My office is nice and cozy. I have a big cherry-wood desk and a great chair. Views of woods and grass through lots of big windows. It’s a peaceful habitat.  No one bothers me. I know I’m safe, and in a few hours I’m gonna see my wife and kids. So now I’m going to try and show my gratitude to one guy who foregoes everything I just described, every day and every hour, to ensure that I can enjoy what I have all day long, every day. That, and my thanks, won’t make him one bit safer where he is, but I hope maybe it’ll help him through his military transition into a good job when he returns home.

military transitionQuestion


I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog in my free time over the past week. I’m a Captain in the US Army, currently stationed in Iraq and making the transition to civilian life in the next 6 months. I was wondering if you had any tips for someone in this unique situation that could smooth the transition from a mid-level military officer to a managerial or leadership position in the business world?

I’m currently serving in the Logistics branch, so I believe my skill set will translate well, but I need some pointers on how to sell it. As officers, we are bombarded with spam from headhunting firms and database job mills (often to our professional email addresses). The majority of my peers have used these services with mixed results. Perhaps you could give some guidance in one of your upcoming posts?

Thanks for your time,

Kevin W. Ryan
ISF Logistician

Nick’s Reply

Hi, Captain Ryan,

Thanks for what you and all our military do for us — I’m glad to offer any advice I can, hoping it might be useful.

Here’s the best initial suggestion I can make to you:

  • Don’t go looking for open jobs.
  • Avoid the job postings and ads.

If it’s open and posted, the competition is already so huge that your odds of success have dropped like a rock. The quality of your credentials and skills is almost irrelevant because the systems (human and otherwise) used to sort through applicants is not good at separating signal from noise.

Your best bet is to figure out what you’d like to do, and who you’d like to work for. Start with industry — which one? It helps to start with good targets. Don’t waste time with second-tier companies. Start with the best, the shining lights, whether they’re big or small. Research their operations, figure out what job functions might match your skills and interests. (Don’t get too specific. Like the guy said, most of what we know we learned in Kindergarten. The rest is about riding a fast learning curve without falling off.) The key is that it’s up to you to map your skills onto the work, as best you can.

That’s how you pick the job(s) in the company — not from ads.

Once you’ve selected a handful of companies, and identified some functions and jobs, you need to make new friends. Something like 40-70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. So don’t waste time with other channels. The next task is to work backwards from contacts you already have, and ones you can develop quickly, to meet and talk with insiders — people connected to each target company. They need not be employees. They might be vendors, customers, attorneys, accountants, landlords, bankers, etc. Find them any way you can — one good way is business articles about the company. Look for names of such folks. Google them, email them, call them. Be brief and respectful. Explain you’re considering working for company X, and you know they do business with X, and you’d like their insight and advice. Have a few good, friendly questions to ask about the company.

You score when the person personally refers you to someone in the company for more information. That’s when the real fun starts.

Use these introductions (you need only a handful, and you may have to talk to lots of folks to get them) to more closely map yourself to the work and function in the company. The best way to tackle this is to ask:

“What problems and challenges is your company facing in [logistics, purchasing, marketing, whatever]? Can you give me a little insight? I’m interested in working for your company, but I haven’t yet identified where I can contribute the most to the bottom line.”

It takes only one savvy manager to hear the words bottom line, and you’re in.

This is actually a lot of fun, because you’re meeting new people, learning new things, and getting into the circle you want to be part of. If you’ve got six months, I encourage you to start now. It takes time. But it’s the only reliable way to get in the door and find the job right for you.

Employers are lousy at figuring out what to do with job applicants. Most of the time, they realize people are just looking for a job, any job. If you start by picking an industry, a handful of companies, and then focus on mapping yourself onto a company’s challenges — that’s how you use your brain to create your own job opening. More likely, you’ll identify something that’s about to come open, and you’ll be the first candidate to interview. No competition. And due to the research you’ve already done, your motivation will translate into very effective dialogue in interviews. While your competition is answering questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?”, you’ll be busy explaining how you think you could add 10% to the department’s bottom line. Big difference!

Do me a favor and stay in touch. I’m glad to help. You’re ahead of the pack already because you took time to make contact in the business world. Keep doing that. Reach out to insiders in your target industry and companies. Forget the job applications and resumes. Do this right, and you won’t need a resume. The conversations you have will evolve straight into interviews.

You might have noticed that I didn’t mention military transition once except in the title of this post. That’s because the same methods that work for everyone else will work for you, because this is all about delivering profitable work, no matter where you’re coming from.

The edge you have is discipline. The military has given you that in spades. It’s something every job hunter in the civilian world needs, because roaming the job boards isn’t a task. Identifying your objective, focusing on it, pursuing it, and not stopping until you attain it requires… well, you get it. You don’t need to transition. Just apply your discipline to the task at hand and don’t abandon what you learned in the Army about getting the job done. Not to be rude, but civilians won’t be much competition.

Start with The Basics: Pick your targets. You know the old saying, you can’t get there if you don’t know where there is.

Be safe. I’ll be thinking about you.

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  1. Also, try to find e-mail listservs specific to the industry you want to enter. Not only will you find the best and the brightest shining lights in terms of companies (and people to contact), but you’ll also get a brief overview of the problems facing the industry. I’ve used this method several times (in conjunction with the Library Vacation) to great success.

  2. As part of your job search, every JMO should at least check out some of the military headhunters / recruiters / placement firms that offer free job search services to transitioning military. We have a recent post regarding this on our military to civilian blog: .

    Good luck and thank you for your service.

  3. Hi Nick,

    Please remind military veterans to look to the federal government for civilian employment. Veterans have rights which give them priority placement in many federal hiring efforts. They should go to these websites for more information: (for details about veteran’s preference); and (to search for federal postings). Good luck & stay safe.

  4. Guys

    I wish someone had tis up and going in “76 when I left the Corps. Would have made life a lot simpler for me and my family.

    Had an egineerign and business degre plus was on the way to an MBA program when the higher ups decided they did not need warriors anymore. Went to B school anyway.


  5. I am a fellow Logistics guy and I disagree on the JMO recruiters. Like yourself I transitioned from overseas. Having experienced the job hunt with several of these firms, I found that there is great pressure to place you and not much emphasis on what you really want. For the jobs I was referred to, my Logistics experience translated to “line-supervision or operations”. Most of these firms get a finders fee and that somehow is calculated into the budget the company has for your salary. You’ll get exposure to a lot of companies, but you probably won’t get the job that will best suit you.

    As a Logistics officer, you have a variety of valuable skills. You just need to figure out what you like doing best. You’ll do better in the long run following Nick’s advice; trust me on that. Remember the power of networking and plan and execute your transition as would any important COA. However, this time it has to be for you! Best of luck!

  6. I agree with everything Nick says, except in regards to the resume. Even if Captain Ryan can proceed to the interview/offer stage without one, which will probably not be the case in a lot of situations, companies will often expect a resume and application as part of their personnel file, even after the fact. HR if often very picky about requiring the same documentation from all employees they hire.

    Also, whether he attempts to do one on his own, through ACAP, or through a professional resume writer, it is a great way to collect his thoughts and start thinking of how to message himself. With a professional resume writer who actually interviews the candidate, they can really help pull out accomplishments, help translate the militay skills to Corporate America, and help the Captain market himself and be able to articulate how he can help a company improve the bottom line.

  7. Hello,

    Nice discussion.

    Our company recently polled a number of sales industry discussion forums and posted the question: “Do people with military backgrounds make good sales people?”

    The question received tremendous response and as such, became the subject of a blog article written by one of my colleagues. It was posted on various groups in LinkedIn and stirred up lots of interesting dialog.

    I thought you and or your readers might find it interesting, so I took the liberty of forwarding it along. I hope it finds you well.

    Best regards,
    Charles Quimby


    If They Serve, Can They Sell?

    Few would argue that military experience teaches leadership skills valuable in the corporate world. But is military experience an asset for someone who chooses a sales career?

    I posted the question on several sales-focused Linkedin groups. Not surprisingly, a large majority of responders (80%) believe the ex-military make good sales people. Citing attributes such as tenacity, discipline, work ethic, and ability to work under pressure, most would not hesitate to hire these folks – assuming they possessed the right personality type.
    What I found most interesting was the anecdotal comments made by those cautious of hiring ex-military:

    “Are trained by the numbers. May struggle if the job requires out-of-the-box thinking.”
    “Reluctant to call on senior executives. Might be a result of the rank system”
    “Struggle in sales manager roles. Expect sales people to follow orders and do what they are told. People don’t behave that way in the civilian world.”

    In my opinion, military experience can be a real asset for sales, especially in challenging times. Like any other candidate, they must be fully vetted during the hiring process to make sure they possess the appropriate skills / mindset for the mission at hand.

    With that said, I made one of my worst mistakes as a sales leader by hiring an ex-officer from a very elite group. Needing someone to “pioneer” a new territory, I felt he was perfect for this difficult assignment. I was so enamored with his background that I ignored red flags raised during the hiring process. As it turned out, he was severely deficient in mental toughness. How he made it through his unit’s notoriously rigorous training still remains a mystery to me……

  8. For most employers, it’s not a question of IF military experience is valuable, rather HOW it can be translated into the job description. Educating employers is vitally important to helping veterans get jobs.

  9. Nick,

    Thank you for the insight as I wish had this years ago as I haved tried to fight my way through HR stove pipes of excellence. As a M1A1 Abrhams Tank Officer, it is good thing we don’t have tanks on streets of America but does allow for a smooth transitoon to a civilian job. I plan to share your insight with all my comrades in arms.