Keep on Building a Career You Love
The best way to start a new job after the military
Now that you’ve worked so hard to get your dream job, it’s time to make the most of it. Which means you want to keep on building - your performance, your skills, and your network. To do so, here are the three most important things you can focus on in your new job:
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
If your boss hasn’t done it already, definitely set up a recurring 1:1 meeting every week to check-in on progress and get feedback. And in this first meeting, be sure to ask two essential questions:
- What are your goals for this role and the team?
- How do you prefer to work together towards these goals?
The first question is critical because it gives you a sense of where the bar is. While you may soon be inundated with countless demands on your time, being able to always go back to your team’s North Star (e.g., revenue, ship-by deadlines, cost reduction) will help you ruthlessly prioritize. Because at the end of the quarter, the year, or the job, being able to say that you consistently performed against the most important metrics will consistently open you to raises, promotions, and new opportunities.
Of course, people being people, how you deliver these results can often be just important as what you deliver. So that’s why it’s important to understand your manager’s MO. Do they prefer to be totally hands-off and just want to see results at the end of the day? Or do they want to collaborate, providing support and feedback each step of the way during your first few projects? Either way, make sure you’re honoring those preferences and you’ll find there are many fewer surprises in store come review time!
Learn from the Best
Just like in the military, one of the best parts of joining a team is that you needn’t reinvent the wheel. Especially if there are already people in your role who can get you up-to-speed quickly.
So be sure to ask your manager who he/she sees as a star performer in your role - either currently or who’s since been promoted onwards. And then invite that person to coffee to dig into the following questions:
- How do you prioritize your time?
- What do you think helps you stand out from the others in this role?
- What do you wish you knew about succeeding in this role when you first started?
- What’s an example of a project that exceeded all expectations - and what led to that success?
- What’s an example of a project that didn’t go well - and why?
Now, instead of having to figure out everything the hard way, you’re already standing on the shoulder of giants. So that when you tackle your first project, you’ll come at it like a star does - and will be well on your way to becoming the next star!
Never Stop Exploring
Just like your first post-military search began with pure exploration, so should you keep on exploring throughout your career. And one of the best - but most underutilized - resources in any organization is the fact that you can easily explore new career options just by scrolling through the company directory. Here’s how:
Every single time you meet someone new at the company, whether they’re on your team or whether they’re a cross-functional partner (e.g., an engineer if you’re a project manager), send them an invitation for lunch. One of the coolest things about almost every civilian company is that you can see everyone’s calendar and invite them to events, regardless of role or rank. Plus, since everyone has to eat, the lunch hour is often available, even for the busiest folks!
When you sit down with them, ask all the same questions you did in your initial exploration - How did you get into this line of work? What do you love/hate about your job? Plus, you now have the added benefit of being able to ask, colleague-to-colleague: “How might I be able to follow in your footsteps here?” Which is often much easier to do internally than when you’re a total stranger on the outside.
And then, after you’ve met with all your immediate counterparts, check out the company directory to explore other options. For instance, if you’re curious about what it would be like to move up the ladder in your current role, just reach out to more senior folks on your team (again, this is often not just acceptable but encouraged!). Or if you wonder what it might feel like to go from being a Data Analyst to a Software Engineer, see if you can find someone who’s made that very switch.
- After each conversation, be sure to connect with your new colleagues on LinkedIn. As you saw throughout your search, a wide, diverse network is a powerful foundation to build just about any career. So make sure that you keep adding new life to your network at every step along the way. And to make sure that you keep that network warm and engaged (since people are more likely to want to help people they’ve been in touch with recently than long-lost connections), also send a thank you email to your new contact that shows you listened to and valued their advice:
Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to grab lunch yesterday. It meant a lot to be able to learn from your story. In fact, I can’t wait to take that SQL course you mentioned.
Would love to stay in touch and keep you posted on my progress following in your footsteps!
Truly appreciated, NAME
And when you do, just be sure to Bcc email@example.com - this will automatically send you a reminder every three months so that you remember to touch base with your contact to grab coffee, share updates, and get more advice.
So bottom line: Whether you’re just starting your career after the military or are already knee-deep in your new adventure, never lose the hunger and curiosity of a total beginner. Because if you keep on asking, pushing, and exploring, you’ll find that your post-military career really has no limit.