Why Commissioned Officers Struggle in Transition

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by Shareem Annan, VCCS

US-Army-Badges-CAPTAIN-Officer-Rank-American-WW2Many of the commissioned officers we write resumes for or provide career coaching services for come to us having no clue what they want to do when they transition out of the military - far more than their non-commissioned counterparts. Even though the commissioned officers tend to be better educated because of they are more likely to have advanced degrees, they often find themselves in a situation where their education, experience, and goals don't complement each other. Complicating matters is the fact that for many officers experience in a certain field doesn't necessarily mean they are experts in the technical aspects of the job. That's because officers are trained to be leaders and managers first, not necessarily technical experts. It's common for us to get clients who have 20 yrs in IT for example, but still lack the skills or certifications necessary to work in the field once they separate from the military. In many cases they frankly do not want to work in the field at all, even if that’s where the lion-share of their experience lies. This is more prevalent with officers because unlike enlisted service members, officer don’t necessarily get to choose their line of work.

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Though these situations present challenges for officers they are not insurmountable. First, take a step back and take some time to reflect and re-evaluate your career thus far. Make a list of the skills and qualifications you’ve obtained over the years. While in the military you’ve gained a wealth of skills, some general like management and leadership; some technical like physical security, or HAZMAT. If you’re like most, you’ve probably spent some time doing jobs that were considered additional duties outside of your main job. You were probably asked to lead or contribute to special projects or serve on committees. Your experience is also certainly not limited to your military or professional background. Think of your formal education, hobbies, or volunteer work. Often times we gravitate to things outside of work that give us the most fulfillment. After making this list you might find that there are common threads with these activities; you might find commonalities in the things you really like or dislike; or you might find commonalities in the things that you either excelled at or found the most challenging. These common threads may overlap technical skills or personality or relationship-driven tasks.

Once you’ve narrowed your areas of focus, now it’s time to craft your resume. Unlike the average enlisted servicemember with a linear career history that synchronizes neatly with their goals and interests, commissioned officers are more likely to need resumes that highlight their best qualities and skills, rather than their work history. This holds particularly true for those trying to switch careers and do something different from what they did in the military. For these individuals, functional resumes work best. Functional resumes de-emphasize your actual work history and orients hiring managers to your strengths (the common threads in your work history). For instance, if you discover that you excelled in managing people, one section could be Personnel Management. Under this section you could include experiences managing personnel in a variety of tasks that span several jobs, projects, and even volunteer work. It’s still recommended that you list your chronological work history, but that could go towards the bottom of the resume.

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