Transitioning From the Military to a Civilian Career
Leaving the military is a huge undertaking. Over one million service members will go through this transition over the next five years. After little more than eight years of enlisted and commissioned service, I am well on my way through the process of executing orders to move in to the “First Civilian Division.”
The Marine Corps offers a transition class, which I had an opportunity to attend. Unfortunately this class was too much for me to digest. It took the form of a week-long class frequently running longer than 10 hours per day. The class included young enlisted members to senior retiring officers and everything in between. Every branch of the service was represented. The plans of these service members included everything from going back to school, to opening a business, to living in mommy’s basement, and the week-long course provided great information and advice for every single student present. My only complaint is that it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.
After attending the transition class, writing my resume was at the top of my list of things to do.
Military and Civilian Cultures
The highlights of my military resume include a list of six medals and several not-so-basic schools like The Basic School. My supervisor at the International Franchise Association, Beth Solomon, who is vice president of strategic initiatives and industry relations, says Basic School is the military version of Harvard, Yale and the Olympics, compressed into eight weeks. She knows that is where I spend my time in uniform and what it means.
Being promoted to staff sergeant is an accomplishment in the military, but it holds less value beyond the services. Do employers care how good I am with a pistol or rifle? Fitness is a primary factor on a military resume, but my civilian resume fails to mention how fast and far I can run. Leaving the military brings with it a new set of standards used to evaluate my past accomplishments. I am learning this set of standards as I go.
While I have a resume written, given the two different cultures and vocabulary, I more often use conversation rather than paper. After attending workshops, seeking out transition counselors, and reading endless advice on resume writing, I have decided there is more to creating my resume than translation and using certain buzzwords.
In part, to meet the simple challenge of writing a resume, I realized I needed to learn what went on in the civilian world I was about to enter. I needed to find out where my military skills could be applied in the economy. I knew there were significant differences between being a Marine and a civilian, but I did not know exactly what they were.
Through a series of fortunate circumstances, it was not my resume, but people who understood my training and knew, with some faith involved, what I could offer. I was invited to intern at the IFA. During my time in the services, I developed an aspiration to support my fellow service members. This internship has allowed me to learn from a group of exceptional mentors while continuing to support veterans and service members through IFA’s VetFran program and Operation Enduing Opportunity. I am grateful to continue to serve.
Being a speaker of the military lingo, I have learned to apply much more thought to how I use words and phrases, particularly those that relate to war. The lesson here was that my definition of these words and phrases are very different from those of my IFA colleagues. In the military, dealing with death constantly, you learn to be somewhat familiar with it, even blithe; you have to be. Civilians are not used to this perspective. I hold back my thoughts and the words that come to mind in the office kitchen, while trying to let loose a bit after work with new office friends.
In addition to the differences in language, interpersonal interactions in a civilian office are a field of study. Previously, when I encountered a fellow service member in uniform, one of us was senior. Even when we wore the same rank, we could always establish a factor that imparted seniority. This seniority always dictated interaction. Every time I found myself in uniform at a conference table, I was either taking orders or giving them. When I was a subordinate in the meetings, my mission was to supply information to the extent of my expertise and receive tasks based on the decisions made by the presiding member. When I was that presiding member, it was my responsibility to ensure I had used the knowledge of everyone at the table to make my decision and that they understood what their new tasks were. There would be no disagreements. These meetings rarely involved compromise, in-depth discussion or mediation.
It has been a shock to see the discussion taking place in the meetings I have attended out of uniform. The same interactions in the military would be described as insubordinate and disrespectful, but this is not the case outside the military. Collaborative chaos can create an end product that serves all members of the conversation. But where are the lines of respect and deference? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell in an office.
Rules of Interaction and Desire for Structure
To complicate matters, I almost master the civilian method of interaction when, all of a sudden, I return to my combat boots, in which I also work, at Quantico. In the instances where I have failed to revert to military protocol, I am quickly put in my place. It would be helpful if someone would correct me for acting like a Marine when I am out of uniform. I believe the key difference that needs to be understood by service members is that there is a new end state being pursued. I will not be in direct support of a mission to protect the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. This changes everything.
The idea that training in poor weather will prepare you for the discomforts of war is undoubtedly valid when you are in the military. Not only is getting wet encouraged, but also regulations state that Marines are not allowed to carry an umbrella in uniform. To my surprise, embracing discomfort out of uniform is not an accepted norm. As I walked through the rain after leaving the IFA one evening, I became aware that I was the only pedestrian without some form of rain protection. I realized that the benefit of getting wet no longer outweighed the detriment, and therefore I should invest in an umbrella. These small lessons have been abundant and usually enough to leave me smiling and amused by my own ignorance.
Rules like those that ban umbrellas are going to be missed. This structure has provided me with a system for my entire military career. Shortly after Basic Training and Officer Candidate School, I could not help but miss the strict schedule. At these schools you are told when to get up, when to eat and when to sleep. There is nothing in your day that lacks structure. Despite the other physical and mental stresses of these courses, it is easy to develop a preference for the structure of daily life.
This structure did not end after basic training. The military mandates what to wear and how to wear it. When you take a new position in the military there is almost always a manual for how to do that job waiting on you when you arrive. I learned very quickly that, in the military, when you have a question you are better off looking it up if you have the time. Few questions are not addressed by a regulation somewhere.
I have not seen the manual for this internship yet. For the first few weeks I grabbed any document that resembled rules and regulations for guidance on what to do at the IFA.
The stories I am hearing from veteran franchisees are in concert with this desire for structure. It seems that they are getting the best of both worlds through the franchise systems they choose.
I will miss the structure, and even the training in the rain, but this new frontier is a large one. The freedoms afforded the rest of society allow more creativity, which will be necessary to find solutions to the problem of veteran unemployment. Many of my fellow service members will be facing the decision of what to do after the military in the very near future. It is up to the rest of us to provide them with choices.
Raymond Cate is a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps and serves as a volunteer intern with the International Franchise Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.