Five Things I Know (So Far)

When I began this blog seven months ago the purpose was to document my thoughts and experiences during the last year (or so) of my active duty time in the Navy.  As we draw down on 2013, I wanted to take some to reflect on my experience thus far.

First of all, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the project as a whole.  I’m particularly grateful whenever I hear from my friends that are still years away from retirement/separation.  The original purpose of this was to provide a platform to capture information in order to share it so that others may  succeed and I hope I’m accomplishing that.

 Back in my second post I described this transition process as trying to pull off a trapeze stunt without having the benefit of practice, seven months later that feeling remains. I’ve committed to the process and let go of the first swinging bar, and look forward to catching another.  It’s not a very comfortable feeling.  It’s a stage we all have to go through, though.

For those that have followed this blog from the beginning you may have noticed that the posts have become more advice oriented and less on personal reflections.  Getting some of my posts picked up by other organizations has been a big reason for this.  My article about the American Corporate Partnership was picked up by their website, and I’ve also had pieces shared by the local job board as well as the recruiter organization RecruitDC.

This success, though very moderate and with zero financial gain involved, has validated for me that my real passion lies in helping organizations succeed by recruiting, training, and retaining veteran talent.  Over the years I’ve come to see that making this happen is a two way street. We as veterans need to market ourselves correctly and organizations should continue to proactively seek out military members for employment.  I’ve seen first hand that there is good stuff happening on both sides of this equation.

I’m also convinced that there is room for improvement.  Hence, some of my posts have offered advice to veterans, and other posts have been aimed at exposing civilian organizations to the unique challenges of engaging a military audience. Working to bridge this gap is what I truly love to do and I look forward to helping individuals and/or organizations succeed by helping to get the right people into the right jobs.

Since it’s been a while since I wrote anything “personal” about my experience, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned.

1 Networking early and often is the key.  I can not stress enough how thankful I am to the many civilian individuals that I’ve come into contact with who have helped me.  They have provided great mentorship and even better they have always been quick to introduce to me to others.  Networking really is exponential and there are a ton of very good people in the world. As scary as it is now, I can’t imagine where I’d be without these individuals. Every success I’ve had in this process can be directly traced back to someone in my network.

2- There are some outstanding programs out there  and American Corporate Partners is a great one.  My mentor has given me a fresh perspective about career paths and the organization has been truly top notch.  I look forward to attending a specific ACP Networking event at the end of January.

One thought that continues to bounce around inside my head is the idea of striking out on my own. I’ve found the Small Business Administration has great information. I have also learned about an organization known as Score that provides local mentors for service members starting their own business. For those that are service disabled and looking to start your own business please check out the Entrepreneur Boot Campthis looks like an amazing program. (I don’t qualify, but it’s worth passing along.)

3- The amount of helpful outlets can be overwhelming. For example, LinkedIn has a ton of groups that offer career advice, many of them are very good, but there are so many it can be tough to keep up.  I was told that these are the key to building your network on LinkedIn and I should pick a couple and be active in the discussions forums. I’ve done that and it’s worked out just as I was told. I’m establishing myself as a “content creator” with “virtual footprint“, but sometimes I know that can get lost down the rabbit hole of LinkedIn.  There’s a lot of people, on a lot of sites, saying the same things,  to the same people.  Sometimes I just  need to remind myself I don’t need to be everywhere, all the time. I can’t read everything on the internet.  I also hope that this blog doesn’t fall into that category of just regurgitating the same information.

4- I know more than I think I do.  In all honesty, having the blog posts picked up by other organizations has been an ego boost. So has the feeling that I’ve become a subject matter expert, at least to some degree, for veterans and recruiters alike.  This has given me a lot of confidence. The more people tell you that you can do something, the more likely you are to succeed, and as an active duty person it’s very nice to get that validation from those in the private sector.

5- I don’t know everything. Despite point #4 above, there are still some things that I need to learn and experience.  Knowing this has led me to ask a lot of questions of a lot of people.  It’s what motivates me to attend professional events and do a lot of professional reading.  I think there is such thing as healthy amount of self awareness and that knowing our shortcomings is a critical component in preparing for the jump from Sailor to Civilian.

Over these past few months it’s become obvious that the transition process can happen very quickly, and yet at the same time seem painfully slow. I’ve always believed that you’re better off leaving the military because you are running to something, as opposed to running away from something and at this point I feel like I have found my focus in terms of what I want to do. For that I’m thankful.

Although the manner and location I ultimately do the work of connecting organizations with veteran talent is still undecided, I remain confident that it will all work out.  Terminal Leave starts in June of 2014 and my last day getting paid on active duty is August 31st, so I still have some time.

I hope that my thoughts thus far have been helpful to at least a few people and I look forward to continuing to share this experience with those so inclined to follow.

Seven months into this project, has anything been helpful?  Is there anything else you’d like to see addressed?  Let me know in the comments section.


Veteran: Innovation vs Standardization

Back in 2010 Harvard Business Review had a special issue largely focused on things the private world could learn from the military.  One of the articles in that issue that immediately stuck with me focused on the different leadership styles that each service cultivates.  The authors of Which Of These People Is Your Future CEO? essentially separated the services into Ground Pounders (Army and Marines) and Non Ground Pounders (Navy and Air Force).

Harvard Business Review November 2010

Harvard Business Review November 2010

The article took the position that the Army and the Marine Corps cultivates a spirit of innovation, while the other two focus on standards and process.

This is true at the macro 10,000 foot level, but may not always be the case at the individual level.

In general, the ground units do rely on the concept of Commanders Intent much more than the Air Force and Navy. For those unaware, the concept of Commanders Intent is a general mission statement that enables lower level personnel to adjust their course of action based upon the facts on the ground, even if they are not the facts they anticipated finding. (See the video below for an excellent example of a Two Minute example of commanders intent)

The saying “No plan survives contact with the enemy” is certainly a bit cliche, but it’s only cliche because it’s so true. Success in combat is measured by quickly and efficiently accomplishing the mission. Individuals are trained to think about the big picture, process the reality of the situation, formulate, and then execute a plan.

On the other hand, the authors reported that vast majority of people in the other services work in very technical fields maintaining ships and aircraft. These environments stress process.  For example, if your job is to ensure a properly functioning nuclear reactor or to repair the landing gear of an F-16, your boss will not be quick to let you off the hook for “trying something new”.  In this situation, success is defined as the absence of failure. Every time.  Without exception.

Both cultures produce very fine leadership styles based on their environment, but it would be a mistake to only apply them based only upon branch of service.  The Navy also has elements such as Seals and Riverine Boat Units that operate in an expeditionary environment, for example. These units are more amenable to the commanders intent style of leadership. The same can be said for the Air Force Para-Rescuers or ground security forces.  By the same token, a zero defect mentality about safety is as critical for Marine Corps and Army aviation units as it is Navy ships and Air Force aviation.

Personally, I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the Navy, but most of that has been serving in support of the Marine Corps ground forces and I’ve been very happy in that environment. I would not say that my years with the Marine Corps is responsible for my leadership style of commanders intent, but I do think that environment allowed me to flourish the most.  In so doing I was able to exercise the traits that were most natural to me.

Despite my inclination to one style over the other, I still completely appreciate the details of a process and the need for checklists. Organizations need both innovation and standardization.  I  know myself well enough, however, to doubt I would be happy in a job that has, as its primary responsibility, the task of ensuring compliance. Emotional intelligence can be a helpful trait in the job search.

Great things happen when the right person is in the right position.  That is why it’s important that we, as veterans, understand where we best operate then seek out those positions. At every opportunity we should highlight the specific character traits in detail, otherwise we are letting the hiring manager assume we have a particular leadership style and that decision might get made based upon our status as a veteran in general, and may not be entirely accurate.

At the same time, organizations that understand that these differences are not only based on branch of service will have a leg up on finding the right person for the task.  This means digging a little deeper than the HBR article. It means getting to know the intricacies of the job descriptions within each branch. It can also mean finding an exceptional sales leader or an terrific risk  manager. Two positions that require different talents, but both of which contribute to the bottom line success of a private organization.


The video below is an outstanding example of Commanders Intent.  The clip features the  Battalion Commander of 2d  BN, 8th Marines (my unit) as we went into Helmand Province in 2009. I can tell you that this was certainly not the first time these Marines had heard the idea of bringing the Afghan people closer to their government.  We had spent months training for the mission and that concept was drilled into our heads.

This would be the last time LtCol Christian Cabaniss would physically see or speak directly to most of these individuals over the next 6 months. They would face many decisions that would need to be made on the spot, in an environment in which there was no checklist or algorithm to go by and no time to call back and get their plan approved. Quite a lot of responsibility for a group of people, some as young as 19.

The clip was taken from the documentary film Hell and Back Again.

Sell Your Talent, Not Your Title

There’s a lot of PR going on right now around the topic of veteran hiring.  Private organizations are picking up on the terrific talent pool coming out of the armed forces and many even have specific outreach programs designed to attract recently separated military personnel.  Let’s be clear though, no one will hire us because we are veterans, they will hire us because we have something to offer their company.

If you’re still on active duty, look around your unit (if you’ve recently separated think back to your last one).  Do you believe everyone in that group was equally talented?  We as veteran job seekers can be quick to point out things like “NCO’s make great managers”, which is true.  But can you really say that every NCO you worked for was great? Can you even say that all of them were even adequate?  The same goes with every job and billet in the military. Not every Commanding Officer is an awesome leader. Not every Supply Officer can handle logistics in an exceptional manner. Not every technician is trusted to work on the most critical of equipment.

By definition, everyone in your unit is a veteran.  But not all of them are talented.

Veteran (adj) Talent (n)

In the military we focus on mission accomplishment for the unit, not necessarily the individual. This is why you may see a unit or staff function succeed even despite the obvious inadequacies of certain individuals.  I’ve seen officers that would never survive without their subordinates going above and beyond their job description. I’ve also seen officers put in ungodly amounts of extra supervision (and sometimes even hands on work) to make the mission succeed because they were dealt a lousy hand in terms of NCO’s.

In order to succeed on the job market then, we need to ensure we sell our talents, not our titles. When recruiters are tasked with finding veteran talent, the word veteran is the adjective, not the noun.

The following are some tips on how to do just that.

1- Make sure your resume (and LinkedIn Profile) lists actual accomplishments, and understand that being responsible for something isn’t an accomplishment.

2- Learn about industries that you would like to work in after the military to understand what types of metrics they use to define success. Seek to put yourself in positions to do the same type of measurable work while still on active duty.

3- Keep steady and accurate documentation of your success.  If the success metrics for the civilian world don’t exactly line up with the success metrics of your current billet in the military, so be it. Just keep parallel documentation.  In the end, your performance evaluations can help you build a civilian resume, but they can’t replace it.

The ability to demonstrate our talents is critical to success on the job market.  The best advice is to start early in your career to find ways to put yourself into positions to learn, grow, and ultimately perform, at the tasks valued by private organizations. It’s only when we demonstrate the talent that the adjective “Veteran” gets a chance to work it’s magic.