Stepping away from the military can be quite disorientating.
In addition to new professional circles and figuring out what career will suit you, one of the biggest challenges is the loss of identity associated with being in the military.
This was one of the toughest adjustments for me. After 10 years serving with the British Army I thought my job was me. That’s how other people saw me. That’s how my family saw me.
It’s a common problem amongst military veterans - they judge themselves by the job they’re doing and all of a sudden this thing that made up who you are is gone.
But you soon realise your job is only one component of who you are.
After leaving the army, I moved to Australia and joined Accenture two years ago. Here are my tips for veterans making the transition to the corporate world.
I suffered a bit of a confidence loss when I first left the military because I thought at the time: “I don’t know how to do any of this work…I have no idea how to do a pivot table on a spreadsheet”. But those are the things that are really easy to learn. Most people leaving the military have tremendous experience behind them, a lot of which is quite unique. Just because you have left and you don’t wear a uniform you are still that person. Just have the confidence to understand you are going to make mistakes, you are not going to be perfect but as long as you are learning from it – you will be ok.
Write down what you enjoyed in the military (and what you didn’t)
I found this very useful. Take a sheet of paper and in two columns write down everything you enjoyed about being in the military and everything you didn’t. Writing down what you didn’t enjoy is probably more important because once you really understand that, you can define what type of job you want (and don’t want) and the industry you want to work in. For example, if you didn’t, or no longer enjoy travelling you probably need a job that keeps you near home.
Finding the right company is extremely important
Once you’ve identified the type of work you want to do you need to find the right company to work with and then the right team within that company. It’s similar to when you join the army - you choose the team and the regiments based on who you feel match your values and objectives.
When people in the commercial world look at the military they see a uniform and think everyone is the same. When people in military look at the commercial world they see suits and think everyone is the same.
But it’s not the case. There are many different teams, cultures and experiences you can have in the commercial world. Getting to know that company in detail, what their values are, what they want to achieve and whether that aligns with what you want to achieve is crucial.
Research and prepare
Like any course in the military make sure you brush up on the specifics. For example, consulting firms assess people using case studies. So if you’re considering a career in consulting practice online case studies because there is a technique to it.
Also, understand the industry you’re going into. If you’re going to be working in banking, get a hold of the finance papers. If you’re going into health – read the health trade journals. Make sure you understand where the industry is going. And then from that how you can help them.
Be careful where you spend your money
Lots of people leaving the military go and spend money on a MBA or expensive training courses. Constant learning is fantastic, but they do it without a real understanding of what they’re going to do with it. I’d go back to that first step and have some idea of where you think you’re going to end up and then spend the money if necessary. You don’t have to focus on MBAs or training courses. Most consulting firms look at the raw material to see if the person is trainable, or they are looking for someone who is highly experienced in the field which is not something you will pick up from a course. So my advice would be to be careful how you spend your money. Talk to people, take advice – you have a great network without realising it! You are still part of the tribe, even though you have left.
Consulting isn’t for everyone
Consulting is a career of constant change. You’re constantly moving on to new projects, new clients, new technologies and different working conditions. It’s not a simple 9 to 5 job. If one of the things is you want more stability and routine, then consulting might not be the right option for you.
That being said we use technology really well and have highly flexible working conditions. We have a mother on my current project team who works one day a week from the office and the rest from home.
There’s no reason why veterans shouldn’t consider a career in consulting or Accenture. It comes down to a personality type - either you’ve got the right mindset and approach or you don’t - regardless whether you’re ex-military or not.
Consulting is a really good starting point for veterans - it’s a really solid foundation to a commercial career, you learn so much very quickly and I believe there are fewer better places you could start out.