Military to Civilian Workforce Transition: How to be a Beginner Again

LaSalle Network Project Manager and Air Force Veteran, Russ Klawitter, recently retired after more than two decades of military service and entered the corporate world. Over the last 20+ years, he held a myriad of roles from aviator to Commander to Director of Operations, in which he oversaw flight training for 400 students per year and led 100 recruiters across four different states as they onboarded more than one thousand Enlisted Airmen per year. After interning via the SkillBridge program as a part of his transition into civilian life, he is now a Project Manager at LaSalle Network, recruiting and hiring talent all over the U.S. to work for our clients.  

As a part of our veteran hiring initiative, LaSalle Veteran Network, we sat down with Klawitter to ask about his transition, adjusting to civilian life, and entering a new industry and role after dedicating so many years to a very different career.  

Below, Klawitter shares both the fears and freedom of being a ‘beginner’ later in life, and how he utilizes transferable skills learned from his time in service to apply to his work today.  

 

What transferable skills did you learn while in the military that you’ve brought over to your corporate job? 

Klawitter 

No matter the role, a common thread throughout my career has been working with people. Being able to understand and relate to others is essential to many of the positions I held and have been a key part of my success so far.  

One thing I learned from my time in the military that I believe sets me apart today is my organization skills and adherence to deadlines and goals. The military relies on this kind of structure, so it is something I focus on in my career today. It is also important to realize many others don’t work in the same structured way, so clarifying timelines and expectations is important.  

What surprised you about transitioning into a corporate environment?  

Klawitter: Transitioning into a new environment like corporate America isn’t as easy as it looks – but it isn’t as hard either. I’m very grateful for the SkillBridge program I was part of, which allowed me to do an internship in the corporate world while still transitioning out of the military. This helped me ‘get my feet wet’ and learn different skills I hadn’t had to use before, as well as try out a new company and industry before committing. 80% of veterans will change jobs within their first two years out of service, and I think this program helped me better understand what to expect before diving in.  

I was surprised at the emotional toll transitioning takes. After decades in the military, wearing a uniform every day and working in a structured environment, it can be hard to let go. Not everyone will understand or know what time in service really was like. While it may be uncomfortable and take practice, it is essential to be open with Human Resources, management, and close colleagues when in need of support. Over-communicate. While they may never fully understand certain things, they are likely to be empathetic and supportive in any way they can.  

 

What advice do you have for someone taking on a new role that is different from what they’ve done before? 

Klawitter: While I didn’t have corporate recruiting experience before joining LaSalle Network, I did have about three years of military recruiting under my belt, along with about a decade of leadership experience. Lean into the experience you do have to overcome the challenges of what you don’t have. At the same time, know it is ok to be a beginner again. It may be uncomfortable but ask for help. Transitioning into the corporate world or into a new industry can feel like learning a new language – with different acronyms, jargon, and methods/frequency of communication – so ask questions. 

Utilize whatever training is available and come back to it time and time again. Ask management and peers for industry-specific advice. Be receptive to their advice. Don’t feel the need to try to lead right away, you’ll need to do a lot of listening and learning first. Even those with decades of experience will have a lot to adapt to when ‘starting over.’  

 

Any last pieces of advice for those in your shoes? 

Klawitter: For those transitioning out of the military, or even transferring into a new industry or role, be observant and work to understand the workflow of the team. Be flexible and work to adapt, rather than react.  

And remember, you’re not alone. Find the other veterans at your organization to talk to and get advice from. Connect with coworkers with military-affiliated families or friends. Your experience may not be easy to understand, but there are almost always others who can relate to some degree or have empathy for your experience.  

 

LaSalle Veteran Network is committed to helping veterans find jobs. Learn how LaSalle Network can help you identify top veteran talent, or assist you in finding your next role, here. 

 

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