More than 200,000 U.S. service members re-enter the civilian sector each year, facing unknowns when it comes to education, healthcare, employment and more. The journey is often met with a healthy amount of fear and uncertainty, but veterans who have been there and done that are sharing their own experiences with navigating the transition. Finding the next mission is exactly what Chris Wayne, a former sergeant in the Army’s 82nd Airborne and current CTO of Yahoo Small Business, believes is key to success for any soldier’s next chapter.
“Prepare yourself mentally to be a private in the world again. A private who is mature, adept, but with a tremendous acceleration trajectory waiting to rank up above your peer group,” Wayne said, drawing from his own experience transitioning from sergeant to student.
Wayne recalls driving straight from Fayetteville, North Carolina to San Jose, California where he simultaneously worked an entry level data job while attending courses.
“Standing amongst my new peer group of freshmen — questioning how to function as an adult for the first time, I had to remind myself that this was temporary,” he explained.
Adopting a temporary mentality is exactly the strategy that laid the foundation of his current role with Yahoo Small Business. Straight from college, Wayne began contracting with Yahoo in an entry-level customer support role, where he waited for an opportunity to lead again.
“I told myself — if I ever stop learning, if I ever stop growing, I’ll leave. Neither have happened and I was consistently promoted to where I am today,” he said.
While a successful new profession is the goal, actionable steps that put one foot in front of the other are critical to establishing solid ground to stand on. Wayne details the following essential tasks in growing from soldier to CTO:
Get professional — now.
Begin by managing your own personal brand. Establish a professional e-mail address, prepare a robust LinkedIn profile as well as buttoning up your other social media. Get headshots and the right interview clothes so when the time comes, you’re ready — not when ETS classes begin, but right now.
Establish your network.
Start with who you know. Reach out to your own base, making use of what already exists. Become a part of the world you want to join though Meetup groups in your area. Identify veteran groups and organizations to become a part of. With an expansive network in place, you just need to start tapping in.
Separate platforms for veterans.
Major organizations set aside specific positions specifically to hire military applicants. Dedicating the time to apply for quality versus quantity can alleviate a sense of being overwhelmed. Take care to seek out specialty platforms, and contact the coordinator or recruiter associated with the process to notify them of your application.
In addition to a robust preparation outline, consider the burning question: what about the resume? Always a worthy task to tackle, this is where it becomes vital to understand the role you are seeking, according to Wayne.
“Tell employers about your responsibilities versus the tasks you completed or skills you’ve mastered. Instead of listing — I provided support, quantify the logistical undertaking and the value of assets and personnel involved,” Wayne said.
On the other hand, if applying for a clearly defined niche, “list tactical skills to clearly prove your qualifications.” Knowing the role means controlling the narrative.
Many of the core principles Wayne learned during his time in the Army helped him succeed in a business leadership role.
Know when to lead, and know when to follow.
You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.
Never hide a failure, but use it as a growth opportunity.
Form connections with the people around you.
Respect and trust are earned.
He adds that veterans also deliver unique attributes to civilian companies, so finding the right fit is critical for future success.
“There are employers who need people with discipline, loyalty, and integrity — all characteristics of a veteran. Those employers will train you if necessary — they will invest in your future. There is a world outside of the military that needs veterans and there are opportunities for us to thrive,” he added.