Jonathan Noftsier on Going From XO to IO

After 12 years as a Naval Aviator and Marine Corps Officer, Jonathan Noftsier transitioned to a career in I-O psych consulting. In this episode, we talk about Jonathan’s transition from Executive Officer (XO) to I-O consultant, what civilians get wrong about the military, and how to translate military experience for civilian interviewers. Visit the episode page for a full transcript.


This transcript is AI-generated and may not be completely accurate. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the department. 12 podcast, where we talk about everything industrial and organizational psychology. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Bettina and my guest today is Jonathan not sure. How are you today, Jonathan?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:00:13] I’m doing well. Thanks so much. It’s great to be.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:16] You are a senior consultant and a recent graduate of the masters program in IO, psych at the Chicago school of professional psychology. Congratulations on that.

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:00:25] Thank you.

 Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:26] You have an unusual background, you transitioned into a career in IO, psych consulting from the Marine Corps.  How long were you a Marine ?

 Jonathan Noftsier: [00:00:33] Started my Marine Corps career back in 2009.

I spent 12 years on active duty as a Naval aviator and a Marine officer.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:42] Some of my listeners are veterans and some specialize in military and the defense industry, but statistically speaking fewer than 1% of the us population joins the military, so it’s fair to assume that most listeners. Have gotten their impressions of the military, mainly from movies and TV shows.

 What do we get wrong when we do that? What unfounded assumptions from , non-service members do you encounter the most?

 One of the main things that really popped out to me as I started my career transition. And as I’ve been in the military and see my peers and my leaders in action over, you know, over a decade is misperception that you don’t have a very intellectual base within the service because actually a lot of my peers and a lot of the people that I, I grew up around are very, well-studied come from a diverse and sometimes very prestigious academic background and are genuinely in the Marine Corps and stay in the Marine Corps or the service for altruistic or service oriented reasons.

Let’s go back to 2009,  why the military for you and why the Marine Corps specifically?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:01:55] There were several reasons that I decided to join the Marine Corps. I was finishing at my bachelor’s degree and state university of New York at Genesee.

And it was a in psychology and I’d actually had some, had an IO class in my undergrad there. But I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do and I didn’t really want to continue going forward with a master’s or doctorate program at that point. So I knew I was going to be looking for some career options.

In my junior year, I got this email from. An officer selection office. So basically a Marine recruiter that only recruits people into their officer candidate pipeline. And they had a number of things that I found quite appealing. At the time they were helping to pay back college loans that you had accrued while you were in college.

They had a pipeline for you to go and sign a contract and go directly to aviation. And ever since then, You know a very young person  I had had an interest in flying in, in aviation and military aviation specifically. And I’d also had a interest in being a Marine.

And until that point, I think it hadn’t occurred to me that I could, you know, kind of check both of those boxes at the same time. So when I saw those three things coming together it,   appealed to me as well as the, the opportunity to, to make an impact and to serve my country.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:03:15] All right. Very good. So you became a, an aviator. What, what did you fly ?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:03:19] Yeah, absolutely. So I flew the new  Yankee, which is a four bladed upgraded model of the traditional bell, Huey helicopter. And it looks very, very similar. And yeah, so I think let’s see, I finished flight school in 2012, so I would’ve been got my, my initial flight in that, in the Huey probably in fall of 2012.

And then I’ve been flying. Pretty much sense with a small break in my career where I was out of the car.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:03:50] In your time in the Marine Corps, you took on progressively more responsibility and higher rank. Do you continue to fly during that time or does your focus shift more towards the operation?

That’s a great question. So you fly less. And that’s probably the best that I could frame that.  As a Naval aviator, there’s a very technical component to your job. So says almost like you’re on a technical pipeline, but the Marine Corps also has organizational competencies and leadership expectations out of all of its officers across the board.

So you’re also in this officer development pipeline. As you move forward in your career, you inherently are assigned more leadership tasks. As well as being expected to progress in the associated  syllabi by in the aircraft as a result, as you, as you been experienced, as you promote you typically accrue more duties in the aircraft as well as as a leader on the job.

You ended your active duty career with the Marine Corps as a major, can you help us understand the level of responsibility that rank entails? Is there a, a job title in the corporate world you could align it to roughly?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:05:02] Absolutely. So the Marine Corps actually does a really good job of equipping people to exit and to make that transition into a civilian career.

They have a transitioning readiness seminar that they provide to everyone and extra required. Everyone who is making that exit decision. And one of the guides. Is included in that actually has a list or chart of positions you have surfing while you’re in the Marine Corps and associate to a civilian positions, just so that you have something to draw direct parallels.

Using that using advice and LinkedIn profiles from other people in my military, that network, I was able to kind of draw parallels to a director or deputy director in different levels or different positions that I’ve worked in sort of at the, the end of my Marine core tenure. .

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:05:56] Your last assignment in the Marines was as an executive officer or XO as it’s frequently abbreviated. Could you share what the scope of that role was?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:06:05] Yeah, absolutely.  Most units have a commanding officer and a executive officer. So one and two respectively The role of the XO is generally a very inward focused process.

Program management, project management personnel management focus the unit that I was serving, serving as the exhale in was personnel support, detachments sort of mission. So. I, I functionally ended up as I was completing my master’s degree. Also getting some experience relating directly to human resources and personnel management, succession planning, and several other items like that.

The group that I was serving at this time was actually the largest group in the Marine Corps aviation group that is, The specific squadron that I was the XO of was focused on a lot of the internal processes that were coordinating for several of the other operational flight squadrons at the time.

So not only are you working the administrative and project management side, but you’re also dealing with with people in the people aspects the leadership aspect. The mentorship and development pieces that come with the job.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:07:17] If I tried to think about this in civilian terms , the number one person, the commanding officer I could think of is almost like the CEO that has overall responsibility and maybe more outward looking and managing the units relationship with other units in the environment. And the XL would be more like a chief operating officer.

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:07:35] I would say that’s actually very close to the truth. And then obviously that’s embedded within within the larger structures. So it does become interesting in terms of, you know, how do you draw parallels to what is a business customer?

What is your product and things of that nature. But I think that your overall you’re looking at that in a pretty accurate context, There could also be a parallel to like a chief of staff, just depending on how the organization is structured.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:08:02] Do you find . Civilians tend to understand what that means. So what an executive officer is, or, or what they do, or do you find that you have to translate your military experience somewhat

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:08:14] so that’s a great question. I was coached to, and I did during the interview processes. I did. Make sure that I practice speaking to and broke down what it was I did and what parallels there were. Rather than just saying, this is my title. Without the context people generally are not able to make those associations or if they don’t have a background in that, they just, they simply don’t know what it means.

So rather than saying you are something that you weren’t, what I would typically prefer to do is outline. What I actually did and how it is comparable to certain roles or positions that you might be interested in.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:08:54] We’re back with you in the Marine Corps here. We’re on your last assignment, presumably, you’ve been thinking about this civilian transition for a while.

How did you land on IO? Psych consult?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:09:05] I knew what IO psych was and I’d been  interested in it for several years. I actually back in 2014 one of the leaders that I worked for while I was in the Marine Corps gave me John Kotter’s leading change and I read it and I absorbed it like a sponge.

I absolutely love the content. I love the ideas  what I landed on was there were a number of principles within the books that I could apply immediately in the Marine Corps. That I was very interested in and I took that forward because the, the squadron life in the military aviation life, has you rotate almost like a leadership development program through different bill it’s every six to nine months.

I got a extensive look at operations, logistics administration top level leadership. Maintenance and logistics like the supply and demand portion of it, as well as some of the technical aspects of different maintenance shops within aviation and then was able to also see because a few of my other positions that I worked in were yeah.

Very direct leadership role in aviation maintenance capacities. And one of those roles I was tasked with taking a underperforming section and helping it to max out its its performance, max out its qualifications, and to ultimately come together and succeed as a team. It was kind of during that process, you know, several eight years later, this is now we’re skipping forward to 2000 1819.

But during that process, I just realized how much I love leadership change management. You know, the, the the leading change for those two things mean the intersection of those two. And I said, I, I think I want to learn how to do this. For career, this is what I’m passionate about. And I knew of IO psychology, and I started to look into it a little bit more found a program that I was interested in and I moved forward with it from there.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:11:05] It sounds like you had  the seed planted back in your undergraduate days, because you mentioned that you did have an IO psych classes and undergrad. That’s really encouraging to hear because it’s pretty rare. I talked to a guest who had even heard about IO psychology as an undergraduate.

 I asked a question earlier about what is it that, non-veterans or non-service members tend to get wrong about the military?

Let me flip that question and ask.  What do vets tend to get wrong about the civilian workplace or a different way to ask that is what assumptions do you make about the civilian workforce that,  got trashed by reality?

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:11:43] That’s a great question. First off I landed a really great place and I’m incredibly fortunate to be where I’m at.

I think that,  there some, things that I assume would be different  assuming that people wouldn’t speak in acronyms it turns out they still do it now. I don’t know what all the acronyms mean. So, you know, that’s a, that’s one of the downsides upsides though.

I think that a lot of veterans will find that they can be themselves. In their role. And that was one of my main concerns going into the civilian workforce was that I wouldn’t be able to bring my whole self. I wouldn’t be able to bring that part of my, my work history with me or that there would be opportunities for me to, to apply that or that the challenges wouldn’t be wouldn’t be similar.

And, you know, I’ve honestly found that they are and that you can really leverage what you learned in the service on a day-to-day basis, whether it be producing deliverables or solving problems, applying critical thinking. I think there’s, there’s just so much overlap. And it’s, it’s really been quite encouraging and very active.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:12:52] I like that you use that phrase being able to be yourself or bring your whole self to work. I think, I think it points to a dimension of inclusion and diversity that often gets overlooked in terms of life experiences 

One of the things I struggle with with a topic like this is that I don’t know what I don’t know. So I’d like to ask you, is there a question that you wish I had asked

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:13:15] That’s a good question. I think that the most important thing to realize whether you are a veteran who’s getting ready to get out, or if you’re looking to hire a veteran, is that the actual act of transitioning out of the service can be a very daunting task for a lot of people. It certainly was for me, and there’s a lot of things that you’re leaving, which is prayer and work stability in very large amounts.

You’re also leaving a very strong culture and a support network, and it’s also kind of a process. So. If I were to answer a veteran asking me, what do you need as your as you’re starting to get out, I would say you need to start to network draw on that support from other veterans start to network with people who have landed, where you want to end up start to.

Plan using milestones, just the same way that you would plan an operation or plan a deployment and plan backwards from your goal and come up with achievable steps and objectives along the way that you can work to meet so that you can arrive at the point that you want to be at. And that you can do that within the timeframe that, that you are committed to.

So. If I were to apply that, you know, to, to a non veteran, I would say when that person is, leaving, in that gap where they’re, they’re not retiring. But they’ve been in the service for, you know, eight years or so or more. What I would say is they’re,  choosing to undergo a significant life event to be able to transition and come work for you or with you and chances are that person is very motivated to succeed. Not only in that transition, but once they got out and once they are out and once they are in the workplace, and I think that they will be very committed to your cause and to helping move the ball forward, so to speak whatever initiatives, projects, or plans that they, they are landing on.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:15:23] Jonathan, this has been a fascinating conversation. I want to thank you for taking the time to share your experience and to help us understand the military a little bit

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:15:31] all right. Well, thank you so much, Ben. I am so grateful to have been on. I love the podcast and it definitely was a great support for me while I was going through grad school and working at a career transition. So just wanted to recognize it.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:15:45] Well, that’s incredibly gratifying to hear and I thank you for it.

Jonathan Noftsier: [00:15:48] All right. Thank you so much.