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Career advice when leaving the military – a potential lifeline

I recently traded some interesting e-mails with Charlie O’Donnell, the Founder/CEO of Path101. If you haven’t heard of them now, I wouldn’t be surprised as they’re still very much in their development phase. But I think in the coming few years you certainly will have heard of and experimented with their website.

Path101 aims to build “a place for career discovery – a site where you can learn about all sorts of different career paths.” This is more than a networking site, more than an educational site, more than a recruitment site, and in fact manages to combine all of these to help people make wise decisions about their professional future. (At least, that’s what I understand they’re trying to do.)

If you’re reading this, you likely know that I spent six years in the US Navy as a submarine officer. (The examples I use below are very Navy submarine specific… my apologies to the Army/Marine Corps/Air Force folks out there.) This site could be very powerful for ex-military members, and put them on a path for a very successful post-military career. Here are some of the issues that military people have entering the wider job market:

  • You develop a great network in the military. It can be extremely powerful, but for most people it is very informal.
  • “Military experience” is way too broad. To adequately figure out what someone’s training is best suited for, you need to drill down to their designator/rating/rank.
  • Military members have excellent training and a great work ethic, but that’s very hard to translate into civilian terms.
  • The military is typically the only real professional experience ex-military members have when entering the job market.

After that email conversation, I started thinking about those issues, and how a site like Path101 could solve them. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became, largely because it could finally put some data-driven specifics behind what is commonly a very informal process. Here are some of my thoughts:

How a site like Path101 could help the military-to-civilian transition

First of all,

it could help formalise your network!! This is one of my biggest regrets in my military career. In the military, everyone is moving all the time and in the last few years I’ve already lost track of a number of great people I served with. Everyone in the military should use LinkedIn (or similar variant, though I don’t know of a better one) to keep in contact with friends, shipmates, supervisors, etc. Virtually no one does this now, and that’s really too bad. Most ex-military people I know would bend over backwards to help out someone they served with or a friend of someone they served with… you form lifetime bonds in the military. (See this post as an example.)

Fundamentally, you never know when you’re going to leave the military. To have a successful career, you need to constantly network. In this sense “networking” doesn’t mean kissing ass to get people to like you, it just means keeping track of people that you want to stay in touch with in your career. Already there are military groups on LinkedIn, such as (for me) the Gold Dolphins group and blog, to help take advantage of these relationships.

Secondly,

it could help show military members what they can specifically do based on their experience. Path101 is building what they call the “Resume Genome Project” which aims to take millions of resumes/c.v.’s to help you figure out what people with your background have done with their careers. Eventually this tool could be very powerful for military members looking to transition to the civilian world. If the resumes of other ex-military members were coded with the correct designators/rates/etc., you could see exactly what every ex-submarine officer did in their career after leaving as a JO, after leaving as a DH, after leaving as an CO/XO, etc. Nuclear Machinist Mates could see where all MM(N)’s went after they left the Navy. A Marine Corps MOS 0369 could take a look at where his training and education has fit best for others that have left the Corps.

This information could be invaluable to people leaving the military. I would predict that many submarine officers go to business school or law school, a lot of aviators go become corporate pilots, and submarine supply officers become international arms dealers. (Only slightly kidding on that last one!) But smart people are data-driven, and it would be VERY interesting to see the results of a Resume Genome Project for the military. The military tends to be very insular, and if people are only familiar with what their immediate friends and colleagues do after they leave the military, they may be missing out on a wealth of opportunities available for people with their training and background.

Finally,

Path101 could serve as an excellent knowledgeable and unbiased career advisor. For the vast majority of people leaving the military, it’s the only real professional experience they’ve ever had. Going back to university career advisors (for those people whom that’s even possible) is useless because they have no idea of what to do with military experience. While the military does provide transition assistance, having a source of unbiased advice would be extremely useful. People could use forums to help each other explain their military experience in civilian terms, teach people about unusual jobs/industries that come up in the Resume Genome Project, and more.

I personally believe that the military career advisors suffer from a lack of quality data, and thus tend to funnel people into the kinds of careers that are easy to funnel people into. Certain employers historically hire ex-military at much higher rates than other employers. (To me, that smells like untapped potential for a lot of employers.) If you have quality information on what people with your military background have done once they’ve gotten out and had a chance to connect with them and learn more about different opportunities, the career choices people make could potentially be very different.

Summary

The military is an amazing, life-changing experience for virtually everyone. It is a great career opportunity, but it can be difficult when transitioning back to the civilian world. I think Path101 could grow to be a great resource for military members as they look to leave the service. Having data and opportunities at their fingertips will allow them to make more informed and better decisions about their future. I really look forward to what Charlie and his team are building.