Do Officers Struggle With Transition?

In a Military-to-Civilian Transitioners group with almost 20K members I belong to on LinkedIn, I read a recent post on Why Commissioned Officers Struggle in Transition.

TransitionStruggleWe have been serving commissioned military officers and NCOs for the past 12 years and transition has been a recurring topic during this time. The author of the post (who’s also an employment recruiter) claims the following, “Officers often find themselves in a situation where their education, experience, and goals don’t complement each other. Complicating matters is the fact that for many officers experience in a certain field doesn’t necessarily mean they are experts in the technical aspects of the job. That’s because officers are trained to be leaders and managers first, not necessarily technical experts.”

My responses are as follows. The reason officers struggle is that they simply can’t achieve the same leadership role or responsibilities they held in the military when transitioning into a civilian job. So, they don’t. Our experience at Military MBA is that officers don’t transition straight out of the military. They often advance their education, obtain a civilian credential and then transition out of the military. This puts them on more of an equal level with their military life and in a situation to secure not just a civilian job, but a leadership position. They’re also not looking to get jobs as “technical experts”.

I further believe there is a distinction to make for military officers between management and leadership. Civilian companies value military leadership, but they want civilian managers. So, leadership and management are not treated the same. This is also another reason why many officers obtain a graduate business degree. When you earn an MBA or MS in management it sends a signal to civilian employers that your management skills were learned from a certain type of program. Top civilian companies recruit from MBA schools because of the assurance that your management training comes from this type of exposure.

The original post gives helpful advice on conducting an exercise we also recommend, which is for officers to step back and self-evaluate your situation.  The author suggests that officers should look for “common threads” or commonalities which allows you to find skills that overlap.

As part of this exercise, I would also recommend that commissioned officers and NCOs consider a slightly different approach. Rather than look at specific skills and determine where they overlap, self-evaluate and come up with the combination of skills only you possess which employers value. This is called your “talent stack” and it is unique to every individual.

A WSJ article written by Scott Adams gets to the core of the exercise. Adams writes, “It’s unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it’s easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The “Dilbert” comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That’s how value is created.”

The author of the original post also talks about how this activity translates to your resume. “Commissioned officers are more likely to need resumes that highlight their best qualities and skills, rather than their work history. For these individuals (a.k.a., officers), functional resumes work best. Functional resumes de-emphasize your actual work history and orients hiring managers to your strengths (i.e., the common threads in your work history). I recommend that you list your chronological work history…towards the bottom of the resume.”

My basic feedback on this topic is that I like the idea of functional CV. However, I would be careful on the length of your resume. In other words, combining functional aspects of a resume with your work history could result in a longer, aimless resume that’s more likely to be rejected.

For a number of reasons, including that some important work history can be mapped to needs of employers in your cover letter, I would keep your resume more functional and one page in length.

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