Military Transition Insights for Success in Security

Posted by Kathleen Smith
Pablo Breuer

Pablo Breuer, Ph.D., is Chief Information Security Officer at Helm Services and a Retired U.S. Navy veteran with 22 years of service.

What surprised you about your military transition?

There were two things that caught me by surprise when I prepared for transfer. The first was how much was involved in getting through the medical process for retiring. I had the bad luck of conducting my transition during COVID, but I also had remarkably little support from my command in getting through the process.

The other thing I completely misunderstood is how much help there is for transitioning veterans. Veteran advocacy groups and even civilians that have no experience with the military recognize that transition is a challenging event. Most people are very, very helpful.

Are skills from your military service useful in your civilian career?

According to a Pew Research study, when it comes to employment, a majority of veterans say their military service was useful in giving them the skills and training they needed for a civilian job. About one-in-three veterans (29%) say it was very useful, and another 29% say it was fairly useful.

I was pretty lucky that I was involved in IT and cyber warfare for most of my military career. What I’d forgotten was how valuable my leadership experience would be in the outside world. The civilian world doesn’t have NCO leadership courses, mid-career leadership courses, or leadership ethics classes. Veterans are provided the ability to lead teams much earlier in their career than other groups.

The ability to build esprit de corps and lead teams is a highly sought after skill. Taking care of our people, mentorship, and good communication are skills that are hard earned and well honed whether we served four years or forty.

Military members are accustomed to rapidly assimilating complex problems, conducting rapid analysis through a variety of viewpoints, and developing and executing plans based on imperfect information. Our ability to break down complex strategic goals into realistic, measurable, and achievable subtasks is a rare and valuable skill that is highly sought after. Likewise, our ability to follow established standards (or create standards) for repeatable performance results is a valued trait.

I’ve been astounded at how many execs use me as a sounding board or mentor for leadership issues ranging from strategic goals to encouraging employees.

How can veterans assess career paths and employment opportunities out of the military?

A 2014 study from VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University found that nearly half of all veterans leave their first post-military position within a year, and between 60% and 80% of veterans leave their first civilian jobs before their second work anniversary.

If you’re comfortable and happy with military structure and the military community, then stay in the defense industry. Either take a government civilian job as a GS or join a defense contractor.

If the military is something you feel like you need to get away from, then get completely away from it. My experience is that if you go work with a defense contractor, you’ll find yourself surrounded by former military having the same discussions you had throughout your career with the same personality types. So if you’re trying to get away from the military, do not go work for a company that provides federal services.

Also, use your network. Ask your friends that have transitioned about their thoughts on a company that you’re considering. Ask to talk with people at the company that will be your peers and get their insight on the company culture.

But recognize that you’re not “stuck” with your decision. Like a lot of vets, I switched jobs within my first year. It took a lot of people talking to me for me to realize that changing jobs was not “quitting a team” or “failing the mission.” Make the best decision that you can, but if you’re not happy, change. In the civilian world it’s pretty standard.

Could your employers have supported your transition to civilian employment better?

I’ve experienced some very good and very poor things in this area. At my current job, my boss made a 30-minute appointment for me every day for my first two weeks, for me to check in and ask any questions. I still have weekly one-on-one meetings with my boss. I feel like my leadership was invested in me.

However, I had one employer that could not get past my military rank. If you’re a civilian, it’s illegal to ask what you make, but if you’re former military they will skirt that rule by asking your rank. My experience is that this question is HIGHLY prejudicial. Further, any time I interviewed with a former military member, it was through the lens of their rank compared to mine, rather than my qualifications or expertise. I would strongly advise not answering the military rank question and specifically asking to speak with non-military recruiters.

Good employers will continue to check in on you after you accept your offer and walk you through an onboarding process. Most of us got used to being assigned a mentor/sponsor when we got orders to a new command, but not everyone follows that rule in the civilian sector and it makes a BIG difference.

Any last suggestions for transitioning to a security position or post-military career?

I’d make the following suggestions. Forget about titles. The titles don’t mean anything—even in the same industry, different job titles will mean different things in various companies. This is about what you actually want to do.

What types of tasks do you want to complete during your workday? Where do you want to live? What do you want to make? What culture/impact/work-life balance do you want to be involved with? Figure out which of those is your number one and realize that you’re probably going to have to give a bit on your other two. And again, recognize that you’re not “stuck” with your decision. Make the best decision that you can, but if you’re not happy, change.


This entry was posted on Monday, November 09, 2020 10:00 am

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