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- Transitioning from a military career to a civilian career can pose major challenges for some veterans.
- Several organizations have risen up to help vets shift gears.
- Business Insider also spoke with a number of military veterans who shared their best tips for their fellow veterans.
This Veterans Day, Americans will take time to commemorate those who lost their lives while serving in our nation’s military.
But what of those individuals whose time in the military is coming to an end? What resources and insight can be offered to the men and women transitioning from the military back to civilian careers?
A number of organizations including American Dream U, the Honor Foundation, CivCom, The Mission Continues, the Heroes Journey, and Victor App, strive to provide support for this community of veterans. Certain companies also strive to hire veterans and provide military-friendly environments.
Business Insider spoke with 10 veterans from several different branches of the military about transitioning back to civilian careers.
Here’s their best advice for people considering leaving the military:
This story was originally published on May 29, 2017.
Start preparing as soon as possible
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Omari Broussard joined the Navy about three weeks after graduating high school at the age of 17. He said he enjoyed his subsequent 20-year career, during which he rose to the rank of Navy Chief. However, as the father of six kids with an interest in starting his own business, he knew at some point he’d have to move on.
“I loved it, but it was a conflict, between missing out on family time and becoming and entrepreneur,” he told Business Insider.
Broussard said that the most crucial part of transitioning from military to civilian work is preparation. It’s advice he’s shared with his fellow attendees at American Dream U, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life.
“As a military member, you only get so much time to prepare, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get any time to prepare,” said Broussard, who is now the founder of counter-ambush training class 10X Defense and author of “Immediate Action Marketing.” “I retired in 2015. My preparations for getting out started in 2007.”
Getting ready included earning his degree in organizational security management at the University of Phoenix, becoming a firearms instructor on the side, and laying the groundwork for founding his own business.
“The military gave me more of the framing and the conditioning,” he said. “The skills I had to go out and get on my own.”
“Start early,” said James Byrne, who served as a US Navy SEAL officer for 26 years. “You need to start planning your exit when you start the service.”
However, Byrne, who now works as the director of sales and business development at solar tech company Envision Solar, told Business Insider that doesn’t mean you should divide your attention.
“I don’t mean one foot in, one foot out,” he said. “In order to do what we do, you have to have a complete commitment to our mission in special operations. But get your education. Get your medical VA stuff in order. Keep everything up to date.”
Byrne is a fellow at the Honor Foundation, a group that specifically helps Navy SEALs transition back to civilian careers and life. He said that he’s seen many people simply become overwhelmed by the process of leaving the military.
“It’s not so much that any one part of the transition is really that hard,” he said. “The problem is when it all comes together at one point – that’s what makes it hard and overwhelming. The better you can prepare in those different areas, the better it’s going to be. You can’t wait till three months before you get out.”
Brace yourself for a major culture shift
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Retired Green Beret Scott Mann has a total of 23 years of experience in the army. Today, he runs a leadership training organization MannUp and the Heroes Journey, a non-profit devoted to helping veterans transition.
“As a warrior, you live in a honor-based culture,” Mann told Business Insider. “It is tribal, in the sense that tribal society is built around the group, honor, and it’s about the collective. If you’re in the military, or a military dependent, your relationship with your teammates is tribal – you took the needs of the many in front of your own needs. That’s how you fight, train, and survive, and it becomes trained within you.”
On the other hand, the civilian job landscape tends to be far more individualistic.
“Bam, you’re out and you’re in this world that’s the polar opposite of that, where it’s a society that values the individual above the group, puts the needs of one in front of the many,” said Mann, who also authored “Mission America,” a book breaking down insight on the life after the military. “It’s literally like changing planets. It’s not that one is better than the other, but each is necessary in its own way.”
He said that high-performing military veterans must brace for that extreme change, as well as learn to tell their stories and translate their own experiences in the civilian world.
Kayla Williams is a US army veteran who works as the director of the Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She’s collaborated with veterans’ transition group The Mission Continues in the past, serving as a panelist at a recent talk.
She told Business Insider that civilian workplaces also tend to be far less hierarchical and structured.
“It was also a challenge to not feel the same deep sense of purpose that infused my daily life while in the military, which is what ultimately drove me to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs: I wanted to serve in a new way,” she said.
Know what you want
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After a brief stint as a financial planner in DC, Randy Kelley served as a Navy SEAL sniper for 11 years. Since retiring in 2005, he has found his calling as an entrepreneur and built up seven different companies.
He told Business Insider that ancient military strategist Sun Tzu is the inspiration behind his top advice for other recent veterans: “Know yourself.”
“You’ve got to know yourself first, what you’re good at, what you like to do, where you can provide value, and basically, what is your competitive advantage?” Kelley said. “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m very good at building ideas, and not so good at organization. I’m not going to be an accountant. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to be a project manager.”
Kelley, who founded the wellness startup Dasein Institute and has collaborated with American Dream U, recommended that veterans boil down their favorite aspects of their military career to figure out a new path forward.
“Do you like tasks or do you like missions?” he said. “If you’re a mission-oriented guy, like I am personally, you want to know what the big picture is. You want to know what needs to get done. If you’re a task-oriented person, you like stability and you like a consistent paycheck and those kind of things, and you need to follow a separate route.”
Get ready to network
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“Try telling a vet that’s not used to going to networking events, ‘Hey put on a suit and tie, print out your résumé, and get some sh–ty business cards and hand them out,'” says Greg Jumes, who served as a rifleman in the US Marine Corps from 2006 to 2010.
Jumes founded Victor App, which provides veterans and military families with a built-in community and local business and networking opportunities. He told Business Insider that more servicemembers should approach the process of transitioning as an actual mission.
“Getting separated from the military is probably the most important military operation you’ll ever conduct in your military career,” Jumes said. “And it’s extremely dangerous because the ripple effects are very large. It’s huge, and the planning is done by you this time, not your higher-ups or the intel officers or anything. You have to plan. You have to find where you should be moving to.”
Jumes recommended that veterans utilize social media and attend career fairs, in order to network rather than snag a role.
“You’ve got to branch out,” he said. “You’ve got to get out of the f—ing house to see those examples out there and find mentors and ask questions.”
“Reach out and network,” said Brandon Trama, a former US Army Special Operations Detachment Commander and current MBA candidate at the Wharton School of Business. Trama previously participated in CivCom, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian work.
“Networking isn’t a completely foreign concept in the military, but in certain jobs it’s not the norm to go out and market yourself,” he said Business Insider. “There tends to be this belief that I’ll let my work speak for itself and that’s the professional thing to do.”
He says that many civilians tend to be quite supportive of hiring veterans – but it’s up to the veterans to put these connections to use.
Charles Mantranga, an implementation manager at tech firm Exitus Technologies and fellow at the Honor Foundation, first joined the Navy in 1989. He left the service after 26 years in 2015. He told Business Insider that expanding his networks was a crucial part of his successful transition back to civilian work.
“Get in front of as many people that aren’t part of the community as you can,” he said. “Be a sponge. I was given that advice a long time ago by one of my mentor… I wanted to be around people who weren’t part of my community so I could learn. Get away from your normal, get uncomfortable, and grow. That’s what you’re going to have to do.”
Learn how to brag about yourself
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“In the SEAL teams, you don’t brag about yourself,” said Garrett Unclebach, a fellow at the Honor Foundation. “That’s just not how it works.”
However, he told Business Insider that’s an attitude that veterans need to change once they leave the service. Unclebach served as a Navy SEAL in Naval Special Warfare for six years. He worked as the VP of business development at construction firm Bellator Construction, and then became a program manager for IT consulting firm Paranet.
“If somebody’s a high level dude, not just by rank but by the way that you operate, people know it,” he said.
But in the civilian world, it’s far better to be up-front about your skills and experiences. It’s not bragging – it’s being honest about the value you can bring to others in a competitive market.
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All in all, transitioning from the military to civilian work is not an easy process. The veterans that Business Insider spoke with said it’s important to avoid getting discouraged when things get tough.
“Yeah, maybe the first job you land is not the one your are destined to stay with, but the important thing is to understand your purpose and not settle on a job for a job’s sake,” said Phil Gilreath, who serves as director of operations at healthcare tech company Cue Health Inc. Gilreath served as a Marine officer for nearly ten years, and is now a Honor Foundation fellow.
Instead of getting discouraged, take setbacks as opportunities to learn about what you’re really passionate about.
“I kind of went in a direction I didn’t even anticipate, but it kind of started with the idea of understanding your purpose and what are you passionate about?” he told Business Insider.