How to Navigate a Major Career Transition: Advice from an Army Veteran
Posted by YWM on December 14, 2012
When I was a junior in high school, I had little sense of where I wanted to take my career. Preparing for college meant filling in a lot of little bubbles with number two pencils, including on one standardized test called the ASVAB, or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. I must have done well, because for the rest of that year and into the next, military recruiters were constantly calling me and sending me letters encouraging me to enlist.
I ended up better suited as an English major than a soldier, but as I continue to work with veterans’ service organizations, colleagues who have served and continue to serve in the armed forces, and military families whose lives are touched by the work we do together, I see that several career transitions have led me very close to where that ASVAB exam said I should have been all along. I may not have chosen a career serving my country, but I am particularly proud this Veteran’s Day that I am able to do my part to serve those who did.
This work recently took me to Jacksonville, Florida, where I met several colleagues who did heed the call of military service. As members of Citi’s Junior Military Officer Leadership Program — which identifies and develops high-potential, military-experienced leaders and positions them for civilian career growth — Julia Ruddock and her fellow veterans have all recently made significant transitions of their own.
I asked Julia, who received a Defense Meritorious Service Medal while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom as an engineer in the U.S. Army before coming to Citi, what advice she would give women considering big career moves. Here are excerpts of that conversation:
You recently made a huge shift from the military to a civilian career. Was this something you had expected and planned to do all along, or did you come to the decision to make a career change over time?
“When I graduated from West Point five years ago, I began my active duty service in the Army knowing exactly where I wanted to take my career. I had tailored my academic study and military training to directly support my ambitions as well as the needs of the Army. However, as the latter changed, my goals did not. Ultimately, because I could not realistically have the kind of control over my career path that I wanted, I decided to transition to the civilian world. Over the past several months that I’ve been here, I have found that working at a global institution like Citi lets me leverage my military experience to pursue my personal aspirations.”
How did you prepare and do you feel your preparations were the right ones?
“I began preparing approximately two and a half years before I left active duty service, methodically planning and executing against milestones that would help secure an opportunity that would make the most use of my skills and expertise. For example, I began my graduate studies early, while still on deployment, and completed them six months before transitioning. Eight months out, I began competing with other transitioning officers as well as civilian counterparts for both public/foreign service appointments and private sector employment. I also participated very early in job fairs and sought the help of recruiting firms that focused specifically on military transitioning officers. I feel my preparations were just right given the current employment environment in the U.S. Also, I am not a procrastinator so I thought it best to start early and give myself the maximum amount of time to achieve a successful transition.”
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your new role in terms of workplace culture, colleague or supervisor relationships and/or other major differences?
“One major challenge I’ve encountered has been the workplace environment because, in my current role as a Business Analyst, I have to be in an office in front of a laptop. I was certainly not used to that in the Army and, to be honest, I still am not. Another stark difference between my leadership roles in the Army and my current environment is that all of my colleagues are remote, in different locations all over the world, whereas I had direct supervision of and constant interaction with my soldiers every work day. This took some getting used to because collaboration is much more difficult when everyone is in a different time zone. It’s a different work environment but the challenge has proven to be one I’ve enjoyed stepping up to.”
What advice would you offer women — civilian or military — considering making a career transition like yours?
“My only advice is that you should never be afraid to make the leap just because it is unfamiliar territory. Like I learned in the military, adapt and overcome.”
Developing career opportunities through efforts like the Junior Military Officer Leadership Program is just one of the many ways Citi supports veterans and military families as part of the Citi Salutes™ initiative. To find out more, visit www.citisalutes.com.