Transition Risk Management Requires Parallel Planning

Slow is smooth,

I took a big step towards retirement last week by submitting my request to attend TAP (Transition Assistance Program) in August.  The course is designed to assist service members in the transition process and members are allowed to attend as soon as 24 months prior to retirement and you can attend multiple times. Unfortunately most do not take advantage of these opportunities. My intention is to attend here at Fort Meade and then take another class closer to my retirement date.  Hopefully by that time I have a better idea of where I might end up.

As I’ve noted before, the process of transition can be nerve racking, particularly if you’re not sure which area of the country you want to end up in.  For us it’s really come down to either Maryland or North Carolina.  For this reason, I am planning to do the second TAP class in Camp Lejeune (NC) if necessary.

I’ve gone through my military career working on the premise of parallel planning, and this situation is no different.  In the military we got ORM (Operational Risk Management) drilled into our heads……now it’s time for some Transitional Risk Management or “TRM”.

During my career I often counseled my Sailors to “Do what you can, when you can” when they were frustrated with the pace at which they were arriving at their personal goals.  I told them it was about what you did with the opportunities in front of you.  The key was to be ready for them and not let them slip away without taking action.  At the same time, not to lament the opportunities that were not currently in front of them.   I still stand by the advice. And right now, all I can do is plan, network, and lay the groundwork that will enable me to capitalize on future opportunities.

My parallel planning involves looking at both locations.  Each has its pro’s and con’s, and I need to be equally prepared for either.

My TRM plan focuses on the following topics (listed in no particular order).

Job Prospects For Me

Baltimore/DC has a great deal of organizations and I believe I could secure a position in the general fields of staffing, training, or another HR discipline.  I took the assignment to recruit physicians in Baltimore for a number of reasons, one of which was because of the opportunity to establish a good reputation in the civilian sector.  I like to think I’ve done that.  I’ve been active in local community events and have a number of advocates in the area.

Traditional employment opportunities for me in Jacksonville, on the other hand, are a little more limited, with government contract work being the most likely option.  To be honest, though, there are relatively few of those jobs that I would be interested in.

I, like probably everyone else in the world, want to do something that I have a passion for.  For me, that happens to be setting people up for future success.  This may be through staffing, or training, or even some opportunity yet undiscovered.  My hope is that by thinking ahead, I can avoid having to take “any job that pays the bills”.

I am also looking at opportunities in Wilmington, NC which is a 30-45 minute commute from Jacksonville.  It’s a bigger market that Jacksonville, but not as big as the Baltimore/DC area.  I also don’t have an existing network there (yet).

Finally, while Jacksonville, NC does not offer as many opportunities to for civilian employment, it does provide a better climate for starting my own small business.  After living there for ten years, I still have a strong network and see potential for success in that arena (another story for a future post).

Job Prospects For My Wife

This transition is more than just mine, it’s a transition for the entire family.  My wife is a registered nurse and has recently started working in a new position as an office manager for a physician’s office.  For the first time in a long time, she has a Monday through Friday schedule.  Just as with any great position, this was something that she was offered through solid networking and establishing herself as a smart, hardworking nurse.  Her business background and pending completion of a Masters in Nurse Education made her a great fit for the practice.  She absolutely loves the people she works with and would hate to leave.  At this point, her current job is certainly one of the biggest reasons we think about staying in Maryland.

On the other hand, once she completes her Masters in Nursing Education, that degree carries more weight in a rural area such as Jacksonville than it does in Maryland.  MSN’s are literally a dime a dozen around here, and she has no desire to pursue a PhD at this time.  It is good that she also maintained a good network in Jacksonville in the event we head back there, In addition, opportunities exist for her in Wilmington with many of the same issues (good and bad) facing her as were mentioned above for me.

Food and Shelter

Retirement pay is the same no matter where I live and the estimated $2,000 a month I will get will go further in NC.  In fact, that money will more than cover the mortgage payment on the house we already own in North Carolina (and really like).  We are currently renting in Maryland, and although we don’t particularly want to remain in this home after the lease is up, we have been ecstatic about the community.  Schools have been great, people have been great, and there are a TON of things to do here.

Without an actual job offer, however, it’s impossible to estimate how much money I would be making, and therefor very difficult to house hunt. The fact that our VA loan is tied up in the house in Jacksonville, NC makes purchasing a new home a bit more of a financial challenge as well.  Renting would likely be our best option at first, but one thing about retirement that we are looking forward to is settling down. Renting would not really do that for us.

The Way Ahead

So we trudge on with our parallel plans.  I continue to network in the Baltimore area like this is where I will stay and continue to keep up with the happenings in North Carolina as if that is where I will go.  I attend the job fairs here and subscribe to job boards with email updates for the Wilmington/Jacksonville area.  My wife continues to work hard at her position, not only on a daily basis, but also in helping to craft long term solutions for the office.  The key is to work at each job like you plan on keeping it forever.  If we stay, she remains at a thriving and successful work place. If we leave, she walks out with terrific references and an impressive resume that lists accomplishments as well as responsibilities.

I think the best thing about living and working here, is that we have both learned a lot through our professional relationships. The mantra of “work hard and be nice to people” is always good advice. It got  my wife the great job she has now and is positioning me for similar opportunities if we remain here.  In the event we return to NC, the experiences will have made both of us smarter, more well-rounded, professionals.

GWR-11x14-Serenity Prayer (1)

My plan is to retire from the Navy in the summer of 2014. Doing so would allow me to take terminal leave (use up all my saved vacation days) and, in effect, stop working for the Navy around April or May.  Since I still haven’t requested a date, I could still conceivably move it up if the right job comes along, however. One thing is for sure, we know the next year will be a roller coaster.

Whenever I get frustrated about the things I don’t yet know I just fall back on something they repeated over and over in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Class, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”.  That saying keeps me moving forward. The Serenity Prayer keeps me sane.  I have to believe that slow and steady will win the race.

Networking With Civilians: Four Steps To Effective Sea Stories

Networks are groups of people who know you, not just people who know you exist.  One of the best way to become a real person in the eyes of others is to talk about your experiences and ideas.  Face to face conversation are the chance for you to add context and depth to your experiences in a way that a one page resume can not.

"Old Salts" swapping sea stories in 1888.  Today good conversations are the key to building a strong network.

“Old Salts” swapping sea stories in 1888. Today good conversations are the key to building a strong network.

One tradition in the Navy is that of a ‘Sea Story”.  Often times they take the form a of a parable, other times they may be purely technical.  Either way, a good sea story serves a purpose. In a similar way the skill of delivering a good sea story can benefit us as we develop our network.

The following four recommendations will help ensure your sea story gets the most bang for its buck.

1. TIMING IS EVERYTHING.  One of my favorite quotes from the guys at Manager Tools is: “Communication is what the listener does.”  If a person isn’t ready for the message, don’t deliver it.  Sometimes this has to do with time, or environment, but it also may have to do with the receivers state of mind.  Networking early enables you to let people know that, while you will be transitioning out of the service soon, you’re not actually looking for a job right now. This is game changer for the other persons state of mind, particularly at networking events.

The minute you tell people that you are currently “looking for a job”, that changes the dynamics of a conversation.  It puts pressure on the other person, even if you don’t intend it to. The vast majority of people will genuinely want to  help, but will probably not have anything for you right away.  Even if they do know about someone or something in their network that may be a good fit, they will likely be hesitant to risk their reputation by recommending someone they just met.  Saying, “Hi I’m Bob and I just got out of the Navy and need a job”, is a conversation killer, not a conversation starter, especially at a social event.

I’ve found that once I tell people that I am still nine to twelve moths away from separation they tend to become a little more open.   There is no longer any pressure for immediate action on their part which then allows the conversation to continue at a normal pace.  The 900 pound elephant in the room is gone and they will usually begin to ask more questions about what it is that I do and how I do it.  Now they are getting to know me as a person and as a professional, not as a charity case.

2. REFINE YOUR DELIVERY. One of the the things I learned in my years as an instructor/trainer is that it’s OK to repeat yourself.  Each class was a new canvas and a new opportunity to refine the message.  Whether I was describing a tension pneumothorax or telling a story about the time I had dinner at the home of a local Afghan village leader, the more often I told it, the better I got at delivering the message.  Reaching into your network early provides the same opportunities to refine your delivery to target your audience. (Note: This is NOT the time to exaggerate or tell stories unrelated to your profession.)

When people ask about what you do, seek to deliver the response in a manner that they understand.  That sets the groundwork for commonality.  Instead of telling people that I’m a “Hospital Corpsman” or an “Officer Recruiter”, I say, “I find doctors for the Navy. ”  If I’m dealing with other HR Professionals I might add the phrase, “Mostly through campus recruitment of undergraduates for medical school scholarships, but also through some lateral recruitment of practicing physicians, as well.” This allows me to let them know that I do both types of recruitment.  The point is to target your response for effectiveness, and effectiveness is defined by quickly  getting them to understand what you do.

3. LET THEM TALK.  Don’t let your “sea story” or “elevator pitch” run on too long, however.  The idea is to have a conversation, not to provide a lecture.  After you tell them what you do and how you do it, be polite and ask them the same question.  If you don’t immediately understand what they do, then ask more questions about it.  This is a time to not only educate the civilians about what you do, but also to educate yourself about what they do.

Remember the search is for commonality not to remind them of how different you are.  If you don’t learn about what it is they do, and how they do it, you may miss an opportunity to connect your experiences with theirs.  Learning about their job, and more importantly, how they do it, also gives you insight into the civilian professional world.  The more they talk, the more you learn the language of the industry.  Once you get home, don’t be afraid to do some research about the people, products, companies, and industries that you learned about during these conversations.  Closing the loop on one conversation will help you find commonality at the next opportunity.

4. OFFER YOUR SERVICES. Networking is about relationships, and relationships are a two way street. Should you meet someone with a strong connection to what it is that you do in the military, end the conversation with an offer to help in some way.  I like to tell people that if they ever have any questions about the military or veterans issues, they should feel free to reach out to me. If you’re at a networking event in which you trade contact information, doing this the next business day via email or LinkedIn is encouraged.  It sends the message that you are interested in maintaining a connection with that individual.  Now you’re  not just a person looking for a job, you’re a potential asset.

Following these four steps can help establish a deeper and more meaningful relationship, which is the key to a strong network.  Over time, it may even blossom into one strong enough that could enable your connection to genuinely recommend you for positions in their industry or possibly even a direct offer for employment.  At the very least, you will get the opportunity to continue to learn about what it takes to make yourself relevant in the civilian arena.

Networking Builds Bridges For All Vets

Any significant military training or deployment has three distinct phases. A Site Survey team goes out first to gather intelligence and report back to the group. Later an Advance Party Team is sent to set things up and if done properly, everyone hits the ground running once the Main Body arrives.  Of the three phases, the site survey is often the most undervalued.

Even when we deployed to far away places like Afghanistan, key leadership would fly halfway across the world to do some fact finding about the current situation on the ground and then come all the way back to tell everyone else about what they found.  In order to make this worth the time and money it was done early enough to allow for any last minute changes to training or plans prior to actually going in country.  The importance of the site survey is one of those things that many only recognize when it’s done poorly (or not at all).

A successful transition  to the civilian world also requires a site survey phase and to do it right means actually going where the action is, not just reading about it on the internet.  My site survey actually began when I started recruiting officers here in Baltimore.  The past ten years I had spent in Camp Lejuene, NC had insulated me from the rest of the country.  I needed to experience a bit of the civilian world, and officer recruiting was/is the perfect opportunity to do that.  

Doing this job well requires me to get out from behind the desk and meet people. Getting my message to the right people often requires working through other organizations bureaucracy. I keep in contact with career services directors and pre-medical advisers at the local colleges, and also residency coordinators and other administrative staff at the hospitals here in Baltimore.  In addition to being critical components of success for my current job, this has allowed me a great deal of “site survey” opportunity for the civilian world.

I also continue to seek out and take advantage of other opportunities that allow me to be physically present in the civilian world, not as a Sailor, but as an HR Professional, as often as possible. For example, a little over a year ago I joined the local group Baltimore Area Recruiting Network.    Since that time I’ve attended some of the meeting and socials sponsored by the group.  I also took a day of leave last fall and paid to attend the “Recruit Baltimore” conference (a terrific conference, by the way).

I’ve been able to see the similarities and the differences between military and civilian recruiting.  This has allowed me to play to my strengths now in order to establish a good reputation. At the same time, this “gap analysis” is showing me the areas of skill and knowledge I may need to brush up on before making the jump from one career to the next.

Network After Work event  in Minneapolis.  The one in Baltimore was definitely worth my time and money.  More military people should attend events like this in the year before the transition to the private sector.

Network After Work event in Minneapolis. The one in Baltimore was definitely worth my time and money. More military people should attend events like this in the year before the transition to the private sector.

This week I attended an event called “Network After Work“.  This brought together close to 200 people from the local area, put us in a nice bar, and provided name tags that were color coded by industry.  I’ll admit that I was initially skeptical.  I was afraid it would be simply a social outlet for the younger crowd, but I gave it a shot.  It turned out to be a great night, and well worth both my time and money.

The people were all friendly and professional. During the two and half hours I was there, I strengthened my existing network in some areas and was also able to expand it into others. I was happy to see an employee from P.K.W. Associates there, an organization that I was already impressed with through another contact.  This event provided me with another opportunity to learn more about her organization, while at the same time she learned more about me as a person.

I know that they are actively looking to tap into the veteran market and was able to offer some insights about that community.  I’ve helped them with this in the past, and they have helped me understand more about the world I’m looking to enter.  It’s truly a symbiotic relationship and I believe I can now confidently say that at PKW, I’m no longer “just a resume”.

I also had a chance to meet someone in the Leadership Development department at McCormick.  I struck up a conversation about how they accomplish that task and learned that it’s a course aimed at what are termed “high potential employees”  that must be nominated by their supervisors to attend.  In return, I was able to give her an overview of the way Navy Leadership Training works. I told her about some of the first person video vignettes that lead to our discussion based learning at each promotion level. We also talked about their on boarding program and I was able to compare that with out command indoc programs.  All in all, a short, but terrific conversation.  I’m smarter about McCormick, and she’s smarter about the Navy.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few years back with some junior Sailors who were frustrated at the disparity between working conditions of one department versus theirs.  By experience I had done both of the jobs for extended periods of time. I knew that the differences were both fair, and operationally necessary, but I also knew that on the surface it could be tough to appreciate.

I asked the Sailor, “Do you think they know how difficult your job is?”

“No way”, he answered.  “They don’t see all the stuff we do behind the scenes or understand just how complicated these tasks are.”

I replied. “So, if you are so certain they don’t understand your situation, what makes you think you know so much about their job?”

So it is with the military/civilian gap.  The more often you can do things to expand your network into the civilian sector, the better.  We need to learn about the civilian world, just as much as they need to learn about ours.  In fact, it’s incumbent on us to reach out to them.   Whenever we talk to people that are inside our industry (recruiting, medicine, logistics, etc), but outside the military, we increase the chances of all veterans finding employment. Each conversation helps bridge the communication and culture gap that currently exists. We owe it to ourselves and our peers to make this happen.

Accenture’s Military Career Coach: It’s Good To Go

The military Transition Assistance Program is often referred to as the class where you learn about the stuff you should have already done.  In order to avoid this feeling those of us that know we will be leaving the military need to start working on these skills well in advance.  One website I recently discovered that looks to have a ton of information to assist in the transition process was put together by Accenture, a Fortune 500 Management Consulting Firm. accenture military career coach

The Career Coach website is certainly extensive.  The information is broken down into ten categories and in each category content is provided through both print and video methods. It’s a wealth of information, but much like TAP Class, it’s the kind of stuff that will seem overwhelming if you wait too long to access it.

The first three topics: Planning, Networking, and Building Your Online Brand are particularly relevant for those of us still a ways out from retirement/separation.  Here, for example, you will find information about how to set up, and effectively use, LinkedIn to build a network.

Think of this as predeployment training plan for the next stage of your life.  Just as no unit should go into harms way without an extensive “work up period”,  we should not move from one career to next without doing the same.  To paraphrase our old boss Donald Rumsfeld; You retire with the network you have, not the network you wish you had.

One of the advantages of retiring from the military is that you can network and look for new jobs without having to hide it from your current employer (an issue for those in the civilian world).  Starting early and putting in the work bit by bit are keys to success.   We must remember that in terms of transitioning; slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Accenture’s Career Coach is an excellent road map for success.  Kudos to them for developing this tool.

NOTE: Accenture’s Military Career Coach, along with the social networkings site Rally Point was recently featured in a FoxNews story.