Category Archives: Transitions

How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

Employers Value What Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas Mattos-Masei – Numbers 30:2-36:13

Transitioning to civilian life can seem like walking in a barren wilderness. Few of the familiar touch-points of daily life exist. Nobody asks you to verify your identity to access your workplace or computer. You don’t hear the recording of the Star Spangled Banner each morning. Lack of a muster might even make you feel nostalgic. At least it seemed like someone cared if you showed up for work.

How to Take Advantage of Not Fitting in

How You Benefitted from Rootlessness

When I first left active duty, I found civilian life devoid of meaning. Part of it stemmed from my working from home and being alone much of my workday. In the military, you're never by yourself. There’s always someone to meet with or check on. Counterintuitively, the nomadic nature of military life builds roots. They aren’t place-based. They’re deeper, in the people and mission that require constant attention.

At 2.1 million active and reserve duty personnel, we’re similar in size to another famous, nomadic group. During their wanderings, summarized in parshas Mattos-Masei, the Israelites found meaning amidst upheaval:

“…and these were their journeys, according to their goings forth.” (Numbers/Bamidbar 33:2)

Events, at each location the Children of Israel visited, had meaning. In the Wilderness of Sinai, they learned G-d would fill their needs when He gave them manna from heaven. But most of the gifts they received were spiritual.

Kivros Hataavah is a case in point. There, many Israelites died because they gave into their craving for meat. Kivros refers to the word kever, a grave. Hataavah means desires. A person who gives into his desires gets rewarded with an early burial.

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The sum total of their wanderings was an enduring set of values. These would see them through their transition to a settled life in the Land of Israel.

Tweak Your Presentation to Be More Effective

While in the military you moved every two or three years. But each new duty station reinforced the values you learned in basic training. On time is late and ten minutes early is on time. Stand at attention no matter where you are when the National Anthem plays. Address superiors respectfully.

Rarely do you see these values in a civilian workplace. That we continue to hold them post-military is part of what makes us feel out of place. Yet private sector companies prize our punctuality, dedication to duty, and respectful treatment of others.

Learn to convey your work ethic and mission commitment in a way that engages civilians. Show up ten minutes early. But rather than waiting for latecomers, help the meeting organizer get set up. Don’t criticize millennials’ lack of commitment. Be the employee who helps them learn the value of mission. Speak with respect to every colleague. Leave off the sir and ma’am. It’s not too different from what you did in the military, is it?

The Israelites had to adapt from a nomadic to a settled life. Many faced culture shock. They had to give up longstanding practices, like bringing sacrifices on private altars. But their values remained steadfast. Only the way they expressed them changed.

The same plan will work for you. Alter your behavior a little. Learn to express your values in a way that doesn't shame your civilian colleagues. You’ll always feel a little uncomfortable. But that tension is your greatest asset. Use it to build a successful civilian life.

What makes you feel like you don't fit in?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Ensure Your Job-Hunt Fails Before It Begins

Do You Know Why Job-Hunting Is Like Basketball?

3 minutes to read

Basketball.  What’s the first thing you do when you want to play?  Do you put your shoes on?  Get a ball?  I’ll admit basketball isn't my favorite sport. One on the rare occasions I tried to join a game, I played left out. But I imagine it’s pretty boring shooting at the air. Confused? I’ll explain.

How to Ensure Your Job-Hunt Fails Before It Begins

Make Sure You Know the Point of the Game

Before anything else, you need a basket to shoot at.

You can perform passing drills. And you may practice dribbling using your fingertips. My dad said it gives better ball control. Talk about dull. I’d train for about five minutes and then sneak away to do something else.

Training is pointless unless it’s preparation to play the game. And the game is pointless without a goal.

In any serious play, a random basket won’t do. Regulations require the hoop to have an 18-inch diameter and its top to be 10 feet above the floor. The backboard must measure 72 inches wide by 42 inches tall. It should have an inner rectangle that is 24 inches wide by 18 inches high.

Any deviation from these standards disqualifies the game. You may have fun. But will anyone care about a slam-dunk record using a basket only eight feet above the ground? Bragging about such an accomplishment will damage your reputation not enhance it.

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Professional players won’t play basketball with a non-regulation basket. They won’t know if they’ve won. Your job-hunt works the same way.

Why Getting a Job Isn’t a Goal

When a service member says he’s getting out of the military I always ask about his plans. In most cases, he replies he has to get his resume together and find a job. To the question, “What do you want to do,” he answers something like, “well I was a 25 Bravo (Navy – IT, Marine Corps - 0651, Air Force - 3 Delta 1) so I guess I’ll get an IT job.”

Can you imagine Kobe Bryant saying he’s a basketball player because “I’ve got a metal ring and some wood.” These supplies don't make a basketball goal. Possessing them won't make someone a basketball player. Your military specialty (MOS, rating/NEC, AFSC, designator, NOBC) doesn’t constitute a job goal.

Did you like working in your military specialty? Yes? Then you have a good field in which to set your job-hunt goal.

If you didn't like you military specialty, you’re setting yourself up for failure by getting a similar civilian job. It may seem faster to look for such a job. But if you didn't like the field, there’s a good chance you won’t do well. Six to 12 months after getting a job you’ll be looking for another one.

To set a worthwhile job-hunting goal, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Choose. Do I like my military specialty? If not, choose another field.
  2. Research. What problems do private sector companies in the field need solving?
  3. Assess. How do I feel about working hard to solve these problems?
  4. Match. Do my skills align with those necessary to deal with the problems I uncovered?

Each question will help you refine your target job. Notice that skills are the last issue, not the first. The military taught you discipline, leadership, and problem-solving. They are more valuable than hard skills, such as IT. Technical knowledge goes out of date. Also, often it doesn’t translate well to civilian work.

Instead, figure out the basic skills that make up your technical knowledge.  An 11 Bravo (Infantryman) wouldn’t seem to have good civilian job prospects. But he has a high level of mechanical expertise. Couple that with discipline, leadership, and problem-solving. How about becoming a Mercedes Benz mechanic? The average salary for this job in Cincinnati is $62,338, with starting pay of $51,338. That’s about what an NCO makes in the military. In San Jose, California salaries are 20% to 25% higher. And you can make close to six-figures after a couple of years. Not bad if you like working on cars.

Hunting for any job is like shooting a basketball without knowing which goal is which. How do you know if you’ve scored? Did you throw it in your opponent’s basket? You may have made the shot. But if the other team got the points who cares?

Choose. Research. Assess. Match. Now you have a goal worth pursuing. When you reach it, you’ll have your first big win in civilian life.

Have you CRAMmed your job-hunting goal?

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How to Be More Influential with Civilians

Have You Transitioned from a Military to Civilian Communication Style?

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Pinchas – Numbers 25:10-30:1

Confronting a problem head-on seems to provide the fastest solution. In a military staff meeting, a candid airing of views appears to ensure the best ideas get presented. But as infantrymen know, a frontal assault often leads to defeat. Have you ever had the same thing happen outside of combat? You have the facts and logic on your side. You bang away, head-on. Yet in the end, you lose…

How to Be More Influential with Civilians

Style and Substance When Influencing People

We come from an environment where collar devices communicate the pecking order. But have you been at a command where the civilian secretary wields enormous authority by having been there so long? In the civilian world, you have titles. But they can be deceiving. Often you don't know who holds the power. Until you pinpoint the sources of authority, you’ll lose the argument.

As well, sometimes a meeting only formalizes decisions reach during the preceding days or weeks. To gain your objective, spend time socializing your ideas beforehand. Seek agreement on smaller points even if the person won't consent to advocate your idea. Do this a few times and you’ll figure out who has power.

Figuring out the best way to exert influence has bedeviled humanity for millennia. Contrast rebel Korach with Zelophehad’s daughters in Parshas Pinchas:

Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? (Numbers/Bamidbar 27:4)

Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah had no brother. As such, under the current laws of inheritance, they would not receive a portion of the Land of Israel. This seemed to fly in the face of what they knew about G-d: He loves men and women equally. Yet, they saw the failure of Korach’s frontal assault on Moses’s and Aaron’s leadership role. (See this post for more about Korach and his allies.)

Zelophehad’s daughters needed a more sophisticated approach to winning their point. They had clarity about their goal – inherit the land their father would have received if he had lived. But, they couldn't claim to be innocents. Their father had died because of a serious sin. They knew it could mean the forfeiture of rights to the land.

So, they began by acknowledging their father’s sin. Next, they noted he was not a conspirator along with Korach. Rather, he committed an individual sin. This implied that since everyone sins, his treatment shouldn’t differ. Then, they chose not to decry their fate. Instead, they asked a question that compelled Moses to realize the injustice of the current plan. They ended by making their appeal.

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How can you use this process in private sector organizations?

6 Steps to Greater Influence in Civilian Life

Let’s examine the six aspects of Zelophehad’s daughters’ process:

  1. Have a clear objective. Know what you want to accomplish and why.
  2. Uncover the merits and deficiencies of your case. The benefits may be clear. But people who oppose you will focus on the negatives. Better to figure them out in advance.
  3. Acknowledge the weak points. Disarm your opponents with preemptive action. No objective has only good points. You make a stronger case when you admit its weaknesses.
  4. Give a rationale for discounting them. Make the case for ignoring the weak points of your case. If you can’t dismiss them, at least diminish their impact.
  5. Use questions that guide people to agree with you. When you help people discover, on their own, the merits of your idea they're more likely to agree with you. Lead with questions that help them reach your conclusions.
  6. State your objective. Having laid the ground for agreement, disclose your goal. If the person rejects it, go back to steps 4 and 5. Work back through why they should ignore the cons and how they embraced the pros.

The blunt style of military decision-making won't fly in most private sector organizations. Use this process. It will help get your ideas excepted, giving you greater success in civilian life.

What prevents you from having work you’ll enjoy?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Get Job Security by Improving One Skill

Four Abilities that Make You Always Employable

4 minutes to read

Technology is wonderful. Communication choices have increased. We can source purchases from around the globe. Tools such as GPS mean we’re never lost. Fishermen can track where fish hide. Cars and airplanes can drive and fly themselves. But, these same benefits have caused job skills to become outdated. Everybody is on an endless treadmill of retooling their abilities to stay competitive in the job market. Do you pine for the good old days when hard work and reasonable skills meant lifetime employment?

How to Get Job Security by Improving One Skill

Technology Targets Mid-Level Earners for Unemployment

When we returned to civilian life, my wife decided to get back into nursing. Little did she know how much the field had changed in six years. Hospitals had implemented new electronic charting programs. She had to learn about new medications, procedures, and regulations. She had to earn a masters degree to get into management.

Farming, manufacturing, service businesses, no industry is immune from technology’s impact. The pace seems only to quicken. I wrote a few weeks ago about how unmanned aerial vehicles could destroy many jobs for pilots. Think about what self-driving cars would do to taxi and Uber drivers.

What do you do to protect yourself from becoming obsolete?

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As wages for an occupation rise, the incentive to replace people with machines goes up too. Low wage jobs aren't worth the investment necessary to replace them with technology. High-paying jobs entail skills that machines can't replicate. Those in the middle, roughly $50,000 to $90,000 per year are most vulnerable. Hence, you see an enlarging gap between low and high-income earners.

Yet, for all the talk about artificial intelligence, a computer or robot can't replace every skill.

At first glance, you may think none of them relate to military work. Take a second look. Most service members used at least one of them on a regular basis. By applying it to a private sector field and improving it, you can take yourself out of the technology line of fire.

Skills that Don't Lose Their Value

You don't need to excel in all four of these skills to get a high-paying job. Master one and you are well on your way to a secure six-figure income. Stand out in two and your employment worries are over.

Innovate. All organizations must innovate to stay alive. Even nonprofits have to find new and better ways to fundraise and deliver services. Contrary to popular belief, no one is born with an innovation gene. You learn this skill. Did you create new policies or procedures while in the military? The young aircraft maintainers I worked with did so all the time. Limited resources stimulated creativity.

Start with learning everything you can about your chosen private sector field. Identify the problems it faces. Crate an inventive solution to one of them. Now here’s where your military experience gives you the edge. Lots of people can come up with an idea. Your military training will help you work out an implementation plan. Stuck on how to get more ideas? Jack Foster’s outstanding book, How to Get Ideas, will stimulate your mind.

Negotiate. In a world where machines control humans, I suppose they’ll settle our disputes. Until then, we’ll have to resolve our own clashes. If you held a leadership role in the military, you negotiated conflicts. If you were in supply or contracting you negotiated with vendors. Does your resume list the hundreds of thousand or millions of dollars you negotiated?

No surprise most private sector organizations need this skill. Is dealmaking a part of your chosen field? Getting people to agree to a business arrangement takes the same abilities as mediating conflict. Start by learning all you can about previous deals in your industry. What made them work? What motivated the parties to come together? Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything will give you're a primer in private sector dealmaking.

Interrelate. Technology can facilitate communication. But it can't create relationships. You’ve heard it a million times. It’s not what you know but whom you know. It’s half true today. Most organizations don't keep dead weight around. So unless your job is to develop relationships, you’ll need other skills that benefit the company. But without relationships, you won't get the chance to use them. That’s why its one of the 5 Steps You Need to Take to Get a High-Paying Job.

In the military, getting a peer or senior to help you with a task took relationship-building skills. Did you attract the notice of your commanding officer? If not, do you know someone who did? Think about the actions he took. How did he make the initial connection? How did he groom the relationship over time? In How to Be a Power Connector, Judy Robinett explains the steps you need to take.

Sell. If no one buys a company’s goods or services it won't stay in business. Whether it sells them face-to-face, through retail outlets, or online, people drive the process. Technology can aid it. But human communication and ideas close the transaction. Even nonprofits need people who can sell their message and raise money.

You may not perceive it this way, but to advance in the military you marketed yourself. Since you believe in yourself, it was an easy sale. If you were a recruiter, you did some of the toughest selling out there. In the private sector, high pressure, sleazy used-car-type selling doesn't fly today. Companies need people adept at helping clients determine the benefits of their products and services. Polish your sales skills using Tonya Reiman’s The Yes Factor.

Most veterans don't realize they have these valuable, evergreen skills. Review your career and find accomplishments that highlight them. Put them in your resume. Now get to work improving them.

Which of these skills do you have? How are you improving it?

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How to Enjoy Your Job-Hunt and Career

Do You Want Passion in a Career?

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Balak – Numbers 22:2-25:9

Most job-hunting tasks aren’t fun. And, many private sector careers don't provide the enjoyment that we found in the military. So when employment experts talk about finding your passion in a civilian career, I see lots of veterans’ eyes glaze over.

How to Enjoy Your Job-Hunt and Career

Many of our parents taught us to believe work has nothing to do with fun. For them, work meant survival. Enjoyment was beside the point. Today, we see two powerful forces colliding. Most of us still have to work to afford to live. In this respect, nothing has changed.

But the rapidity at which industries and jobs evolve has surged in the last decade. Keeping a job requires constant upgrading of your knowledge and skills. Maintaining your motivation to stay abreast of new developments presents a challenge. All the same, you’ll have to meet it or lose your income.

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Twenty years ago, people used time after work for leisure. Now, they use it to stay competitive in their jobs. If you don't like what you do, how will you stay motivated?

The Difference Between Passion and Lust

In his superb book, No Fears, No Excuses, Larry Smith makes an irresistible case for passion being an essential part of the work you choose to do. He doesn’t define what passion means, so let’s unpack it ourselves. No surprise, it has ancient roots.

Pharaoh had passion for Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Such lust seems to be the image that comes to mind at the word passion. But this type is too easily sated to have relevance to a lifelong career.

We see another kind of passion in the story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac. He rises early in the morning to saddle his donkey. Then he rouses Isaac and his two young men. The four leave on their fateful journey. This story counterpoints another tale of passion in this week’s parsha, Balak:

And Balaam arose early in the morning and saddled his she-donkey… (Numbers/Bamidbar 22:21)

Balaam was a great prophet. The Moabite king, Balak, wanted him to curse the Israelites so he could defeat them in battle. But G-d refused to let Balaam go. Finally, seeing Balaam’s yearning to help Balak, the Almighty relents. Balaam wants to get an early start. So he doesn't bother to call a servant to saddle his she-donkey.

Balak knew of Balaam’s deep passion for wealth and honor. He catered to it by sending ever-higher officials to plead with Balaam. Though he pooh-poohed the huge sums of money offered him, Balaam’s desire for it almost leads him to his death. His passion for wealth and honor evinces lifelong self-interest.

Abraham also has a lifelong passion. His legendary hospitality to family, friends, and strangers shows he sought meaning from serving others. On this path, he never wavered. He lived for the next opportunity to take care of the Almighty’s children.

How to Find What You’ll Enjoy

Two men’s passions motivated them to rise early and saddle their donkeys. Both had many servants who could have done this work. Balaam had passion for self-aggrandizement. Abraham had passion for service.

Follow Abraham’s model. You’ve already started along this path in the military. You defended the Constitution, and hence your fellow citizens, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Build on this legacy in civilian life. Consider these questions:

  1. How can your leadership ability better help people meet life’s challenges?
  2. What team building skills do you have that can help an organization meet its mission?
  3. Where can you bring the unifying spirit of the military to bridge divides in our society?
  4. How can you use the idea of mission command to help a private sector company operate better?
  5. What organization can benefit from your ability to inculcate a sense of purpose in its people, the way your service branch did for you?

These represent a few ways to find passion in your civilian work. Too often, I see veterans grab at the first opportunity. Later, they regret it only to take other, passionless jobs. Not motivated to go the extra mile to develop themselves, their civilian prospects get dimmer each year.

Take the time to find a field of rich interest. Ponder the questions above. Come up with others that help you probe what you'll enjoy. Talk to veterans who found passion in their work. How did they do it? Make the investment in finding a field that captures your interest. It will pay huge dividends over the coming decades.

What prevents you from having work you’ll enjoy?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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