, wholesalers, distributors and dealers.

Most of the time, the companies compete against each other to obtain the consumer's favor. In other instances, they will bond together to promote the needs of the industry, such as, with industry trade associations. This promotion can be on different levels. Generally, they boil down to industry design standards, governmental lobbying activities, and public interest advertising.

An industry sector is much like a military service branch, while a company or organization is similar to duty station within a service branch. All together, the organizations that make up the industry sector serve the needs of the consumer, just like the duty stations serve the overall mission of the service branch.

For our Infantry Officer, our goal is simple: We want to determine which industry sectors are the most likely to need our Infantry Officer, based upon his skills and special aptitudes relative to the industry's needs. Then, he can "divide and conquer" and create a plan to explore opportunities in each sector until he finds the one that has the greatest career potential.

To do this, we need one more (last) table.

In column 1, we will repeat the Knowledge list we created in the first table (as well as any other Knowledge factors our Infantry Officer has thought of since then.)

In column 2, we will repeat the Who Needs You? list we created in the second table.

In column 3, we will select which Knowledge factors really match the requirements of the Who Needs You? column. This column is called Targeted-Industry Sectors.

Here's an example:

Knowledge Who Needs You? Targeted-Industry Sectors
1. Munitions
2. Artillery
3. Firearms
4. Sports
5. Fitness
6. Mechanics
7. Maintenance
8. Surveying
9. Safety
10. Construction
1. Businesses where financial success depends on safety rules and attention to detail.
1. Firearms
2. Safety
3. Construction

This final table is a pruning exercise. Remember, at the beginning of our investigation, we listed the Knowledge areas of our Infantry Officer. These were a rough list of Industry sectors he could seek employment in.

But this rough list does not take into account the competitiveness factor we determined in the middle of this investigation. Now it does.

In the Column 3, we selected only those Knowledge areas that appear to really need his special aptitudes listed in column 2. (Yes, we are making a judgment call here. But this isn't the first time our Infantry Officer has had to make one, right?)

For example, we did not include Sports and Fitness in the list of Targeted-Industry Sectors. Why? Sure, he is probably knowledgeable about this industry but is he highly competitive? But from what we know, would his resume stand out from others? Is this an industry that depends on the strict adherence to safety rules and attention to detail? Probably not.

Sports and Fitness is an entertainment and health-related industry. They are selling to consumers: fun, relaxation, amusement and a healthy body. It just doesn't fit his special aptitudes. However, the firearm or safety inspection industry would be concerned about safety and attention to detail. So, it has been included in the Targeted-Industry list.

What's the next step?

Our Infantry Officer should pursue only those Targeted-Industry Sectors that are likely to perceive him as highly competitive.

Once he has selected the appropriate industry sectors, he can begin his transition by researching these sectors.

He should learn what are the major and minor companies within the sectors. He should learn about any trade associations that promote the businesses and the professional development of the workers within these sectors. Trade associations are good places to start the "networking" process.

As for job titles?

Go to both public job-hunting websites (such as MilitaryHire.com) and the companies' websites themselves to see what jobs are posted and learn what nomenclature they use to describe positions that match our Infantry Officer's skills, interests and abilities. He will learn how the employer defines the job and what their requirements are. By doing this he will be building industry context that is so essential for a career transition to be successful.

As for geography?

When he goes to these websites, he will learn where the jobs are located. He will start learning where an industry's geographic hubs are. He then can make some decisions of where he may need to relocate to upon retirement.

This strategy is much better than selecting a location and seeing what is available once he has moved there. Too often, vets move to places that do not have a great need of their particular skills.

As for resumes and cover letters?

We've hit the jackpot! The information we have gathered from this investigation can be used in both our Infantry Officer's resume and cover letter.

Resume: The Knowledge factors form the basis of the resume's keywords. The Exceptional Performance factors can be used to describe his career achievements and major accomplishments.

Cover Letters: By taking the list of Targeted Industry Sectors and his Exceptional Performance factors, he can write an industry-targeted cover letter whose theme revolves around one or two of his exceptional performance factors.

This type of letter is very effective because it means (i) the job hunter has done his homework, (ii) he knows more about the business than most job applicants (he's highly competitive) and (iii) his exceptional performance factors are just what they need.

Obtaining A Meaningful and Well-Paying Job

Now we are ready to answer the question that we posed at the beginning of this article: How can our Infantry Officer find a "meaningful and well-paying job?"

Over the years, I have found that when workers perform exceptionally well, they feel good about themselves and these good vibes spread throughout their work and personal life. Their lives (by osmosis, so to speak) become meaningful.

By standing back and performing the investigation I have outlined in this article, you will learn what job tasks you have accomplished exceptionally well; seeking out only those jobs that focus on these sort of job tasks will give our Infantry Officer the meaningful career he or she desires.

Now for the paydirt!

The investigation we covered in this article helped our Infantry Officer to determine what areas of private industry really need his kind of aptitudes and abilities. These are the areas where he will be highly competitive.

When a future employer sees you as highly competitive, I have found over the years, the whole job hunt tone and equation changes. They start hunting for you. Now you have some leverage. Now you have some power in the employment negotiations. And, finally, now you can ask for a salary that you consider well-paying.

If an employer wants you he is saying he needs you. And if he needs you, he knows you will help him make money and improve his business. If he believes you merit a well-paying salary, you will get it. But you have to ask for it.

Good Luck In Your Job Search!

References

Note: These references are links to articles or websites I've discussed in this article.


Disclaimer
All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of MilitaryHire.com or the publisher.

Copyright 2003 Randall Scasny. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.