By COL (Ret.) Stu Bradin and Dr. Keenan Yoho

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One of the great things about working for the Global SOF Foundation (GSF) is we get to help Special Operations Forces (SOF) every day. There are a lot of activities that support global SOF but one area that is beginning to pick up steam is our SOF for Life program.

The GSF is partnered with The Honor Foundation and the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA) to provide a program that focuses on transitioning ANYONE that has served in SOF tactical units – either as an operator or in a supporting role. We developed a SOF for Life survey to better understand the specific issues faced during transition. If you are former SOF or someone that served in a SOF unit then we would to hear your voice by completing the survey. You can take the survey at http://survey.virbela.com/sof-life-transition-survey/. We currently have over 375 people that have completed the survey but we need to hear from more of you – particularly from the NCOs and enlisted that retired or separated from the military.

The GSF is often approached by people with about 6 months prior to their retirement asking for advice. You can transition within six months but you will not do it well or as well as possible and it will limit your options. In the last 2 years, contractor pay has dropped 20 – 30% and those jobs are not as attractive to those transitioning from the military because benefits have also been cut. The days of going to Iraq or Afghanistan as a contractor and getting paid like a rock star are gone. I tell everyone I meet to treat transition like an operation and to know your worth prior to separation.

There are many out there who have spent the last 20+ years of their lives selflessly serving their country. When they retire, most go to work for the government as a civil servant or as a government contractor. The government is not growing civil servants and in fact the NDAA that was just signed into law will cut more government billets.  The result will be more people who are transitioning will look for work in the commercial sector because they think the pay will be better.

Make no mistake about it, you can find work in the commercial sector but your compensation is based on your value to the company. The challenge for those transitioning is to have an objective understanding of your value. Many companies prefer  hiring former military because they tend to be more disciplined workers, are not afraid to assume a leadership role, and they adapt well to change in their environment. Regardless you have to have some business acumen. Many people seeking work in the commercial sector have no business experience and if their degree is 20+ years old their knowledge and skills may be dated.

Going back to graduate school is one option for refreshing skills and if you go this route you should choose a professional degree that will provide concrete skills that employers are actively seeking. For many, an MBA is a good choice because it will be a two-year introduction to business concepts, knowledge, analytical skills and general business acumen. Employers hire MBAs because they bring a way of thinking and are professional problem solvers with a focus on measurable results. Choosing an MBA with a focus on finance and operations, for example, provides a set of skills that all employers can understand: how to run things and make them better, and what drives revenue, costs, and profit.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council’s 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report found that 88% of corporate recruiters working with business schools planned to hire MBAs in 2016 and the starting median salary is $105,000. Choosing a program that meets your individual needs is important. Not everyone can afford to take two years off to pursue their degree but those who can should because it is opportunity to immerse yourself, build a new network, and change your way of thinking. For those that must work and pursue their degree, or who want to complete their degree prior to transitioning out of the military, choosing a program that has an evening or distance learning component can be a good choice.

It’s best to choose a program that is not entirely online because part of the purpose of getting the degree is to build a network and you cannot do that unless you have contact with a peer group. Some schools are developing programs that provide a mix of distance learning and face-to-face interaction with faculty and peers who are in a cohort that can result in a good network and rich interaction while still providing flexibility.   For those that are not looking for an MBA, but prefer a completely different route, they can build their own portfolio of experiences and skills. Attending short programs that focus on cultivating specific skills or ways of thinking can be an excellent way to both build a network and diversify from the traditional MBA curriculum which, for most schools, is staid, and has not changed much in 30 years.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (aka d school) offers workshops and short courses on design thinking that can teach you how to develop thoughtful and innovative solutions to needs. MIT and Harvard both offer short courses and executive programs that can be fit into the time frame of a few months. The advantage with this approach is that one can put together a portfolio of skills and experiences from “top brand” schools while also developing a diverse network all on a schedule that works for them and at a cost that be a fraction of a traditional MBA program.

SOF for Life is just now reaching out to the SOF community to help transitioning members develop a plan to transition. On 21 February 2017, in conjunction with the Global SOF Symposium, the SOF for Life team will host a 1 day Transition Seminar run by The Honor Foundation. This premier seminar will be a high impact day that explores conceptualizing life after the military, building a road map for transition, and concludes with a networking session of attendees during the evening reception of the Symposium. This session will help those who are about to transition begin the process of building an objective assessment of their worth to future employers.