Oracle's Bud Langston: Nine tips for military retirees transitioning to the private sector

Oracle's Bud Langston
Oracle's Bud Langston

For military retirees, it's a common scenario: Within five years a retired officer may switch jobs roughly three times. Bud Langston wasn't one of them. After retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1999, Langston made the switch to Oracle, where he now serves as vice president for Public Sector business development across North America. At a time when military retirees are transitioning to the workforce in large numbers, Langston shares his tips on what it takes to make that transition successful.

1.) Think outside the box. “The military accustoms you to a rigid career development track, with a fairly narrow set of choices,“ says Langston. The result?  “There is shyness among folks leaving the service to look at the full spectrum of opportunities available to them outside their comfort zone, where there is potential for significantly greater rewards,“ he says.

2) 1st Career vs. 2nd Career. It's important to decide what career phase you are seeking. First careers are all about “˜You': fame, fortune, title, proving yourself. Second careers are all about everyone else:  significance, relevance, and empowerment. Second careers can be the most rewarding adventures, particularly for those who have already experienced successful first careers, Langston says.

3.) Expect turbulence. Careers in the private sector are far more turbulent and full of greater risks than most military folks anticipate, says Langston. Great success and achievement in the private sector usually requires a good deal more personal risk-taking than is necessary in military careers. There is also the added challenge and stress of going from a career field that from an early age you “˜loved to do,' to a new career field where you are probably going have to learn to “˜love what you do.’

4.) Finding your sweet spot. What really gets you excited about getting up in the morning? For help answering this question, draw a bull’s eye, says Langston. Then rank categories such as making money, personal achievement, relationships, recognition, status, and giving back. What's in the bull’s eye? What's in the next ring?  “If you can be honest with yourself and sort those two rings out, that will really help in pointing you toward the career you should target “” and the positions for choosing different avenues within that career,“ says Langston.

5.) Seek mentorships. Determining your new career goals requires coaching. Seek help from your mentors and network of friends, says Langston. The ways of the private sector are quite different from a military environment. That's exactly what Langston did early on. “I needed their insight to develop job search strategies, even down to grading criteria during the interview process and right data analysis for each opportunity,“ he says. Also important: If you're married, involve your spouse in your career decision-making process and transition challenges, he adds. Like many before you, you may find that the emotional stress of leaving the military and finding a new career is more disruptive to your spouse than to you.

6.) Let go of your military career. Telling yourself that you're going to move to a new first or second career is one thing, accepting that change emotionally is another. “I struggled the first couple of years to convince myself to let go,“ says Langston, candidly. That shift comes in embracing the “corporate DNA“ of the private sector you have entered, he adds. “[At Oracle], I had to learn not to pull forward those management and leadership things I learned in the military,“ says Langston, adding, “You need to learn the culture, new protocols, to be business savvy, and the dynamic operating environment of the private sector “” that takes a couple of years. You ought to just keep quiet about anything you learned in the military until you've gained credibility.“

7.) Be a hunter, not a gatherer. Successful transition to the private sector requires being less the gatherer, more the hunter. “In the military, you are immersed in a gatherers culture,“ says Langston. “Gatherers,“ he adds, “are people who get paid for what they do. Hunters are people who get rewarded for what they do. This is not a subtle difference in performance requirements; it's quite provocative.“

8.) Remember: “Everyone's in sales.“ Making the shift to a “hunter“ mentality means overcoming assumptions about private sector jobs like “sales and marketing“ and “business development.“  “Many military people run the risk of viewing these positions in a demeaning way. They even sometimes turn it into an ethical dilemma,“ says Langston. “They need to get over it. What do you think you've been doing your entire military career except selling your ideas and initiatives in all those PowerPoint briefings?  You've already been a successful salesman, marketing, and business development executive.“

9.) Lead with passion. The best thing you can do leaving the service and coming into the private sector is, “Come in with a whole lot of passion,“ says Langston. “Success has a great deal to do with turning passion into energy, and that energy needs to lead to great results for you and your company. That's why picking your new profession and the company you're going to contribute to is so crucial. It's not just about finding a job.“

What would you add to Langston's tips? Share your comments here.

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