veteran recruiting basicsWhat’s the very best meal you could make right now using nothing but the items currently found in your kitchen?  Could you pull off a four course meal?  Whip up a deep dish lasagna?  Soup and sandwich?  OK, maybe just soup?

How you answer this questions depends more on what you have in your cabinets and refrigerator than it does your cooking abilities and it’s a great analogy for today’s veteran – and veteran recruiting.

A military career, whether it be for four years or twenty-four years provides multiple opportunities to acquire skills and experiences. Some which become permanent and others, not so much.

Of course, it’s not just about stocking up willy-nilly. To make a smooth transition into the private sector it’s about acquiring and maintaining an inventory of skills and experiences that will fit the needs of another organization.

Looking at the situation through the lens of the grocery store allows us to see that skills and experiences, like food, can be classified as staples, semi-perishable, and perishable.  We need some of each, and we need to make sure they work together.

Veteran Recruiting: A Shopping List for Success

Staple Items: Professionalism, flexibility, and sense of duty are cans of soup.  Once you have them, they really don’t go bad.  These things can make a good meal better, and in a pinch they might even serve as a small meal.  As great as soup is, though, nobody relies on a pantry full of soup as their only source of nourishment.

Semi-Perishable: These are your technical skills.  A loaf of bread or box of pasta may last a while, but not forever. The same can be said for knowledge. Perhaps you were certified in a particular program or have a degree.  This looks good on a resume, but there will eventually become a point that it gets stale.  Did you get a degree in something other than the job you’re doing? Maybe the last time you actually worked in the field you got certified in was ten years ago. Degrees and certifications are important, but by themselves they don’t get jobs any more than two slices of bread make a sandwich.

Perishable: This is where experiences come into play.  Like fruit and vegetables, they’re great when fresh, but the more time that passes the less desirable they become.

Sure, you can lean on the fact that you operated a certain piece of machinery, or lead a specific type of unit eight years ago.  Thinking this is good enough, however, is like comparing a bag of frozen corn to the fresh ears available at the local farmers market. Yes, at one time the frozen stuff was just as fresh, but nobody will ever mistake one for the other.

All military careers eventually end, and while there are many programs to help transitioning veterans translate their skills, it’s also important to recognize that the best cookbook in the world is useless without the right ingredients.

Thinking about your career strategically means regular trips to the grocery store. It means frequently replenishing the skills and experiences, while at the same time maintaining the staples of leadership and professionalism.  It means making sure all of the ingredients fit together.  Fresh strawberries taste great, but they still don’t belong in a lasagna.

Now is the time to get ahead of the power curve. Make a list of what you need and shop often. Keep your kitchen well stocked. Company is coming over and once they do it will be too late to run the grocery store.

Read more on the Veteran Transition Diary.

bobwheelerAbout the Author: Bob Wheeler recently retired from active duty where he recruited physicians for the US Navy.

After retiring from the service in June of 2014, Bob has launched BW Career Services, a consulting and coaching firm designed to help assist other veterans with their transitions into the private sector, a topic he’s been blogging about extensively on the Veteran Transition Diary

You can find Bob on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @sailordoc.