Bob McDonald, who served as Veterans Affairs secretary from 2014 through January, said connecting with others and not limiting yourself will help service members transition from the military to civilian life.
McDonald, an Army veteran, was recently named chairman of the board of directors for RallyPoint, an online network for those in the military community.
The former VA secretary said he joined RallyPoint as a way to stay involved in the veteran space.
Army Times spoke with McDonald on Wednesday at AUSA’s annual conference about what service members can do to ease their transition out of the military.
1. Connect, connect, connect.
“Don’t try to do everything yourself,” McDonald said. “Connect with people who have already done it, and connect with people who may be interested in hiring you.”
It’s so much easier today to connect with others than it was when McDonald got out of the Army in 1979-80, he said.
“I wrote letters to about 130 different companies ... and waited to hear back from them, then interviewed with about 30 companies,” he said.
During that process, he said, it was interesting how every one of the companies wanted to put him in a box they created for him.
“West Point grad, engineer student, military veteran,” he said. “Let’s put him in manufacturing.”
He said companies thought running a manufacturing line was a lot like running a platoon.
“Or let’s put him in sales because military people have confidence. They’re assertive. They’d be great in sales,” he said.
But McDonald said he didn’t want to do any of that.
“As a service member getting out, don’t allow yourself to be stereotyped,” he said. “One way to do that is connect with other people.”
2. Translate experience into civilian language.
McDonald said companies aren’t lacking people or assets — it’s leadership they need.
“What we need to do as veterans is to tell companies about the leadership experiences we have,” he said. “And how those leadership experiences have led to better outcomes with the people we serve.”
3. Don’t undervalue education.
Going to school is harder to do the older you get, he said.
“You might have a family that might inhibit that,” or a job or location that inhibits it, he added.
“Think about using the GI Bill as a transition point,” McDonald said. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then get the education you can get in order to make yourself even more successful in that new role.”
McDonald said he finds that a lot of service members undervalue the role of education, “which arguably to me is one of the most transformative experiences in life.”