Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Top 10 Observations about Life in the Private Sector and Beyond for Military Veterans

Last week my travels took me to Chicago - one of my favorite cities in the world. The bulk of my "liberal arts education" took place on the streets of the South Side during the memorable 1960's.

See recent relevant posting:

Grant Park Revisited Posting

I was humbled and honored to be invited to address the combined alumni clubs for the Chicago area of all of the U.S. Service Academies - West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy. Under the inspired leadership of Jack Amberg, the clubs are among the most active local groups of service academy graduates in the nation. The meeting was held at the beautiful Union League Club of Chicago.

Several readers of The White Rhino Report who were aware of the topic of my talk last week have asked me to post the outline of my talk. I am pleased to do so below. Based on the direct and indirect feedback I received after giving the talk, a number of men and women in the room that evening found my observations particularly relevant to this trying job market. I trust the outline below may be of some help to a broader audience in thinking about how to maximize the advantages that a background in military leadership brings to a candidate in the private sector.

Top 10 Observations about Life in the Private Sector and Beyond for Military Veterans

1. Offer of 1-on-1 help in thinking about career choices – my role as a recruiter

a. Who can I help? Probably 10% of those in this room today

i. Renaissance Men and Women

ii. Those wired as entrepreneurs

iii. Those who may choose to follow an alternate career path:

1. When you look over the list of traditional companies that hire military, you find yourself thinking: “These are all great companies, but I am wondering if there might be something else out there for me – starting my own business, working for a start-up, working in government service.”

2. If that describes you, then we should talk.

b. Form of help:

i. Resume review

ii. Phone conversations

iii. Access to my network

iv. Objective feedback

v. A listening ear

2. Relax – Part I

a. Do not stress out inordinately worrying about interviewing for jobs.

b. Of the hundreds of Service Academy grads and former military officers I know personally, not one of them is homeless or even close to indigent – even in a down market!

3. Relax – Part II

a. Your next job may only be a stepping stone in a progression of career moves, so don’t worry about making a wrong move that could cripple the rest of your career.

b. Your choices are not between “good vs. bad,” but rather between “good vs. best”!

c. In the past year, I have met with or talked on the phone with dozens of service academy grads and former officers whom I have mentored over the years and who have contacted me to talk about their next career move. In each case, he or she is in their first or second year of the job they took out of the military or out of grad school, and they feel – for a variety of reasons – that it is time to move on. This is not an aberration, but is becoming the norm.

4. Realize that your search for a job is a two-way street.

a. You should be just as selective in choosing a company as the company is in screening candidates.

i. You should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

b. Make sure that the job, the corporate culture, the hours you will be expected to work, the amount of travel you will be expected to do all fit with the game plan that you and your family have decided is appropriate for this time in your career and this time in your family life.

i. Earlier and earlier in their careers, thoughtful individuals are asking tough questions about life-style and family balance before jumping at a lucrative offer.

c. Be aware that at the level of responsibility you will be assuming, bad hiring decisions sometimes happen, and when they do happen, they usually result – not from a misaligned of hard skills with the task at hand – but from a misalignment at the level of the intangibles:

i. Corporate culture

ii. Value systems

iii. Communication style

iv. Decision-making style

v. Work-life balance

5. Know your Value Proposition as a Military Leader

a. Do not be intimidated by others in the job market that have already been in the business world and may know the nomenclature better than you do.

b. You bring to the table things they can only dream about:

i. Leadership experience that has been battle-tested

ii. A sense of proportionality – what is truly a “life or death” situation and what is something less than that

iii. A knowledge of what it takes to motivate a work force

iv. How to achieve consensus under duress

v. How to accept responsibility for your actions and their results

vi. A solid ethical base that has been tested in the crucible of combat

vii. Reliability

viii. How to function as part of a team

c. Be aware that many civilian prospective employers may not appreciate the full range of your value proposition and distinctives.

d. It is your job to humbly educate them and disabuse them of some of the stereotypes they may be harboring about the military

6. Be aware of the power of narrative – and be prepared to use it

a. In overcoming stereotypes about the military and in making people aware of who you are and what you are capable of doing, master the art of story telling.

b. Joe Rich quotation: “Every successful businessman/woman needs 10 good stories they can tell

c. Stories make you memorable and intriguing

i. They simultaneously touch the cognitive and the emotional level of communication and make that communication “sticky.”

7. Mentoring, mentoring, mentoring

a. At every point in your career, look for mentors among the men and women in your network

i. Maintain relationships with mentors from earlier stages of your life

b. In considering joining a company, explore if it is a mentoring environment

c. Can you identify potential mentors among the senior leadership team?

d. Ask specific questions as you interview: “Who is your mentor in this organization?” “Who are you mentoring at the moment?”

e. Find someone to for you to mentor

i. Don’t buy into the lie: “I don’t have time”

ii. You develop habits and priorities and values now that will carry into the rest of your career

8. Be aware of the power of networking – and use that power wisely

a. I am in a position to observe many networks in operation.

b. The graduate networks of the top business schools are among the best in terms of their reach and the influence of those within the networks

c. Those networks are trumped by the Service Academy networks and ex-military networks – which are, hands-down, the most responsive networks I have ever encountered.

d. An important principle of networking is to build and nurture your network before you need it.

i. The Mike Cooper story – USMA ‘2002

9. Use this time to process what you have experienced as a military leader

a. Use tools like Grossman’s books, “On Killing” and “On Combat” to think about what you may have experienced in combat.

b. If you recognize any symptoms of PTSD in yourself and in those who are close to you, address them early so they can be dealt with in a healthy and healing way.

10. Do not neglect the spiritual and emotional part of your life as you are caught up in the whirlwind of job hunting

a. If one of your differentiators as a military leader is your strong and reliable ethical base, make sure that your ethical base has a spiritual anchor that keeps it from drifting amidst the pressures of school and of work.

b. I am prompted to mention this factor because of a conversation I had a few years ago with a former President of the Armed Forces Alumni Association at Harvard Business School. As he was getting ready to leave HBS to start his new job, he said to me: “You have been such an important part of the process of evaluating where I am heading in my career, I am wondering if I can call on you to help me in a part of my life I have been neglecting. I don’t have a clue how to address the deficiency in the spiritual part of my life. Would you be willing to help me there, as well?”

c. The process of looking for a job – even under the best of circumstances can be a very discouraging and dehumanizing process.

i. Be aware of the emotional toll that weeks and months of fruitless knocking on doors may take on your self-esteem.

ii. Everyone in this room is here because of a lifetime of achievement at the highest levels in some of the most selective organizations in the world.

iii. You are winners

iv. Yet, some mornings you look in the mirror and wonder if your best days are behind you.

v. That response is normal – but must be addressed

vi. Use your network of significant others and trusted peers and advisors to help you to monitor your emotional response to the war of attrition that is a job search in this market.

As always, I welcome your comments.



Scott Leishman said...

Al - I must emphasize your point number 4. My worst jobs came from mismatches of corporate values and culture. I feel it is imperative that a job seeker conduct due diligence to make sure there is a fit in these areas. If a company says it operates as a team, is that reflected in the interview process? Has the candidate been handed a list of corporate values or are they displayed prominantly on the compay's website? Was each value obvious in the candidate's interview process or are these just words?

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Anonymous said...

As we've come to expect, your comments and insights are spot-on here. I especially enjoy your more holistic view to such an important topic (which, unfortunately, is too often trivialized by others).
Scott St. Germain
USMA '95