Kirk retired from the Army after 22 years of service, but still found that the transition to his civilian career snuck up on him. In this interview, Kirk is candid about a lot of the mistakes that he made in his own transition. More importantly, as an act of service he put together some of the most compressive transition documents we’ve come across. In this interview we talk about Kirk’s advice on how to approach a transition out of the military, as well as Kirk’s experience at Lockheed Martin. We talk about personal branding, advanced planning on LinkedIn, the burden of responsibility that you may not realize you have, why Veterans should consider PMP programs, and more.
Kirk Windmueller is a Senior Operations Analyst at Lockheed Martin. He has written a few very popular articles on LinkedIn about transitioning, timeline and more, which is actually how we came to connect. Beyond the Uniform listener Chris Pisani sent me an incredible document that Kirk put together, and I realized we had to meet. Kirk is a graduate of the Citadel and the Naval Post Graduate School, and served in the Army for over 22 years, including work as a Green Beret, and retiring as an O-5."
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Fayetteville, NC is Kirk Windmueller. Kirk Windmueller is a Senior Operations Analyst at Lockheed Martin. He has written a few very popular articles on LinkedIn about transitioning, timeline and more, which is actually how we came to connect. Beyond the Uniform listener Chris Pisani sent me an incredible document that Kirk put together, and I realized we had to meet. Kirk is a graduate of the Citadel and the Naval Post Graduate School, and served in the Army for over 22 years, including work as a Green Beret, and retiring as an O-5.
What was your transition out of the Army like?
Most people know retirement is on the horizon. But for me, it kind of snuck up on me. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do after I retired or what I needed to do to get there. I felt like there wasn’t a lot of good information out there for veterans to help them through the transition process. So later on, I wrote out a timeline to share with people about all the tasks that you need to accomplish during your transition.
The irony is that I was a strategic planner in the Army but I was really focused on my job and not thinking so much about my retirement. It really snuck up on me. For the vast majority of transitioning military members, we aren’t sure exactly what we want to do in the civilian sector. So I really advise people to give yourself time before your transition to think about these questions.
What are the most important things people should be thinking about during their transition?
I advise members to look at the chart I made. Your transition out of the military isn’t a simple 60 or 90 day process. You should begin your preparation a year or more in advance. In fact 2-5 years before you leave the military, you should start thinking about getting an advanced degree in the field that you want to go into after the military. If you don’t know what degree to get, I advise an MBA because it can be applied to nearly any fields. Also think about getting a certification such as Project Manager. Many certification programs are available for free to military members.
Long before your transition, you also want to think about setting a little bit of money aside every month. The purpose of that money is to have some cash to carry you through a few months of job hunting. If you’re retiring from the military, you’ll get a month of permissive TDY to job hunt and about two more months of leave that you can take. But after those three months, if you haven’t found a job that’s a good fit, you will need to be ready to live off your pension and extra savings.
In the year leading up to your transition, update your LinkedIn profile and get a good quality resume together. If you want to file a disability claim, make sure you start that process long before you leave the military. Start reaching out to people at companies and industries you’re interested in to being building up your Rolodex.
Can you talk about the importance of personal branding?
This is something that seems uncomfortable or strange to a lot of military veterans. It’s something we’re not used to. It’s very important to get accustomed to using more statements with “me” and “I” because that’s what will be expected of you especially in interview settings. Take all those values from the military but also don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your accomplishments during this process.
Is there anything else you think transitioning military members should know?
Definitely become familiar with the resources available to you. You will need to make decisions about life insurance. Your SGLI will end about 120 days after you leave the military. You will need something after that to protect you and your family. Start reaching out to private companies before you even leave to learn more about their rates and offers.
If you’re retiring from the military, you will also need to make a decision about your Survivor Benefit Plan. This is basically insurance for your pension. With that, even if you die, your spouse will continue receiving your pension benefits.
How did you find your way to Lockheed Martin?
I found out about the job through a friend of a friend. It wasn’t an advertised position. So that shows you how important your network can be. I went through the interview process while I was still in so that gave me some peace of mind that I had the job locked in before I even left the military.
LinkedIn is a very important networking tool. It’s a window into the corporate world. I didn’t get on LinkedIn until a year before I transitioned. I encourage you to get on LInkedIn as soon as possible to start building up your network long before you transition. LinkedIn also offers a 12 month Premium subscription for all military members and veterans.
How would you describe your job as a Senior Operations Analyst?
I work with a small team whose job is to look on the horizon and anticipate upcoming successes and challenges. It’s a log of project management type work. We take things from the idea stage to a minimum viable product and then pass it off to the appropriate team to take it from there.
I also do a lot of relationship building. I’ve built stronger relationships between Lockheed Martin and organizations such as National Laboratories and various academic institutions.
I love the work that I do. I think sometimes you feel like you’re leaving everything you love behind in the military. But that’s not true at all - you can take your passion with you as you transition.
What do you miss about being in the military?
Some days I miss wearing a uniform. We do a lot of work with the military and when I’m interacting with guys that are about to go jump out of an airplane, I miss that.
There’s other things that you don’t miss as much. In the military, there’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. When you retire and get out, that responsibility is lifted and there’s a lighter feeling as you go to the civilian sector.
Why would members of the military community be a good fit for Lockheed Martin?
Year after year Lockheed Martin is named as a military friendly company. When you were in the military, whether you knew it or not, you probably benefited from some sort of Lockheed operation or system.
This company really values the experience that veterans bring with them. There is a specific webpage we have for military veterans that are interested in joining are team. I encourage your listeners to check that out.
You volunteer with Project Transition USA. Can you talk a little more about that?
Project Transition is an organization to help military members get a head start on their transition. I help them out in various ways.
Were there any low points for you during your transition?
My low point was when I had my retirement orders in hand. That made it really real for me. I realized I was behind in preparing for my transition. While it’s important to stay focused on your job, you also need to devote time to thinking about what you want to do after the military.
You may want to think about having conversations with your boss about scaling back job tasking during your final few months in the military so you’re able to make sure you’re doing everything you need to do to have a successful transition. Tasks such as making appointments with the VA to start disability claims or participating in a TAPS class are easy to put off but you really need to make them a priority.
The military will keep rolling along without you so make sure you’re doing what you need to do to prepare yourself for your transition.
Are there any resources you recommend to listeners?
I participated in a program called SOF Transition Assistance Resource. That was a great experience for me. It was a group of business leaders in the local community that get together with transitioning military members to help them think about different careers and sectors in the civilian sector.
I also recommend the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
If you’re thinking about leaving the military, start planning your exit. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It can be a stressful transition but you can do it. Use all the resources available to you and don’t look back.