Over the last 5 years, I spoken to thousands of military service members from every service either on the telephone, at job fairs or while attending T-GPS and one of the recurring themes of our younger service members is that they are leaving the service to move back home. The first question I always ask is, why are you wanting to move back home? The answer I usually get is…girlfriend/boyfriend, fiancé, family or friends. What I never get is, “I have a great job lined up.” So let’s talk about the pitfalls of moving home after leaving the military.
- Things change over time and when you go home, they are not what you come to expect. How do I know this, when I was in the service I went home while on leave to visit family and friends. Things were great after the first few days, but when things got going, those who were my friends had grown up, started jobs, started families. Life was evolving for them, just as they were evolving for me. It was just not the same and they had moved on without me.
- If things haven’t changed there, you have. Your experience in the service has given you a view of the world that your friends don’t have. You’ve gained a job skill and been given responsibilities that most of your friends will never see, you’ve most likely been a supervisor or been in charge of teams to get things done, you’ve traveled to different parts of the country if not the world and experience life in a different way. Your view of life has become much bigger than your friends and family. Once the joy of moving home is over, you will be a fish out of water because you have outgrown your hometown. How do I know this? I go back to my hometown and see the same people doing the same things and they’ve not done or accomplished anything near to what I have. I can’t even image what life would be like if I would have moved home.
- Depending on where you live, most jobs/careers won’t equal out to the technology, responsibility and authority you have as a military member. If your hometown is a major city, you may be able to find the same level of job but it is very rare. I get calls all the time from former military members looking for new opportunities after they have moved home. Most of the time it is because they can’t get hired in a similar position they had in the service or they are working for a friend, or at the local store or some other job that doesn’t pay the bills.
So, why am I writing this? The main reason is, I see too many military service men and women who are leaving the service that don’t understand how important their first job after the service is in shaping the rest of their future. Not finding the right opportunity can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. If they move home and can’t find a job that is going to improve their lifestyle, give them opportunities for growth and make them happy in the first couple years after leaving the service, the likelihood of them having a promising career diminishes rapidly.
So what is the solution? When talking with young men and women about their career goals, no matter where they want to go, I always suggest the interim step in their career search. The interim step allows them to gain career experience in the job that they want and a better than minimum wage salary, while looking for an opportunity wherever it is they want to ultimately move. It takes the pressure away that is put on them by the hard timeline of their end of service date and opens up a greater variety of opportunities that may not exist back in their home town.
Over the last five years I’ve had many opportunities of speaking to thousands of military members that are leaving the service. One of the trends that I’ve seen is the use of expletives in day-to-day conversations with those outside the service. Candidates I am screening for job opportunities are using expletives in normal conversations. Also, candidates are using these words while in an interview. There is nothing that will kill an interview quicker than using an expletive when speaking to interviewers or hiring managers. The use of such language is a direct reflection on you and how you act within the work place. While I know this type of language is common place in the services, it has no place when interviewing, phone screen, at a job fair or any other place where you are speaking to a company about an opportunity. This is a friendly reminder!
There have been many articles written on how to make a smooth transition from the military. Advice on how to develop a well written resume, how to apply for positions, how to approach and answer questions during the interview and the list goes on. What is not written about or discussed is once you receive and offer and start a new career, the CULTURE SHOCK that occurs during your first year out of the military.
I transitioned from the military back in 2012 and thought I was ready. I attended T-GPS, worked with Military and Family Readiness and even had a mentor to assist in the process. What I discovered was getting the job was easy, dealing with the culture differences was the most difficult for me. I went to work for a DoD contractor, but worked in a department where there was no former military members in it and there was definitely a difference in the work environment. Here are some of the differences that I noticed.
- Work Ethic – The pace of work was much slower than what I was use to. Most military professionals know one speed and that is GO. When given a task, we take it on, complete it and are on to the next. I was told several times to slow down that it wasn’t necessary to complete things so quickly. Coming in early and staying late to get work down was not the norm. When I showed up 30 minutes early, I was the only one there. At the end of the day, it was a mass exodus to get out the door. My norms were not the same as my teammates and this caused tension in the office.
- Individualism versus Teamwork – My TEAMMATES tended to work as individuals and had a hard time being a part of a team. Because they have been operating as individuals for so long, the suggestion of teams to accomplished tasks seemed to present a threat to how things are which leads to the last difference.
- Change – This was the hardest thing for me to adapt to when making my transition. The resistance to change and the dismissal of new ideas was discouraging. I felt that I because I was new I could bring fresh ideas to the table and we could improve our processes. This was met with much resistance. In the service, change happens all the time as we know. Presenting new ideas to improve processes and make things better is always encouraged. This was not my experience and ultimately led to my decision to move on.
The differences I’ve listed above are not necessarily bad, they are just different. I prepared for the resume writing, applying for jobs, the interview and the follow-up but not prepared for the life in the civilian work force. No matter where you go to work, there are going to be some cultural differences to what you are use to. My suggestion is you find a mentor who has been in the civilian workforce for some time to discuss and prepare you for what you might face. These were my challenges that I had to work through. Your may be the same of maybe different, the key is to be prepared with the knowledge and understanding that there are going to be areas that you are not use to and what you’re going to do to overcome them. Best of Luck!