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John Buckley

Patrol debriefings can define your operating environment.

After completing my first combat patrol, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I made sure my guys were safely heading to the mess tent for hot soup and coffee, then I walked to my commander’s tent. I planned to tell him I was going to shower and hit the rack. He had other plans.

Cold, wet and hungry, I carried myself to see the Battalion Intelligence Coordinator – the BIC – to provide a debriefing. This small action would tremendously improve future operations in that area. It taught me the importance of sharing my experiences and the sights, sounds, and smells as a means for the experts to develop a comprehensive “picture” of our operating environment.

So, what does this have to do with setting your sight picture on a civilian career? Everything. Once I finally had a civilian career targeted, I realized I had no knowledge of this new operating environment, let alone the career environment. So, I decided to be the BIC and find a professional who would offer their career debriefing, asking them career-operationally relevant questions in my targeted career fields.

Today I’d like to share the eight steps I used to help me conduct useful informational interviews and learn more about my future operating environment:

1. Research the individual with whom you are meeting. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, their colleagues or contacts, or their company website. Make sure they have experience in your targeted career field.

2. Have a plan and a purpose for each question. This is not a job interview – it’s about seeking information. You must identify what you’d like to learn in advance.

3. Succinctly share your story and purpose. At the beginning, very briefly introduce yourself and explain your purpose. Carry a resume just in case.

4. Show some respect (Stroke their ego). People love to talk about themselves. Asking them how or why they were so successful, or comment on a specific accomplishment of theirs to provoke them to share more.

5. Don’t ask for a job; ask for professional advice. If you want a job, speak to HR. You are on a mission to learn about the career operating environment.

6. Get them to name names. Ask them if there are others whom you should debrief. Then, ask them to introduce you.

7. Ask for referrals. Although it is not the purpose of the debriefing, any referral from a respected professional will benefit your underlying effort.

8. Follow-up with a “thank you” message. Always send a personal thank you note and keep the debriefer informed of your progress.

From these informational interviews, I also learned the career-specific language which better prepared me for my resume writing and job interviews. Not only that, but I also made great relationships and broadened my network which led me directly to the job of my dreams. I hope my experiences will help you in your own job search! Get more tips on each of these steps in Koch Industries’ Veteran Transition Guide.

Get more tips on each of these steps in Koch Industries’ Veteran Transition Guide.

This excerpt was formed from Transition War Stories: Lessons from the Front Lines, a series of seminar presentations and articles based on the experiences of John Buckley, manager of outreach strategies at Koch Industries. John is a retired U.S. Army Colonel who served for 33 years commanding infantry soldiers in combat and peacekeeping ops and directing two of the Army’s most prestigious schools.

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