How to Avoid Cannibals During Military Transition

The transition from the military to civilian employment looks set to be relatively easy and cannibal-free. You compose your resume. Join a program. Apply. Interview. Sign on the dotted line. Easy.

Yet for so many service members and spouses, this journey is fraught with pitfalls. Yes, charged.

As the Senior Transition Coach for’s Veteran Employment Project, I’m puzzled when smart, serious, ambitious people seem to veer off course during their transition. It’s like you’re all leaving with the transitional version of the infamous Donner Party – only to wake up in the middle of winter frozen, hungry and surrounded by cannibals who want to eat your liver. Preferably with beans and a good chianti.

You know you’re on the wrong track and risk being cannibalistic when your transition seems to be taking much longer than your peers.

How can you avoid the Donner Party Transition and get back on track for your next high-impact career? The solution depends on how you got off course in the first place. Often I see how certain perils are directly related to your career level. (Check out all of our strategies for your career level in our FREE video library.)

Senior enlisted

You’ve had an amazing career full of huge responsibilities and a knack for making things happen. Well done. You join the Donner Party, however, when you don’t get one-on-one help with your resume. (I don’t mean just pay for any resume. I mean get one-on-one coaching, sharpen your focus, and match your checklist resume to a specific job.)

I know it’s hard for an autodidact like you to ask for help. Yet, more than any other group, you can keep the cannibals at bay with this type of coaching. This will help you make sense of your work experience for a recruiting agent – ​​and may even qualify you as a subject matter expert.

Officers – Especially 05 and 06

Top leaders become members of the Donner Party when you hold on to your job title. You think you have to see the word “director” or “VP” in your defense work, or it’s a waste of time.

This attitude can alienate people trying to help you. It may show that you don’t quite understand how these companies work. And cannibals think a VP liver is the tastiest morsel on Earth.

It is true that these roles could very well be offered to you by smaller contractors, depending on your work experience. If you want to get into one of the defense majors – the big five defense contractors – or into private industry, consider taking on a role that allows you to be part of the team so you can learn the profession, prove yourself quickly and gain access to the role you want. .

You graduated six years ago with a science, technology, engineering or math degree. Yeah you. Then you went straight into the military where you may have done absolutely everything assigned to you – and absolutely nothing with that degree.

People you know in the military are probably telling you that your degree is too old and that no one will want you outside. This illustrates one of my favorite concepts: Never follow the transition advice of your military peers – or cannibals.

You’ll be surprised how often a four-year degree in a STEM major is just a gateway to certain jobs. If you have the diploma, you passed the first door. The next door is to make your checklist resume match the job you want as closely as possible. The third door is to contact the veteran employment team at your target company.

They will likely show you how your STEM degree, along with your security clearance, gives you a direct path to the defense industry. Even if you do not want to stay in defense indefinitely, professional experience reactivates your diploma.

There are many ways people get sidetracked and make their transitions take much longer than they should. Stay on track by watching for pitfalls associated with your career level.

Jacey Eckhart is’s Lead Transition Coach. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and Military Sociologist who helps service members get their first civilian job by offering career-level masterclasses through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website . Contact her at [email protected]

Learn more about the Veterans Employment Project

For more tips on how to make a successful military transition, enroll in one of our FREE military transition masterclasses today. You can view previous courses in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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