The Truth About All That Two-Faced Transition Advice

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Military transition advice often is so contradictory that it is paralyzing. One friend tells you that you have to get this certification or take part in that program to find a job. Another friend tells you all that stuff is just a lot of patriotic hot air and not a real hiring program.

And the advice people give you about resumes? Every single person who sees your resume tells you something different. It seems like the world has no straight answers for you during military transition, just a lot of two-faced transition advice.

As the transition master coach for Military.com and a military sociologist, I ought to hate such two-faced advice. Instead, I collect these contradictions. Yes, they can be confusing, but they also reveal the pathway you need for your own transition. Here are some examples:

Advice: Everyone wants to hire you for your leadership abilities, but don't list "leadership" as one of your qualities on your resume. 

Reality: I frequently get into this issue in coaching current active-duty members. For so many of you, leadership is your finest quality. It is true that employers want employees who are able to see what needs to be done and then can clarify the objectives, fashion a solution and figure out how to motivate others so that they follow along to a successful outcome. Strangely, when you call that leadership (which it is), employers somehow get offended.

Think of it this way: Maybe in the civilian world calling yourself a leader is like calling yourself "beautiful" or "humble." If you have to name it, you aren't that thing. In military transition, leadership is something you must show, not tell. That means you must think through your bullet points and interview stories and break down exactly what you did that made you the leader of the group in that situation. 

Advice: Don't call yourself a senior leader, but do name the job title you want. 

Reality: The leadership contradiction gets you again when it comes to job titles. Senior military members (officer and enlisted) frequently are warned about job titles. Not only are you told not to call yourself a senior leader, you also shouldn't list your current job title because there is no job like that in the civilian world. And because you have spent your entire adult life in the military, you don't know what is out there, so how are you supposed to know the right job title? 

It is perplexing, but people giving this advice are trying to tell you something useful. You don't need to know the exact job you want when you start transition a year or so out, but the quest for a job title IS the test of military transition. Collect the job titles of everyone you know at your career level until you start seeing a pattern. Even if you don't want their job, you can begin to understand what the world wants from employees like you. 

Advice: Tell them what you can do, but don't sound arrogant. (And definitely don't walk in like you own the place.) 

Reality: More often than not, I hear the majority of military people being so humble in an interview that the interviewer can't tell what they actually did on the job. You know you are making this error when you say "we" in a job interview 10 times more often than you say "I." "We" is a word bomb that blows your interview.

Yet there are arrogant people in the military. How do you know which group you belong to? Well, you are an adult. If you have a tendency to be arrogant or dismissive, someone has told you that in your past. So you watch out for it. Otherwise, look for a job in which extreme confidence is seen as a virtue. You are who you are. Make the most of that.

Advice: Don't show anyone your resume until they ask for it, but ask a civilian to read it over.

Reality: It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one wants to read a resume. In fact, no one ever "reads" a resume; instead, we scan it for information. So it really is good advice not to ask strangers to read it for you. You want to hear the magic words: "Shoot me your resume." Only then can you ask for advice.

If you are getting no requests for interviews, you do need help with your resume. So go to a professional coach, an on-base resource at your Family Service Center, or a veteran service organization to get up to speed.

Advice: You don't need a degree, BUT you really need a college degree. 

Reality: If you are young enlisted leaving the military without nuke or tech experience, you need to take your GI Bill benefits and get a degree. Or you need to get some other kind of training and certification. It's a tough world out here for the young. 

Know that you do not necessarily need a traditional four-year college degree to be successful, especially if your strengths do not lie in the classroom. Other training for transitioning military -- such as Salesforce Trailhead for Military, BAE Warrior Integration Program, Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA), Workshop for Warriors, and the Army's Career Skills Program -- offer pathways to work.

Advice: You don't need a PMP. You must get your PMP. Getting a PMP certification does not make you qualified to be a PMP. 

Reality: One of the pieces of transition advice that gets the most pushback is whether officers or senior enlisted need to get their Program Management Professional certification before they transition. It is true that a PMP is not alchemy. A PMP does not trump actual experience working as a PMP.

So why get a PMP? If you have program management experience in your military career (even if your job was not called "program manager"), getting your PMP can help you get the keyword on your resume. It can help you start shaping your career stories in terms of program management with PMP vocabulary. It is also a way of signaling employers that you understand that you are letting go of the military and moving on to your civilian career under your own power.

The best way to get your PMP for zero dollars (plus some hard work)? Onward to Opportunity is the winning program for service members and spouses. Its instructors are truly dedicated.

Advice: Participate in LinkedIn constantly, but be careful never to offend anyone.

Reality: On one hand, you are told to post frequently on LinkedIn, comment on other people's posts, and win others over with your amazing personality. On the other hand, you are warned that you can offend people with every little word you say in ways you never dreamed possible. Both things are true.

LinkedIn is not the place for strong political, racial, gender or religious views. That said, LinkedIn favors the frequent poster. So go ahead and add a comment to a friend's post. When you read my posts, give me some feedback or ask a question. Share one of our articles or transition master classes as your own post. It makes you more visible, which is what you need.

Advice: Listen to my opinion, but weed out all the opinions over the facts. 

Reality: There are very few "facts" about transition  --mostly because nearly 200,000 military members transition every year. This includes everyone from the E-1 who broke their leg in nine places the first day on the job to the O-10 who has put in 40 years of active-duty service and has no idea what they should do for the rest of their lives. It also includes outside job interests that range from going straight into government service to becoming a Jedi Knight or Sith Lord (both evidently possible for Marines). 

So when you listen to people like me who are working in the transition world, grab the ideas that sound like they apply to you and move on from there. The most relevant advice for you will come from people who are currently employed in the field you want to work in, especially if they are in a position where they frequently hire people or are part of a hiring team.

Finally, when it comes to making sense of all the transition advice, I like what Alfredo Torres, military transition regional coordinator and SkillBridge candidate coordinator at the Virginia Department of Veteran Services, tells candidates and professionals alike: "It's all about owning your transition. All of the advice only works if it is right for you. I always say it's like a buffet. It all looks (sounds) good, but you aren't going to eat it all. Take what you need. "

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-- Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's Transition Master Coach. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.

 

 

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