By Mark Emery

At LeaderQuest, we write about veterans — and transitioning into the civilian world — a lot.

Just take a look at some of our recent headlines:

And that’s only in the past five months or so. There is plenty more where that came from.

So, why are we so veteran-focused? Well, we happen to think IT and cybersecurity are excellent career paths for transitioning veterans. And not only do we provide training in these fields — we can help veterans (and their spouses) secure this career training for free.

It’s reasons like this why a full three-fourths of our on-campus students are transitioning veterans. It’s no coincidence, also, that more than one-half of our employees are veterans.

soldier to civilian

That includes our new Chief Sales Officer, Thomas Katsahnias.

A former Army officer with more than four years in the service, Tom transitioned into the civilian world in 2008.

Although busy with LeaderQuest’s transformation to ACI Learning, Tom recently took time with our marketing team to elaborate on his transition from soldier to civilian.

“To be honest, I think it’s hard for everybody in their own way,” Tom says. “Anybody’s transition is a period of self discovery. You’re going from a very regimented, structured environment to a fairly unstructured one.”

“Depending on your experiences in the military, you’re going to have your own thought processes and your own way of approaching things.”

Here are some of Tom’s other insights:

On What Guided His Decisions

“When I was in the military, the job that I had that I liked the most was being a company commander. It’s very similar to running your own very small business in the construct of a much larger organization. I had a lot of fun doing that. What’s cool about the military is very few organizations will give somebody in their early 20s with next to no experience the level of responsibility that the military does. I had a lot of fun doing that. So as I was leaving the military, I was thinking to myself, I want to do something similar. And the opportunities that really stood out to me were very similar to that command position to where you’re running a business within an overarching business, which led me to Walmart, and running a Walmart Supercenter.”


soldier to civilianOn Using What You Learn in the Military

“What I find that the military teaches is discipline, confidence, and organization. When you’re leading people, they’re looking to you for answers. You may not always know the answers and that’s fine. But, you have to project a sense of calm and confidence or else no one’s going to follow you and chaos ensues. So that’s one of the things that you learn from the military that has served me very well. In a leadership position, people are looking to you to be that calming force and not be that person that’s freaking out and doesn’t know what to do. If you don’t know what to do, that’s fine. You just say: ‘Listen, I don’t know, but I’m going to find out, and we’re going to come back with a plan.’ Organization — that’s drilled into you from your earliest days, whether you’re going through bootcamp or officer basic course or whatever. Learning how to do multiple things at the same time, and being able to do it in an organized fashion, and synthesize information into a coherent strategy to be able to push the organization forward. The military teaches you that in all kinds of ways. That’s directly transferable to the real world. And, discipline — sticking through things when the going gets tough. Personally, I think that’s one of the reasons why I like to build or fix things, is because I learned in the military to do that. I actually have fun sticking it out and figuring out those challenges that a lot of other people just don’t do. I’m not a steady-state guy. I’m a fixer and a builder. And that’s the type of grit that you learn in the military.”


On Facing Uncertainty

“Many people have no idea what you really want to do post-military. You have all of this experience, your first question is always: ‘What can I do? And where does my experience set lie?’ And that’s where some people get scared as they are not used to seeing the vast array of potential choices you have in the civilian world. In the military, you have your job specialty which leads to a specific career trajectory or track, and you need to check this box, then this box, then this box, then this box, then this box. You know exactly what you’re going to do and roughly when you will do it, for the most part, for your entire career. In the civilian world, you have the freedom of choice, but that ends up becoming very scary because there’s an infinitely wide range of choices. Working through that can be paralyzing.”


On Soldier-to-Civilian Transition Services

“I used a military recruiting firm that is very prominent in the space. The way they work is: You prepare for a good six months before you transition, read up on business, learn how to interview, learn about the civilian world and how it’s different. And as part of that process, you go to a career conference, and they set you up with 8-10 interviews and depending on how you do in the interviews you get your choice from there as to which ones you’re really interested in.”


civilian worldOn Talking to Other Veterans

“Talk to veterans that have made the transition, including ones that held jobs in the military outside of your specific job track, someone that might’ve started as a heavy truck mechanic, but then went on to go own a bunch of McDonald’s franchise, as an example. Learn about their journey and how they made the transition. ‘How did you do this? Why did you do pursue this career choice?’ The more people you talk to, the more you’ll see what you want to do post-military life.”


On Using Your Skills

“People coming out of the military are very qualified for many things. In a lot of cases, they don’t necessarily know what they’re qualified for, because the skill sets can be different between the military and civilian worlds. And because of that, some will pigeonhole themselves into thinking they need to do something similar to what they did in the military. But one of the great things about working at ACI Learning is that we give people the ability to get additional skills that are needed to transition into an IT job, allowing veterans to go do something that could be completely different than what they’re doing in the military and take a lot of those intangibles that they learned in the military and apply it to a completely different skill set. The key is getting the hard skills that are needed for whatever that chosen profession’s going to be. Typically, you don’t get a lot of the direct experience in the military that you’re going to need in a specific civilian job. You still have to go get the direct experience. But, because you have all the intangibles, once you get the direct experience, you’re better positioned to really grow your career very quickly.”


On Leadership

“I always tried to lead when I was in the military with a participative [approach] — I tried to solicit people’s advice and input before making decisions. That helps going into the civilian world, where you don’t have that threat of giving them an Article 15 for not following directions. The challenging piece for me was that while I thought that I led that way, there’s always this implicit threat behind whatever you say, that your instructions carry the weight of legal authority. In the civilian world, that doesn’t happen. So, there’s a switch in leadership style of trying to figure out how to create those situations where the team around you wants to do what you need them to do. Or, if you’re part of a team, how do you influence them without the direct authority to tell people what to do.”


transitioning veteransOn Civilian-Life Surprises

“The military is very process-driven. It’s a series of institutions that are collectively hundreds of years old. There are a lot of institutional knowledge and processes that are built around almost everything. Once you come over to the civilian world, very little ends up being anywhere close to as organized or regimented as the military. I remember when I was at Walmart and we were going over schedules and I was talking to my HR business partner about hiring and how many people we needed. And my first thought was, ‘Well, where’s the document that says exactly how many people you’re supposed to have in every department and why?’ And I ended up asking another veteran that, and he just laughed at me. He’s like, ‘That doesn’t exist.’ In the Army, there is a document for every unit that details out exactly how many people that unit should have, what jobs/ranks there should be, and what equipment the unit should have. Business typically doesn’t work like that. It’s very nebulous. And really figuring that out for me was a bit of a shock, going straight to a leadership position, running a P&L, trying to figure out how many people am I supposed to have in this department or that department. In the civilian world, that’s part of the challenge in running a business, is figuring out what is that balance between payroll and productivity and what people do you need in what roles. There’s not a bunch of people sitting in headquarters figuring it all out for you.”

Are You a Transitioning Veteran?

If you’re getting ready to leave the service and become a civilian, chances are you have a lot of questions about your future:

  • “What should I do?”
  • “What would make me happy?”
  • “What would provide for my family?”

For anyone even remotely interested in IT and/or cybersecurity, LeaderQuest may be able to help you answer some of these questions. After all, we didn’t become a go-to resource for transitioning veterans by accident.

From how to secure government funding for training, to the specific education you need to take to get certified, to how to pass those certifications and get that job offer, LeaderQuest has every resource you need to break into IT. (And, considering the high demand for new IT workers and the handsome salaries they’re often paid, it’s a field worth breaking into.)

Either way, it never hurts to have a conversation. Fill out the form below to get started as you make the transition from soldier to civilian.