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With transitioning into a new industry, at what level of an organization could one expect to transition into?


Thomas O'Connor

My personal example: I have 11-years of military experience, eight of those in a leadership role, with years of superior performance evaluations. I have made an honest attempt to bridge the gap from military to business operations through the pursuit of higher education. Is it overzealous of me to expect to transition into a management role despite lacking industry specific experience? If so, what type of role should one set their sight on as they transition? I understand there are numerous variables that play a role, just looking for some general insight on the matter. Thanks in advance for any and all feedback!

10 October 2019 4 replies Military to Civilian Transition



Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

Two great answers. I am sure your balloon is popped. The truth is leadership is a by product of multiple skills that good managers have, mentoring, managing directing. Leadership is not a career-application of those other skills makes for a good supervisor, manager, director etc. You need to research your specific career field to find where you will fit. Indeed has tons of data on job postings, look at requirements. Conduct some Informational Interviews with civilians in the career. Be sure and research Informational Interviewing and get the ground rules. I did not see a profile on LinikedIn, you may want to connect with Michael Quinn and follow his advice he posts daily. I also have a how to article on my profile Google Jerry Welsh veteran. Thanks for your service God Bless.


James Kinneer, PhD Indiana, PA

I don't think it is overzealous of you to expect to transition into a management role despite lacking industry specific experience, but it will require some planning. Your leadership experience is a transferable skill. It can be applied in any industry. Your greatest hurdle will be convincing a potential employer that you can be a quick learner and apply your leadership experience in the specific industry sector. In order to do this, you will need to do your research. I would suggest targeting a specific industry sector and then doing your research on current industry trends and challenges. Part of your research might include informational interviews with business leaders in that field. The research will allow you to get a clear vision of how your leadership experience can be applied, which is something that you can use to sell yourself. Remain open to an entry level leadership role as you transition, it will allow you to learn the business and your demonstrated leadership will help you to advance.


Rebecca Splinter Tacoma, WA

Yes, you should absolutely expect to need strong expertise in whatever work a job leads. People need to be able to go to their manager for help growing in their field; if the manager has little to no background in the field, that will be difficult. It can (usually does) send a message to the others in the group that is disrespectful of those that have dedicated their career to gaining expertise in a field--because being hired without that expertise indicates that their expertise isn't valued.

Leadership IS valued, too. But think about how you currently lead: you know about the work performed by those that report to you so you can help them grow. Would it work for someone with excellent leadership experience but no military experience to become your leader in the military? Would you see that person as having the ability to add significant value to your career growth and career success? I am not aware of any leader roles in which knowledge of the specific business is unimportant.

However, you also probably have great expertise (in addition to leadership) that may apply very well to leader roles in the civilian world. For example, and please excuse my lack of knowledge of military roles: aviation roles probably translate pretty well into civilian roles; roles involving heavy machinery/equipment may translate very well; ditto supply roles and probably quite a few others.

Last, if there is a field you want to pursue when you leave the military, you can seek opportunities to develop extensive knowledge about that industry. If you want to work as a manager, say, in leader financial advisors (brokers), you could see if there is a way to get the required securities licenses; find opportunities in the military to develop recruiting skills (very important for most leaders in brokerage), etc. If you want to be a leader in banking, I'm pretty sure most local banks would be happy to have someone talk to you about various career paths in banking; I work for Wells Fargo and know for a fact that many here would be happy to do that. (I'm not pushing Wells Fargo per se; that's just my current frame of knowledge.)

Or you could pursue a field that is very much the same from industry to industry. Examples could include accounting, HR and finance. I'd be happy to talk if you'd like.


Tim deCordova Palm Bay, FL

This will probably vary from industry to industry. When companies hire someone off the street it is to fill an immediate need (regardless of level). I would suggest to evaluate your education and experience and find a role that would fit a need of the company. Leadership in military and civilian world are vastly different (not good or bad, just different). While us veterans know what an NCO role is, and the training required to be an NCO, civilian companies (at least my industry) don't see a correlation of an NCO and an entry level manager. When they do pluck military leaders for manager roles, it has been at the 0-4 and above levels because they have the ability of demonstrating their experience with large budgets, managing large teams/complex systems/acquisitions and usually have advanced training and education. Not to say a company wouldn't hire you as a manager, but its been my experience that companies would bring someone on in a role, and see how they grasp what the company needs and how they operate, gaining some experience before placing in a manager role. As an NCO myself, Ive always expected my civilian boss to understand my job functions and expected output. If you hire someone off the street who doesn't know what their people do, that can be a disconnect. Having said all that, I feel that NCO's can make very good managers and inspire their teams. As a transitioning military member it is incumbent on you to be able to communicate these topics with hiring managers. Most companies want to hire veterans, and your military experience will serve you well as you grow with the company into more challenging roles

On a side topic, Ive seen this difficulty in my own company advising new veterans: In the military you know if you do the required time, attend the required training/schoolhouse you will get promoted in a somewhat predictable timeframe. In the civilian world it is a bit more nuanced and growth/promotions take on a life of their own. Yes it is based on performance but it is also based on factors you can not always control. As veterans we need to adapt to corporate life because corporate life does not adapt to us. If you come in with a good attitude, willing to learn and work hard, it can be very rewarding

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