Improve Your Military Transition With Tips From Two Veterans

Posted by Kathleen Smith

Gain military transition insights from two veterans from the AFCEA NOVA community, Patrick Surbeck, an Account Executive at Oracle and a Retired US Army veteran, and Samantha Haberlach, a Practice Director, Human Capital Solutions at Definitive Logic and a Retired US Air Force veteran.

Think About What You Want to Do Next – Before Your Military Exit

Surbeck: When I hit an age milestone at 40, I started exploring what I wanted the next 25 years of my life, or longer, to look like. I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. After a lot of self-introspection, I kept coming back to, it’s time for a new challenge. So, I made the decision to really explore what the possibilities were before I got out.

I networked very heavily with my peer group and some mentors. I figured out that the place where I could make a difference for folks on the inside was in the tech sector, specifically in the sales side of the house. Whether I’m wearing the uniform or operating as a civilian, I still have that connection and I want to do right by the military. So I actively pursued options within that realm and was lucky to wind up where I did. But in the preparation for that transition, you have to realize that you’re stepping out into the unknown. If you’re yourself, you represent yourself appropriately, and you have confidence in your skills, you can find a solid place.

Haberlach: There’s different paths you can take after the military. You can go straight back to a civil service job, which makes for a very fluid transition. You can go work for a government contractor, or you can go do something totally different and work for a company that is not a federal contractor at all. Understanding those three paths and what you need to do to pursue each path will help your transition.

Use the transition programs the military offers. SkillBridge for example is a fantastic transition program where you get to go work with a company. If you use those opportunities, you’re not only going to get to know how a particular company or industry works, but you also get to know what you don’t want to do—that’s big!

When we’re in the military, we think, “Oh, that job would be really cool.” Maybe you think you want to be a program manager, so you try shadowing a program manager, and you realize it’s not what you thought it would be. Another example is HR or CFO. Personnel and finance in the military is very different than what you’re going to see in a company on the outside. So take the time to get certifications and use SkillBridge to understand what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. Or find a scholarship program where you can try a few different things.

How Networking Differs Inside and Outside of the Military

Surbeck: I believe networking within the civilian world takes more initiative. It all comes down to you. You have to actively seek out ways to make connections with people. When you’re in the military, you all have something in common right off the bat—you’re wearing the same uniform, you’ve been in the same places, you can tell that story. You may have to dig a little bit more to find that story with folks in the civilian world. So it’s all about persistence. Don’t get deflated by the fact that everybody doesn’t have the same background as you. Look for commonalities and you’ll find them.

Haberlach: Being part of professional organizations is the biggest part of networking outside of the military. When you’re not in the military anymore, networking is a bigger picture. It’s not about your particular rank or your own community. You’re talking to other companies, other people, other communities, and other areas of expertise. It’s also great to volunteer for a professional organization. Volunteering is going to let people get to know you a little bit better, what your skills are, what you bring to the table, and trust you when they run into a problem.

How Military Experience Benefits Civilian Careers

Haberlach: There’s nothing like the leadership you experience being active duty – from any of the services. You get more chances, at a younger age, to learn what situational leadership and empathy means. You learn how to take care of people. When you’re deployed, you are literally taking care of every aspect of your people’s needs. Leadership isn’t always about who’s the boss. Sometimes you’re accepted as a leader, not because of your position, but because of how you take care of other people. So when you get a job after the military, those leadership skills translate very well.

Surbeck: As former military, you’ve been put in ambiguous situations your entire career. You’ve been thrown into situations where you have to figure it out. If there’s anything that I’ve taken away from the military, it’s being able to be dropped in anywhere and say, “Okay, how do I solve this problem?” Our work ethic is also valuable. Don’t discount the fact that that you were up in the morning every day and working late hours. You have a work ethic that, frankly speaking, not a lot of people who come straight out of college have – you have that ingrained in you.

Lesson Learned From Transition – What Did You Do Right?

Surbeck: I think something I did well is, I opened myself up. That’s a really hard thing to do for some folks. Take a look at all that you have to offer, not just your military experience, but look at things a little more holistically. See all of those skills that may be frosting on the cake, and don’t be afraid to jump out and do something. I’m also glad I took a number of project management classes when I got out. If you’ve been an officer in the military or a senior NCO, you’ve been a project manager. Whether you go into sales or management anywhere, you’re going to be managing projects. Going to those classes allowed me to adopt the appropriate vernacular for the folks I was dealing with.

Haberlach: There were a couple things that I was mentored on early in my transition, one being resumes. When you’re in the military, it’s about what you can do – it’s about your history. You have this massive CV that documents every single evaluation you’ve ever had, showing that long-term history. Once you’re outside the military, it’s important that you have history and experiences, but it’s hard for a company to look at all that. You’ve got to summarize it and focus your resume on what you want to do. More importantly, what do you want to do for them. Here’s your need, and here’s how I fit that need—that’s something that really helped me.

Hear more insights from Patrick Surbeck and Samantha Haberlach in this Military Transition Webinar.


This entry was posted on Thursday, May 26, 2022 2:29 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation