Out of Uniform, Second Edition: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition

Out of Uniform, Second Edition: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition

by Tom Wolfe (2)

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After completing military service, veterans can have a difficult time finding employment when returning to civilian life. Out of Uniform, Second Edition is designed to help all transitioning military personnel, regardless of service, branch, rank, rating, time in service, time in grade, or specialty. Although all service members share common denominators, each individual brings something unique to the job market. Not only does this book cover the basics—search techniques, networking, interview preparation, résumés, negotiation, and a new chapter on social media—it also offers guidance on topics that are often overlooked, specifically the central issues of self-knowledge, interviewing empathy, and the power of questions.

In addition to the technical guidance, readers will also discover important information in the anecdotes based on the experiences of soldiers, sailors, air force personnel, and marines. Out of Uniform, Second Edition is an invaluable resource for veterans who want to make the most out of their civilian career opportunities.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640120006
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 178,694
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Tom Wolfe graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, served as a surface warfare officer in the navy, and completed tours of duty as a flag aide, communications officer, and administrative department head. He is a recognized expert in the field of career transition. Formerly a senior partner at Career Development Corporation, he provided guidance to separating military personnel for almost thirty years. His columns and articles have appeared regularly in digital and print media, including Military.com, Military Transition News, Stars and Stripes, G.I. Jobs, TAOnline, and Veterans of Modern Warfare.

Read an Excerpt


Life Is Like a Roller Coaster

Career transition is part of the journey called your life. It occurs more than once and differs each time it happens. Major changes are a challenge, but you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Thousands of people have gone through this before, and thousands more will do so in the future. Every one of those people has a story to tell. Here is one you might like.

One of my favorite ways to get to know the person I am interviewing is to ask this question:

I want you to ignore whether or not you are qualified to do it, whether or not the job is out there, whether or not the associated quality of life would make your family happy, and whether or not you could even earn a living doing it. Now, tell me — what would you really like to do for a living?

I do not ask this question because I expect to help the person find that job but rather to gain some insight into his or her motivators and perhaps even passion. Although that particular job might be unrealistic, maybe we can find one that can satisfy some of those motivators and tap into that passion.

Several years ago I met a navy lieutenant named Mark. He was stationed in the DC area while working as a facilities manager at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. A carrier-based F/A-18 pilot, he was on shore duty after almost two years at sea. For reasons dealing with quality of life and family separation Mark had made the decision to resign his commission. He was seeking civilian employment, and I was assisting him in his career transition and job search. During our initial meeting I asked Mark my favorite question. Many people struggle with an answer, but not Mark: "That's an easy one, Tom. I would design roller coasters." I laughed. I had heard some interesting responses over the years, but that one surprised me. I asked him to explain.

Throughout his childhood he had loved riding roller coasters. He grew up in Cleves, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb that was only a short drive from Kings Island, a large amusement park. Mark begged his parents to take him there, and as soon as he was tall enough he rode the park's assortment of roller coasters almost nonstop. When he turned sixteen he would drive himself to the park several times a month. He eventually got a job there so he could pay for gas and, better still, ride the coasters for free.

A few years later Mark received a navy ROTC scholarship and chose to attend the Ohio State University, in part because of the proximity of Columbus to Cincinnati. He could keep his job at Kings Island and work some weekends and summers there. Mark graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in his hand and ensign's bars on his collar. His training as a naval aviator and his early assignments as an F/A-18 pilot took him all over the country — Florida, Mississippi, Texas, California, Virginia, and DC. No matter where he was stationed he always found the amusement parks and the roller coasters. In fact after our meeting he was going to head down Interstate 95 to the Kings Dominion theme park for his first ride on a coaster that had just opened the previous weekend.

Unlike many of the dream jobs that had been described to me, the one that Mark had in mind might actually be feasible. I asked him what was stopping him from going after that job. Turns out he had done much in the way of research on that profession. Although his job at the park had given him considerable operational experience and his passion as a fan made him an expert as a user, he was missing the academic credentials necessary to get hired by one of the amusement park ride design firms. Even if he could get hired in that field the starting salary was about half of what he was making as a naval officer, and with a wife and two children he found that salary unacceptable.

I could see the disappointment in his eyes, but he was also smiling. He explained to me that as long as there was a roller coaster nearby he would be happy. Although he would not be able to design them, there was nothing stopping him from continuing to ride.

Mark completed his job search and accepted an offer from the RDPM Corporation, a major real estate development and property management company based in Chicago. After a year of training and a year of rotational development assignments he was assigned to the company's regional office in Orlando, Florida, as a facilities engineering manager. The job was a nice fit for his educational background, his naval officer leadership and management experience, and his shore duty tour as a facilities manager. The location of the job was the icing on the cake — the Orlando area is home to some of the best roller coasters in the world.

We stayed in touch. I remained curious about his career, and he continued to solicit my guidance as a career coach. Mark did very well at RDPM, so well in fact that after just three years he was offered a promotion to operations manager. He called me to share the news, but he did not sound all that happy. This promotion, like most promotions, required a sacrifice. It was one he was not willing to make: moving his family to Chicago.

He and his family loved living in Orlando. His kids were doing well in school, his wife was happy in her job as a teacher, they had just moved into a new home, and they were surrounded by roller coasters. I asked him if the operations manager position could be done out of Orlando or if another promotion — one that would let him stay in Orlando — might come along. He answered no and no. The corporate culture at RDPM was not one that liked to be told no, especially when it came to career advancement. In fact declining a promotion meant career stagnation at best and looking for a new job at worst. We talked it over and Mark decided to investigate the job market in the greater Orlando area.

A few days later we had our next career coaching session. I initiated the conversation by once again asking about the dream job. Mark replied, "That's an easy one, Tom. I would design roller coasters."

I laughed and replied that some things never change. Although the design side remained unlikely, maybe we could get a little closer this time. Mark did his homework. We explored his existing network and discussed how to utilize and expand it. He researched potential employers in the area. We both made some phone calls. I encouraged him to select four or five likely targets, and he picked two. Knowing his passion, I did not find his choices the least surprising. They were two of the largest entertainment companies in the world. Both had a significant presence in the Orlando area and more than two dozen roller coasters between them. I asked him if he knew anyone at those companies. He could think of no one. Think again, I said.

Based on the work we had done to revise his résumé, I knew he was a member of the Ohio State University alumni chapter in the area. I was aware of his membership in the Tailhook Association, a group of former and current carrier-based naval aviators. He was also a member of the Coasters, a group of like-minded roller coaster fanatics, and I also knew he was active in his church. I encouraged him to think of each of those four groups as a circle and to consider that he likely knows at least one person in each of those circles who works for one of his two target companies. Those circles are bound to overlap, and every time they do he would be closer to someone who could help him get his foot in the door.

It took a month, but it happened. Sure enough there was a member of his church who had not only graduated from Ohio State but had also been in the navy. George had recently retired from Amusement Parks International (API) and had strong ties there. He and Mark met for lunch and hit it off. Mark persuaded him to join the Coasters, and George made some calls. The next thing you know Mark was sitting across the desk from the VP of park design and development. There was an opening for a project manager — someone to coordinate the installation, testing, evaluation, and launch of both new and enhanced rides, including roller coasters. He received the offer, accepted it, and called me to say, "Hey, Tom. Can you believe it? Wow. It's almost perfect. Somebody else gets to design them, but I get to ride them all I want, as often as I want."

Mark and I continue to stay in touch, and you will learn more about his roller coaster ride later in this book (section 8).

How about you? What would you really like to do for a living? Before you can answer that question, a little self-analysis is in order. The next chapter will get you started.


The Education of Self

For most military personnel the career transition process is as much about education as it is about finding a job. Many people end up working for companies unknown to them when their searches began. Frequently they accept positions about which they initially had little or no knowledge. Why does this happen?

One explanation is that most military personnel have little exposure to the private sector prior to joining the service. With a few exceptions (e.g., graduate school, education-with-industry, and defense program management) this lack of exposure continues throughout their time in the military. The resulting insufficient information about employment options creates one of the largest obstacles in the military-to-civilian employment transition. Without knowing the choices how can one possibly respond to the question, What do you want to do?

Most military personnel base their knowledge of the business world on their experiences as consumers. They are very familiar with companies that brand their products or services. Almost everyone has heard of Apple, Ford, Amazon, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and UPS. Few people may be familiar with SunEdison, Ecolab, and Jones Lang LaSalle. All of these companies are world-class businesses and leaders in their fields, but only the first group markets directly to the consumer. You might at first think you will prefer to work for one of the former, but with better information you might decide that one of the latter is the one for you.

Regarding job categories, most people have a certain amount of familiarity with titles like technician, production manager, sales representative, and project engineer. Business analyst, program manager, consultant, and brand manager might be less familiar titles. Depending on your educational background, experience, and personality, something in the lesser-known category might be more appropriate for you.

As you get started, I recommend you pay less attention to job titles and focus on job content instead. Start off interviewing for everything for which you are qualified. As you learn more about each of these opportunities, you will also learn more about yourself. Your level of interest in each opportunity will start to become clear, and an elimination process will begin. Cross off the jobs that do not interest you and focus on those that do. This process works both ways. If you are rejected every time you interview for a particular type of job, then you should reconsider your suitability for that position.

A certain amount of this self-education process occurs before the interviewing phase of the job search begins. Although reading about companies, studying social media recruiting sites, going through information interviews, and having informal discussions with family members and friends can give you a sense of what is out there, for most people it is the actual job interview that produces the most important information. One way to view this phenomenon is to remember this:

A successful job search is an information-gathering process that, if done correctly, yields several things, including an offer for the job you really want.

Thorough self-education and excellent self-knowledge are critical prerequisites to a successful transition and job search. An important part of knowing yourself is being aware of how you are perceived by others, especially when those "others" include potential employers. This perception is explored in the next chapter.



There is a strong demand in the civilian work force for separating military personnel. During my career of recruiting, coaching, and placement I encountered more than one thousand companies with active hire-the-vet programs. For those of you in military-to-civilian career transition it is nice to know that the private sector finds you so attractive. However, before your head swells too much you should examine both sides of that coin.

Interviewers, just like the rest of us, have a tendency to prejudge others based partly on stereotypes. Companies with a history of hiring separating military personnel use the individual interviewing process to reconcile the positive and negative stereotypes associated with that population as a whole. These employers presume that you will have certain positive qualities:

Patriotism and citizenship. You love your country, have a desire to serve and give back, and do not take freedom for granted.

Flexibility. You change duty stations and assignments often, work outside your academic or military specialty, and adapt to new circumstances quickly.

Work ethic. You are not afraid of hard work and long hours, do what it takes to get the job done, and have a strong mission and goal orientation.

Reliability and ethics. You do what is right, can be counted on to be where you are supposed to be and do what you are supposed to do, and your word is your bond.

Self-sacrifice. You can handle deployments, harsh working conditions, and family separation; you consider others before self.

Health and fitness. You are physically fit, well groomed, and never get sick, as measured by the number of sick days you take each year — zero.

Demonstrated leadership and management. You set the example for others, empower your people to succeed, look out for their safety and welfare, and are frequently responsible for thousands of dollars worth of assets and accountable for it all.

Wow! Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager — how could you not want to hire someone with all of those attributes? But before you get overconfident you should be aware of a common mind-set among civilian employers that generates negative labels for you as well.

Rigid and formal. You are uncomfortable out of uniform, call everybody sir or ma'am, and have trouble relaxing in a business setting.

Focused on rank structure. You are overly attentive to the amount of metal on the collar or braid on the sleeve and label people as superiors and subordinates.

Lacking creativity. You are used to taking orders, are not an independent thinker, and have pushed any creative streak into the background.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You have had a rough time and carry a lot of baggage.

Unable to think outside the box. You rely too much on the plan of the day, the organizational manual, and standard operating procedures.

Accustomed to guaranteed paychecks. You are used to compensation based on attendance rather than performance — a world in which the best and worst performers in a peer group make the same amount of money.

Inflexible. You are unwilling to take chances, are afraid to make a mistake, and embrace the if it ain't broke, don't fix it mentality.

Autocratic. You order people around; they follow you because they might go to jail if they do not.

Would you hire that person? Taken as a whole, this profile would be unacceptable to any organization. Although this negative stereotyping may contain elements of truth, it can in no way be an accurate or fair description of any single individual in the military. However, the same must be said of all of those positive attributes listed previously. An individual who could live up to all of those virtues would be impossible to find. Reality exists somewhere between the extremes.

How can you use this information? Keep in mind that when you walk in the door for an interview, the interviewer has probably prejudged you to some degree. Much of this prejudice is based on a combination of positive and negative stereotypes surrounding military personnel. Interviewers, at least the ones who know what they are doing, will try to get to know you well enough to judge you as an individual. Your mission is fairly simple:

Reinforce as many of the positive stereotypes as you can, and defeat the negative ones that do not apply to you.


Excerpted from "Out of Uniform"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Note on the Second Edition    
Section 1. Transition Readiness    
1. Life Is Like a Roller Coaster    
2. The Education of Self    
3. Stereotypes    
4. Master of Change    
5. The Four Profiles    
6. Filters, Part One (Employer’s)    
7. When Can You Start?    
8. Travel: Are Your Bags Packed?    
9. Grade Point Average    
10. How Much Are You Worth?    
11. Will You Relocate?    
12. Filters, Part Two (Your Own)    
13. Quality of Life versus Quality of Work    
14. Educational Background Check    
15. Transition Timeline    
Section 2. The Self-Discovery Zone    
16. From Trees to Toilet Paper    
17. Lifetime Tasks and Skills Inventory    
18. What Size Company Is Best for You?    
19. The Digital You and Your Virtual Résumé    
20. What’s behind Curtain Number Three?    
21. Experience or Potential?    
22. The Best Job for You?    
23. Job Hunting from a Remote Location    
24. The Geographically Restricted Job Search    
Section 3. The Other Side of the Fence    
25. What’s Out There?    
26. I Want to Work with People    
27. I Want to Be a Manager    
28. Operations Management    
29. Engineering    
30. Is Consulting Right for You?    
31. Government Contractors    
32. Additional Options    
33. The Boss of Me    
34. The S Word    
35. Your SQ Number    
36. The Audition    
Section 4. Preparations (Mechanical)    
37. Your Decision Matrix (Part 1: Design)    
38. The Six Ps    
39. Documentation    
40. Creating Your Résumé    
41. Cover Letters    
42. Your Reference List    
43. Application Forms: Thank Goodness I Made a Copy    
44. Uniform of the Day    
45. Finding Uncle Harry or Aunt Mary    
46. Headhunters    
47. An Employment Perfect Storm    
48. The Runaway Résumé    
Section 5. Preparations (Mental)    
49. The Power of Questions    
50. Researching Companies    
51. Knowledge Is Power    
52. Wallflowers and Cheerleaders    
53. Weaknesses: Use Them to Your Benefit    
54. Camaraderie and the Power of People    
55. Tell ’Em What They Want to Hear    
Section 6. Interviews: Tips and Techniques    
56. Body Language    
57. Interviewers: The Good, the Bad, and the “Ugly”     
58. What’s with That Tie?    
59. From Adversary to Advocate    
60. All of My Questions Have Been Answered    
61. Please Leave a Message at the Beep    
62. Be Memorable    
63. Extra Preparations    
Section 7. Interviews: Variety and Function    
64. Interview and Etiquette Checklist    
65. Interviews: Purpose and Varieties    
66. Can You Hear (and Maybe See) Me Now?    
67. Let’s Do Lunch    
68. Following Up after the Interview    
69. Until the Paperwork Is Done    
70. We Regret to Inform You     
71. Your Decision Matrix (Part 2: Usage)    
Section 8. Offer, Decision, and Launch    
72. Learning How to Swim    
73. The Power Shift    
74. Job Offer: The Message and the Makeup    
75. The REV Factor    
76. The High Jumpers    
77. Will You Marry Me?    
78. One-Offer-Itis    
79. Salary Negotiation    
80. Responding to Offers—the Right Way    
81. Lift Off and Stay on Course    
82. A Personal Trainer for Your Career    
83. Has the Ride Lost Its Thrill?    

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