Our Greatest Strength Is Also Our Greatest Weakness

We’ve done so much, with so little, for so long, that we can anything, with nothing, forever.  

This phrase highlights the strength of the current military member, and at the same time, the weakness of the veteran job seeker.

One of the biggest issues transitioning veterans face as they prepare to move on from military service is the “jack of all trades” hurdle.  Although we prided ourselves on being able to accomplish any task given to us, we quickly discover that there are no listings on job boards for the position of, “Swiss Army Knife.”34912_3901

Yet, if there isn’t a market for this, why do so many veterans end up here?  I believe it’s because that is the only world many veterans have ever lived in.

Think about it. For the vast majority of transitioning veterans the only recruiter they knew didn’t care about what they did, they only cared about what they could do.  Enlisted recruiters in particular sell the organization, not the job.  The ideal applicant will be committed to being a Marine or an Airman, for example, well before they are offered any specific job in the organization.  In fact, there are even opportunities to come in under an open contract. This means you’re hired first and eventually we’ll figure out something to do with you. In the meantime, of course, you’ll get chance to do the much-needed, but not so desirable tasks of the organization.

Eventually, though, the services will find a job field that the applicant qualifies for and then he or she is sent off to training for a series of weeks or even months. Ultimately the service member is then given the opportunity to perform the job.  This cycle, by the way, may be repeated a number of times over an extended career.  Needs of the organization are identified, training is provided, member does the job.  This onboarding and subsequent cross training process is how we end up with so many veteran job seekers with a breadth of technical and management skills, yet no real career focus.

Unfortunately at one of the most critical times of their lives these people can’t answer the critical question, “What do you do?”

Private organization don’t operate like this.  They have specific needs that have specific requirements.  Very few, if any, will have the financial resources to hire people into a long-term training pipeline, and the ones that do, much like the military, will only do so for entry-level positions.

The “move up or out” organizational culture is pretty unique to the military. We as veterans can’t expect the real world to change for us. Today’s job seekers must be able to focus their resume, elevator speech, and personal brand around specific goals.  If you’ve had multiple tours doing different jobs, you may need to get comfortable with multiple personalities.  It’s not fake or disingenuous to portray yourself as a technician to one person and a trainer to another as needed (provided you actually have those experiences).

For those currently in the service, the best advice I can give is to learn this lesson now.  It’s true, the military does provide great training and tons of experience, but as your career moves forward you’ll eventually have to figure out where you  want to be after the military. Once you figure that out you need to make every effort put yourself into positions to succeed in that arena.  Hit the right wickets, get the right education, capture the right data, all  while you’re still in. Then, when the time is right, you can set out on a targeted job search. Believe it or not, keeping up with your own professional career can actually make you a better service member, too.

I’ve always said that you’re better off running towards something than running from something. Many people join the military because they are unhappy with their current life situation. They fact that they then find relative success in the armed forces can provide a false sense of security when it’s time to leave. The process won’t be repeated in the civilian sector.  Only the armed forces are built to make that kind of magic happen. In this regard, the military is as unique as it is awesome.

If you try to run away from the military without knowing where it is you’re going you will end up discovering that there are no private organizations for you to “join”.  You’ll need to be hired. And organization only hire because they have a specific need and they truly believe that you will be the one to perform the needed tasks. If you can’t convince them of that, someone else will.


One comment on “Our Greatest Strength Is Also Our Greatest Weakness

  1. Thanks for the blog from all of us in Transition. This issue-“What do you do?” is THE issue for senior military members who have adapted themselves to fit whatever role the military asked them to fill. We bloom where we’re planted. No one has asked me what I wanted to do since I was a cadet. Now we have to define our niche, set a goal, create a plan, and be intentional with our plan–all the while maintaining high levels of performance in the military to avoid the “retired on active duty” stigma. Once again, thanks for highlighting that this is the key to success.

    I found you via the “Lead Like a Marine” podcast. Your discussion with Frank Gustafson was inspirational.

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