To My Fellow Veterans (Open Letter #2),

I’ll never forget the conversation I had several years ago with a retiring Marine Command Sergeant Major, who insisted that his nine-page resume (not a typo) was justified because of his long and amazing career. He was your prototypical superhero, channeling his inner “Mad Dog;” chest full of medals, a Marine’s Marine. As you might imagine, he didn’t take too kindly to someone like me telling him his baby was ugly. In hindsight and for my own personal safety, I was glad this was over the phone and not in person…I never heard from him again.

Fast forward to today: As I said in my first open letter to veterans, the hardest thing you’ll ever do in Corporate America is tell the truth. As I’ve watched, listened, and learned in the trenches…in hand-to-hand, corporate combat, with veterans, recruiters and hiring managers, I noticed small, repeatable patterns of success emerge – THE SECRET SAUCE! I’ve accumulated and battle tested many of these key insights over the years, transforming them into actionable intelligence to help accelerate your transition.

One such battle-tested insight is the 8-digit grid coordinate outlined below that will help frame your thinking and influence your decision making. If you can resist the temptation to skip to it and read the insights that come next, I promise you, it will illuminate your thinking that much more, so read on!

Insight #1: UNDERSTAND THAT PROFITS WILL TRUMP PATRIOTISM ALMOST EVERY TIME. Ouch! Did I just say that? When it comes to hiring veterans, many of us have been duped into thinking that waving the flag in front of employers gets us special treatment. We’ve been wonderfully naïve, or dare I say “entitled,” far too long in our thinking and need to adjust fire. Notice, I said, ‘almost’ as there are always exceptions with several great companies getting it right, but they are still the exception, not the rule. I’m not here to debate the merits of this being good or bad…it just “is.”

Again, this is NOT a license to bash Corporate America, so all of you card carrying members of the Piss & Moan Club, please exercise your first amendment rights respectfully in the comments below. What I’m offering is a hard truth not easily understood, but IS a harsh reality in the corporate combat you’re experiencing. I’ve seen it show up countless times when frustrated transitioning military and veterans complain about what is affectionately known as the “Black Hole” in hundreds of applications made with an occasional rejection email several months later. Sound familiar?  More on this in another open letter.

Insight #2: THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE. As any good subject matter expert is prone to do, connecting the dots and recognizing patterns helps create the right insights at the right time. Recently, the University of Cincinnati published a sobering article that puts the elephant in the room, in a head-on collision course with Corporate America.

If you take a minute to study this info-graphic and read other data points, thentriangulate your own experience, a collective conscious begins to emerge that there is a “disturbance in the force.” The tough question here is, are we truly ready to hit the ground running in what I call “employment ready from the inside out” on day one? Tougher yet is the question of what employers might do once they figure out the higher cost of veteran turnover, but more on this in another open letter.

Insight #3: BECOME THE CIVILIAN SUPERHERO YOU WERE MEANT TO BE. About six months ago, a truly impressive special forces soldier pinged me on LinkedIn seeking my advice on his transition. He was another high speed, low drag operator with a brilliant career that was winding down. After swapping war stories, I led him down a path of what it takes to become a civilian again and in a moment of clarity, it began to dawn on him the enormity of the mission ahead.

I know what you’re thinking, “Thank you Captain Obvious for enlightening us with your wisdom…” but stick with me on this and learn to read between the lines: Many of you want your “civilianhood” served up on a military platter, just the way you like it, but it doesn’t work that way.This is a subtle, imperceptible truth that most of us don’t recognize and very few understand. Like CSM ‘Mad Dog’ above, your ego is directly proportional to the quality and length of your transition.

Did you catch that? In other words, sometimes the bigger the ego, the longer the transition AND the longer it takes to get locked into the right career pathway. Rebuilding your muscle memory is key, but more on that in another open letter.

YOUR 8-DIGIT GRID COORDINATE.  Much like what any good soldier does with a compass and map in getting from point A to point B, I’ve observed a number of terrain features along the career pathway (key actions) of what talented people do as they map out their search for meaningful employment. I’ve strung together what may well be a unique, strategic framework – an action focused, breakthrough plan that will enhance your success. Notice the progression and interdependency of how one builds from the other:

1.    Start your transition earlier than the norm – Like the SF soldier, the smart ones know this intuitively and seek me out time and time again. The earlier you start is directly proportional to the success you achieve. This alone is worth the price of admission. I realize many of you are already out, but encourage you to read on.

2.    Rebuild your muscle memory –  With the above in mind, you must begin to win the inner battle of “self,” by renewing your heart and mind through education, relationship, and community. Rebuilding your emotional intelligence and transforming into the civilian superhero you were meant to be is critical to your success and should not be underestimated. This is a life-long pursuit, continuous and ongoing, all the while building your civilian identity and destiny that will not only light your career pathway but impact a nation.

3.    Target by vocation – With 1 – 2 in mind, discover and assess your purpose and passion and align it to a civilian career pathway that will put food on the table. There are many assessments, tools, skill labs, mentors, and programs to give you great insight on what truly excites you. Investing heavily in rediscovering the right vocation through this powerful alignment will enable better decision-making with less pressure.

4.    Target by industry – With 1 – 3 in mind, what are the best industries that align to this vocation? Are there specific growth industries that make the job hunt more target rich? All industries go through cycles. Find the ones that are trending up. A growing industry increases your chances of meaningful employment.

5.    Target by geography – With 1 – 4 in mind, many of us go back to our home of record because it is familiar to us, but is that the best decision you can make? Be open to other locations. It’s critical to manage your own expectations, so don’t make this decision lightly. Having more than one geographic location increases your chances of meaningful employment.

6.    Target by company – With 1 – 5 in mind, select those companies that align well and that attract you the most. Leverage “Military Friendly” and “Best for Vets” employer lists as well. Do your homework on what attracts you to them – do they align to your values? If so, why? The temptation here is target by company first and forget the rest because it is shiny and new. Do the hard stuff first and the rest will follow.

7.    Target fellow veterans – With 1 – 6 in mind, connect with veterans in those vocations, industries, locations and companies so your shot group is extra tight and target rich. This now becomes your new network and I encourage you to build these relationships accordingly. LinkedIn and RallyPoint are great tools here.

8.    Target VSO’s and/or civilian organizations – With 1 – 7 in mind, join one or two that you’re passionate about so your relationships and contributions are authentic. You would be amazed how leads are developed and opportunities present themselves over time. The new currency of trust in a global marketplace is “authentic relationship.”

Taking each of these actions separately will certainly yield some success, but taken in this progressive order, could be the beginning of your civilian transformation that will accelerate your employment goals like no other, so good luck!

Until my next open letter…Captain Obvious signing off!

Eddie Dunn is a retired First Sergeant in the United States Army Reserve, and current CEO of Eddie Dunn Consulting, LLC

Eddie Dunn Consulting, LLC

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military to civilian transition guide