Tips for Senior Leaders Transitioning From the Military to Industry

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57849Julie Vida is a retired, dual-warfare-qualified surface warfare officer and naval aviator (helicopter pilot). She joined Gartner in January 2016, after spending three years in a senior civilian position on the Navy HQ staff in the Pentagon. Julie, Vice President, Team Manager, Federal Executive Programs, says, “I joined Gartner because, as an EXP client myself when I was a government leader, after every Gartner engagement I felt smarter, energized, empowered, and excited about the potential for driving creative solutions in the government.  I wanted to be a part of that!”

On the surface, Julie’s skills do not appear to align to Gartner or most other corporations that are not exclusively tied to the defense industry. However, translating her leadership and mission accomplishment experience in the military led to her joining Gartner as an Executive Partner. She shares some ways senior enlisted and officers can be strong candidates for executive-level positions in industry below.

Listen more than speak: Let’s face it, most senior military leaders are Type A, take-charge kinds of folks with solid self-confidence. That’s what got you to the top of the military hierarchy after all. You’re accustomed to being at the head of the table, standing at the podium, leading the troops and being heard. That worked well for you … then. Now is the time to listen at least twice as much as you speak. coveredShow that you are truly interested in the new role you’re pursuing; since you’ve never done it, you’ll only learn by listening. Show interest in others and ask questions. You will show up as inquisitive, interested, coachable and willing to learn. At the senior level, few hiring managers will question your knowledge, skills and abilities. They are looking at your presence, how you communicate and carry yourself and how you would fit into their team. Do they like you and want to work with you every day? They get to choose; make it easy for them.

Highlight results: Veterans generally have little or no practice writing resumes and marketing themselves to compete for roles, particularly in the private sector. Military career progression is largely based on a predetermined career ladder, requiring little effort on the member’s part to apply or compete based on their personal merit. As you start to put words on paper outlining your experience over the past 10 to 20 or 30 years, focus on the results you drove, not simply the work you did. Listing the programs you led, policies you wrote, teams you led only tells a story of how you spent your time. What’s the “so what?” you want to convey? Use the one- or two-page resume many companies require to tell a clear story of what they can expect you to deliver.

Build nontraditional networks: Veterans historically participate in organizations and associations close to the military. Those networks are important, but may not serve you well as you build new relationships in nontraditional industries. Tap into your personal networks of friends, neighbors, fellow parents and professionals you know in companies you admire and whose products you use. Learn about their roles and experience in retail, manufacturing, healthcare, technology, higher education and other areas you may have spent little time concerning yourself with while serving. Diversity and inclusion are high-interest areas across industries these days, including veteran and military spouse outreach. The opportunity is ripe for you to engage with companies seeking the unique skills and talents you bring to their leadership teams as a senior military veteran.

CockpitSmileHone your executive presence: I cannot emphasize this point enough. Unfair as it may seem, others will judge you on your appearance and how you “show up” in casual interactions and interviews. If you wear your service dress shoes or other uniform items you think are businesslike, others will notice and may label you as lazy or uninterested in rebranding yourself as a business leader vice military brass. Make the investment in yourself to purchase high-quality business attire and accessories. Save your military garb and gear for your reunions and veteran social engagements. Though the notion of what “executive” looks like today continues to morph (think Steve Jobs’ iconic T-shirt and jeans), I strongly encourage you to keep it traditional and conservative at first. You may look out of place if you show up to an interview in a couture suit with D&G shoes and bag if the rest of the leadership team is in khakis and polo shirts.  Regardless of their culture, however, I can guarantee you will make a negative impression if you wear your Bates Oxford shoes and carry your green aviator’s helmet bag as a briefcase.


Are you a veteran interested in learning more about Gartner? Click here to take the next step in your professional career.

3 Responses to “Tips for Senior Leaders Transitioning From the Military to Industry”

  1. Amos Auringer

    Definitely great tips Julie. We definitely had to get up to speed quickly on business trends, revenue generation, how to listen, collaborate differently, learn about corporate performance and metrics, and commit to a mental transition. Leaving the military is much more than a physical transition. Most vets and active duty I have talked with have not fully considered the mental and emotional transition. For some, this transition can come easy, for others it may take years. My tip: Don’t make “rules” about what you will and won’t do (such as travel or relocate)…you may find yourself locked out of a great opportunity for you and your family. You will be tested for your commitment and willingness to be coached (regardless of your retiring rank).

  2. Tina Carkhuff

    Julie, Thanks for your service and dedication to protecting our country! The tips you mentioned are great and many people don’t realize how difficult the transition from military to civilian can be. Welcome to Gartner! It’s clear every step you have taken will ultimately lead you to greater success in your new role!

  3. Scott Kennedy

    Julie – thank you for sharing your story and offering some great ‘global’ advice. I also agree fully with Amos that the emotional transition can take some time – a uniformed senior officer or senior ‘soldier’ is probably leaving a lifelong vocation for an entirely new world, and that takes time. My other observation is that in any new role and environment, you need to be ready to start learning again. Military leadership and technical skills are invaluable and transferable, but there is also a lot of new, exciting stuff going on in the real world. The good news is – we have all spent our careers adapting, learning and problem solving. “Piece of cake…”

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