You have just been given your orders and are about to plan an operation requiring expertise in a field for which you have little or no experience – your transition back to civilian life. If your transition were a military operation, what would be the first thing you would do? Seek out a subject matter expert, perhaps? Someone who could tell you the details of the area in which you are about to enter, or the capabilities and limitations of the new technology you are about to use.
You did this a lot during your time in the service - that new piece of equipment in the motor pool usually came along with a training team to teach you how to operate it safely. You most likely attended a military course designed to teach you the latest techniques and procedures for operating a new system. Think of a civilian mentor as a new subject matter expert - yourguide or interpreter during your transition to a new civilian career.
Like a local guide or interpreter in a foreign country, a civilian mentor can help you navigate the unfamiliar terrain and language of the civilian job market. While you were serving, a civilian mentor was working his/her way up the corporate ladder or building a business. They have first hand experience with the challenges you are just becoming aware of. You wouldn’t operate a new piece of equipment without some expert advice, so why would you treat your entry into the civilian workforce any differently?
Fortunately for today’s veterans, finding a civilian mentor is easier than ever. Many veterans organizations sponsor veteran-led mentor programs. These connect you with veterans who are members of the organization to serve as a your mentor. However, one drawback to these programs is that your mentor may not be connected to a field or company you are interested in. As an alternative, there are several veteran friendly non-profit groups, such as American Corporate Partners and Veterati, which match veterans to civilian mentors in a specific industry or field. Though the mentors in these programs are not always veterans themselves, they are professionals with experience in a specific field. Finding a mentor in a particular field is useful for both understanding the industry and developing your network.
Three months prior to my transition, a pair of co-workers encouraged me to contact the program they were involved with about a civilian mentor. Since both had nothing but positive opinions as to the value of the program, I decided to do it. After discussing my interests and possible careers after the service with one of the program’s counselors, I was linked up with a mentor - Steve. Steve, an executive at one of the most recognizable brands in the world, had been in the corporate world for as long as I had been in the service and previously acted as a mentor for other veterans prior to linking up with me. He gave both his time and expertise to help on my new path.
When I had questions about interviewing, Steve’s experience on both sides of the equation proved beneficial in the development of my own interviewing strategy. After I had written my first resume, Steve offered to review it and provided some constructive criticism on my initial efforts. No matter what I needed, he always made himself available to help. Like any good guide, Steve helped me chart the path I would take in my post-military career. Steve’s knowledge filled in gray areas and proved invaluable to me as I pondered my future. He provided experience I would not have had access to on my own. And, it was good to know that I was not starting on my new journey alone. I was grateful for the assistance and glad my colleagues had introduced me to the program. However, if you are not seeking a direct one-on-one mentoring relationship, there are other less formal alternatives.
You might try joining aveteran-led online discussion forum, like the Veterans Mentor Network on LinkedIn. These forums allow transitioning service members to ask questions and seek advice from veterans who have already transitioned into civilian careers. In these groups, you will find many informal mentors who are willing to answer your questions and assist you through the transition process. I find these forums to be a great source of honest feedback on transition related topics and questions. Plus, they are a great way to expand your network. While I chose American Corporate Partners to connect me to a mentor, any of the veterans’ mentorship programs can link you up with a subject matter expert in one way or another. At the very least, you efforts will expand your network a little more.
Regardless of your choice, I am optimistic that you will find your experience with a civilian mentor to be as good as those of so many other veterans, myself included, who have chosen to work with a civilian mentor. I will close by, again, pointing out the fact that while in the service you always sought out an expert before undertaking an unfamiliar task. So why wouldn’t you do the same as a civilian? Start your journey to a great civilian career on the right path - find yourself a mentor. Good luck.