Veteran's Day is a time to reflect on all who have served. I spoke with retired U.S. Army veteran Matt Wood, the Chief Headache Reducer and Founder of Suiting Green Consulting, to discuss how military veterans can prepare to transition out of the military successfully. After serving 21 years in the U.S. Army, Matt went to work for a very large Fortune 100 Mickey Mouse organization in a variety of roles before being laid off as part of company-wide downsizing related to Covid. After being laid off, Matt founded his own company with a focus on bridging the knowledge gap that exists between the military community and corporate America.
As the Founder of Suiting Green Consulting, Matt seeks to show companies how to hire smarter when it comes to former military professionals and military spouses. The goal is to increase the company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace and to establish a Military Ready mindset that not only saves the company money but sets the military community up for success once they venture out into life outside of the military. Matt shares his journey from military veteran to entrepreneur.
As military veterans transition out of military service, what can we do to prepare ourselves and our families for the financial changes?
The first thing I would recommend would be to realize that upon leaving the military, you will now have to pay for everything that Uncle Sam used to cover. Health care, dental care, and even housing are now things to consider when it comes to jobs outside of the military. It also needs to be something you look at when getting job offers. The housing allowance and basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) you’re used to are gone, so consider that when looking at various offers, especially if you’re not a military retiree.
When military veterans are considering retirement, what are two to three things we should consider when evaluating how our final duty station will impact our transition financially?
For retirees, consider where you want to retire to. Do you want a state that has no income tax, one that may not tax your retirement pay, or are you okay with your retirement being taxed on top of whatever you’re making in a civilian job? Also, keep in mind that you’re getting BAH based on your current assignment’s ZIP code. That goes away once you retire, so keep the cost of living in mind when you look at where you’re going to live.
As a military retiree, what are two to three of the most significant financial differences you encountered when transitioning out of military service?
The biggest one is something I touched on above. The loss of BAH and BAS was something I knew would happen but losing it was still a tough piece. Also, understanding how much health care costs was eye-opening. The benefit of military retirement is the ability to keep Tricare as a health care option, which is much cheaper than almost every single commercial health care plan out there. This is not something that’s explained to us as we leave the military, but it’s something we need to be prepared for. If you can stay with Tricare, do it. Lastly, I received a job offer during my transition from a company owned by an Army veteran, and they lowballed me with a salary offer. Realize that companies don’t understand, or don’t remember in this case, how much a military salary is, and they are just looking to get as much talent as they can for as little as they can possibly pay.
When deciding to transition out of military service, how can a servicemember prepare for their new career journey?
This is something that is preached by transition programs all the time, but network, network, network. Build relationships instead of trying to just add connections. Find ways to add value to the people you connect with before asking for anything in return. Show them your worth, and don’t be afraid to talk in terms of “I did this” instead of “we did this,” or “my team did this.” The other thing I always ask people who are starting the transition process is this, “What problem(s) do you want to solve?” If you can answer that question, it will help you immensely when it comes to looking for that next career instead of just taking a job to say you’ve got a job.
What is a military skills translator, and is it helpful for veterans applying for civilian career opportunities?
Most online military skills translators just work based on your career field and correlate that to something civilian-related. Unfortunately, they don’t take into consideration your rank, scope of responsibility, or experience when they show you what jobs you can do. If you can work with an actual person who understands the military community, they can help decipher what you’ve done into something transferrable to the civilian community. This is the important piece because it opens your eyes to a whole lot of opportunities that you may not consider as you look for that next challenge if you just focus on jobs listed based on your military career field.
How can businesses unfamiliar with hiring military veterans develop a military recruiting strategy?
They can talk to me! I do this now, so reaching out to me would be a great first step for these companies. However, I will tell them that the first step to developing a solid strategy is to be intentional in how they want to target this talent stream. If they’re just hiring from the military community to feel good about themselves and say they’re patriotic, the strategy is not even in the same ZIP code as one that is intentional in how they approach former military professionals and military spouses.
What are three things military veterans should consider when deciding if we want to have an impact as an employee or business owners?
Determine Your Purpose
First, as I mentioned in the question about preparing for civilian employment, figure out what problems you want to solve once you leave the military. This will help you become a more impactful employee or business owner because you’ve got a purpose.
Align Your Values
Second, find a company that has values that are aligned with yours. It’s easier to work for a company that shares similar values to what we learned in the military than it is to work for one that doesn’t. Keep in mind the overarching company values may be aligned, but lines of business within the company may not fully grasp or emulate those values in how they operate.
Check Your Ego
Third, check your ego at the door. No one outside of the military cares what your rank was. Once you leave the military behind you, you are no longer your rank, you’re now “Bob from Detroit.” It’s okay to tell military stories, but keep in mind that most civilians get their understanding of the military from Hollywood and the media, so those great war stories you have from your time in the service are fantastic to tell around fellow veterans, but Cathy from accounting, or Jim from HR, who has no military experience, isn’t going to understand them or fully appreciate them. You also run the risk of potentially offending them and putting yourself into the “dysfunctional veteran” stereotype.
What are some things military veterans should consider if they want to change their career path?
Do it! Don’t be afraid to change career paths. You do not have to stay in one area forever. I was a combat arms soldier for my entire military career, and now I’m a human capital consultant showing companies how to hire smarter. Also, don’t be afraid to work outside of government service either. Try new things, and explore different career opportunities, and it’s okay to jump around from job to job while you’re doing this.
Characteristics and Diversity of a Military Veteran
What are a few sought-after characteristics that a company can benefit from when hiring a military veteran?
I don’t know if we have enough space for this one. Companies are looking for people who can work independently or as a member of a team. Project managers, leaders, team builders, and trainers are a few more of the sought-after characteristics companies are looking for. These are all things the military community brings to the table. It’s just a matter of being able to convey how we’ve done those things, either as a former military professional or a military spouse, but we have done them at some point.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Military service is the only underrepresented diversity group people opt into. Hiring from this talent stream not only increases your company’s diversity status but also provides outside perspectives on how to look at and do things. This has the benefit of moving companies that hire from this community in a forward direction and providing a competitive advantage that is hard to find outside of the military. Also, college degrees do not necessarily equate to someone being a great, or even a good, leader. Hiring with an intentional talent mindset will net you better results than hiring to simply fill seats based on whether or not someone has a piece of paper from some institute of higher learning.
Resources for Military Veterans and Spouses
What resources are available to military veterans to help make their transition seamless?
Nothing will ever make the transition process seamless, but there are a lot of amazing veteran service organizations out there that can help make it less daunting and painless. Two that I highly recommend are The Catalyst Program and The Alpha Coaching and Consulting. The Catalyst Program is a great veteran-owned resource for assisting with the educational and administrative aspects of the transition process. They will help put you on a degree path that makes you more marketable and will introduce you to individuals and companies who can provide you with incredible job opportunities. The Alpha Coaching and Consulting is another veteran- and military spouse-owned resource that works in the arena of dealing with the emotional and mental aspects of transition. The program Dr. Thomas has developed is fantastic for really understanding how to process the transition of leaving the military behind and moving on to that next chapter of your life.
Military veterans can also check out the IVMF at Syracuse University. They offer entrepreneurship programs and free career certifications for military veterans and their spouses.
Five Things With Matt
How do you start the day? I typically start the day kissing my wife as she leaves for work before 6 am, then I enjoy a cup of double caffeinated coffee from veteran-owned Aerial Resupply Coffee while I’m getting my two youngest kids up and ready for school. Since they’re in different schools, it’s my son first, as he is in the fourth grade, then my daughter, who’s in sixth grade. Getting to walk each of them to the bus stop is one of the best ways for me to start my day and sets me in the right mood to attack my day.
What's one goal you've set for yourself this year? I have two goals. First, focus on making my marriage and home life the priority it should have been a long time ago. For too long, I let other things come first, and it was not good for me, my wife, or my kids, so showing them that they are the priority they deserve to be is my biggest goal. Then secondly, I’d like to get in better shape than I was in the military and not feel like I’m “Fat Thor” from the Avengers.
What's your favorite affirmation to speak to yourself? I don’t really have a favorite affirmation, but I do strive to be better every day than I was the day before, even if it’s just a little bit better, it’s still becoming better.
What's one thing you do for self-care? I’ve been slacking recently, but physical fitness is my mental and physical self-care. Taking care of the body can help take care of the mind.
How do you end the day? After getting my kids to bed, my day typically ends sitting on the couch with my wife, talking about our respective days and watching one of our favorite shows. Getting that “adult-only time” at the end of the day is beneficial for us and something we both enjoy and look forward to.
How can someone get in contact with you?