Everyone wants to find the perfect job; high school graduates, college graduates, MBAs, and especially veterans leaving active duty. So why do so many of us search, agonize, and pray for years for the perfect “post-military” job at the right company and then, like that, we are off to the next opportunity in a time period measured in months?
As a veteran who served for a decade and a half, I have observed hundreds of transitioning veterans whom all seem to experience a similar pain; a stark dichotomy between how eager they are for stability and how rarely they find it. Recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce data shows that veterans leaving active duty will change employers twice in the first three years out of uniform. Personally, having moved ten times in fifteen years for the Navy, the last thing I want to do is move two more times in less than a full “tour of duty.” So what’s the disconnect? With all the military headhunters, military job fairs, and military hiring initiatives, one could presume that veterans have more than enough resources and options from which to find the “perfect job.” And after that research, preparation and third party assistance, shouldn’t they be less likely to change so soon? Of those surveyed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the underlying causes are always tied to compensation levels first with location preference a distant second.
Regarding the disharmony between veterans’ expectations on compensation and the reality of what is offered them, I offer this: I had a rude awakening when I realized that we just don’t pay as much in taxes while on active duty as our friends in the “real world.” Between BAH, BAS, and all the tax-free checks accumulated from 10 years of Middle Eastern conflict, military members “net” much more on average than our civilian counterparts “grossing” the same amount. When you combine this not so subtle line item with a move from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky to your “dream job” in Palo Alto, Austin, or Northern Virginia/DC, all of a sudden that salary doesn’t take you nearly as far. It’s not rocket science, but it still strikes so many of us square in the face, and frankly, it’s hard to swallow.
Nestled neatly under the same talking point, veterans need to realize that we were compensated for our unique skills (pilot, tank mechanic, ship driver, information warfare expert, special operator, et. al.), but when we go to work for Apple, Citibank, or Exxon, we don’t bring the same out-of-the-gate value in $$$ to those organizations, so we shouldn’t expect to see the same paychecks.
This isn’t fun to talk about, but doing so returns us to the issue we started with: veteran attrition. All veterans leave at some point, and we all need to think about these things. Therefore, my challenge is universal to officers and enlisted, retirees and those separating: don’t just look at the shiny numbers companies flash in front of you, but get a mentor, preferably in the general vicinity of where you want to end up, and ask them the hard salary questions. Use their network to create your own and then you can validate job offers that are based on bonus, commission or both. It’s a brave new world out there, and we have to be clear-eyed about how our experiences serving our country translate to the civilian world. Having a mentor will provide a trustworthy foundation for when you finally make the leap!
American Corporate Partners Mentor Program http://acp-usa.org/Mentoring_Program
LinkedIn Veteran Mentor Group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Veteran-Mentor-Network-4466143/about
US Chamber of Commerce eMentor Program https://ementorprogram.org/p/veteran/about
Warrior-Scholar Project http://warrior-scholar.org
Nick Breedlove is the co-founder of Tech Qualled: a boutique training and placement company dedicated to enabling transitioning veterans for success in tech sales. He has been a Naval Aviator for over fourteen years and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard University. For more on Tech Qualled, visit www.qualled.com.