Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
We asked some of the best career experts to provide their best advice and tips for successful military-to-civilian transitioning — advice to help you succeed in your transition from the service.
The common themes you’ll find here are:
- Maximize the accomplishments you have from your military service.
- Showcase the transferrable skills you developed from your military service.
- Find the best way to translate your military experiences so civilian employers can understand it and apply it to job requirements.
- Learn and maximize the tools of civilian job-search, from building new networking contacts to finding military/veteran-friendly employers.
- Don’t feel restricted to one type of job or career — regardless of your military service.
How to Successfully Transition from Military Service to Civilian Work
Identify your skills. Evaluate your military service. What did you do daily? Make a list. Once your list is complete, pair skills you used with each task. P ay special attention to your transferable skills — those you can easily use in different organizations.
For example, if you were an infantryman and your main responsibilities related to combat missions that do not easily correlate with civilian jobs, you’ll want to dig deeper into your skills. Don’t just think about what you did — ask yourself how and why you succeeded. You could highlight your abilities to quickly assess and respond to a situation, focus on how you thrived in an exceptionally stressful environment, and point out that you worked well with a team while demonstrating leadership. You’ll want to look for jobs requiring the skills you identify.
— Miriam Salpeter, social media and job search strategist, consultant, speaker and owner of Keppie Careers.
Don’t undersell your skills and abilities in the civilian job market. Figure out how what you did in uniform equates to the job you want to do out of uniform. Be able to clearly explain that fit to civilian employers in English versus the military lingo you have come to know and love.
— Janet Farley, author Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job. Jist Works, Inc., 2013.
Carefully review your resume to ensure that it does not contain any military jargon or acronyms. Hiring managers in the civilian workforce don’t understand terms like MTOE and Optempo. Since your resume is likely to be reviewed before an interview is scheduled, including military jargon could hurt your job chances. Another piece of advice is to fully research the Department of Labor Website for your state for any job-search benefits available for veterans. Depending upon where you live, you may be eligible for priority referrals for certain jobs, free career-oriented workshops, as well as resume-preparation assistance.
— David Bakke, Career Expert at Money Crashers.
Don’t reinvent the wheel!
Career transition and job searching is hard. Like anything worth having, you have to put in the work to get it. But success is not only about working hard — you must also work smart. Here is one way to do that: focus on companies that have already discovered the value of a veteran. You can save yourself a lot of time, money, and aggravation by staying away from companies that have little or no experience in hiring people from the military.
Interviewing is sales — selling a company on the product called YOU. As any successful sales person will tell you, it is much easier to fill an existing and acknowledged need with your product than it is to convince a prospective client that the need even exists.
Translation: It is hard to convince an employer to hire you, but what if you had to convince that same employer to hire veterans in the first place? You are always better off chasing someone who wants to be caught. So, how do you find these predisposed, military-friendly employers? Easy.
- Consider the companies that advertise in print and digital media like Military Transition News, Stars & Stripes, GI Jobs, TAOnline, Military.com and similar organizations. Their readership is YOU and that is why they advertise in those media.
- Consider placement firms that specialize in military-to-civilian transition, such as Alliance, Bradley-Morris, Lucas, and Orion — their clients want to hire YOU.
- Investigate veterans hiring initiatives such as the 100K Jobs Mission and the NBC Universal/Comcast Hiring Heroes. These companies want to hire YOU.
- Check out the private- and public-sector job fairs that target veterans — YOU. These include the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, Military.com, NCOA Career Expo, MOAA, RecruitMilitary, Civilian Jobs, and Military Mojo, to name a few.
- Tap in to the power of social media. Join LinkedIn and connect with the dozens of veteran- and military-focused special interest groups. Companies that want to hire veterans know they will find YOU there.
Bottom line: be selective, focus, work hard, but work smart. Good Hunting!
— Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, veteran, and author of Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.
Do not assume that prospective employers (or networking contacts) understand and appreciate the military experience. Strip away jargon — titles, acronyms, government and military terms — in your resume and pitch. Be ready to explain in layperson’s terms what you did, what results you achieved, and why your actions mattered. People might think of military service as limited to fighting wars. People might think military is all brawn and no brain. People might glamorize the service and expect to hear about exotic travel or death-defying tours, when you worked mostly stateside in logistics or tech. Don’t be alarmed or defensive when people don’t seem to understand your role or the reporting structure. You need to be patient and clear.
— Caroline Ceniza-Levine, Career Expert, SixFigureStart®”.
Career transition from any career or job that has been an established, long-term endeavor is not easy and is a process. Transitioning from the military to the civilian world is a unique and different situation, as the military is very regimented. The great news is many skills and experiences can be gained through military service that can transfer and translate to civilian life.
Here are 5 steps that can help you get from where you are to where you want to go — and that I used in 2006. I took it one step at a time, and each one naturally led to the next!
- Discover your passion now, what you really want to do. What would make you happy, fulfilled and leap out of bed every day. Be willing to make less money to be happier. It lasts longer!
- Uncover your key, core skills, qualities, intangibles and accomplishments, that drive you and are natural for you. Construct a work history and inventory and see the common threads.
- Reinvent how you use them, and apply them to what you really want to do. Be open, flexible, innovative, curious for how you can apply, and adapt them to areas that you are drawn to or interested in.
- Rebrand a fresh new version of yourself. Describe your vibe NOW. Who are you now and what is your sparkle? Artist, writer, runner, foodie, fashionista, teacher, student?
- Re-birth by marketing yourself with a blend of online and in-person networking, via professional events and the social media sites. Put yourself out there and market you! Let people know who you are and what you are passionate about, believe in and stand for.
— Deborah Shane, Plug In and Power Up Your Brand.
Ask yourself 3 essential questions when navigating through your transition to the civilian workplace.
1. What are my skills and interests?
Keep your strengths and your interests in mind when considering your next career. You might consider taking an interest inventory, such as the O*Net Interest Profiler, to help you find out what your interests are and how they relate to the civilian workplace. Take stock of the skills you have and what you need for the civilian career you are targeting. Is additional education required? Check out these Websites to research civilian credentialing requirements: www.cool.army.mil , www.cool.navy.mil, www.careerinfonet.org, www.careeronestop.org.
Use your G.I. Bill and Tuition Assistance benefits to get the education and training that will help you land a great job.
2. Does my resume effectively present and translate my skills?
Search online for many free resources available to help you create and format your resume. You can find downloadable sample resumes on Corporate Gray Online that you can use as templates.
The Resume Writing Academy Website has free resources available to career coaches and job-seekers to assist with resume building. The Career One Stop Website also has tips and helpful links for resume writing. [Quintessential Careers also has many useful free resume-writing tools and resources.]
Translating your military skills into civilian language can be challenging. You need to convey your skills in terms that a prospective civilian employer will understand, which means removing the military jargon and acronyms that may not be properly interpreted.
The military skills translator can help you identify civilian jobs that are similar to your military occupation.
List the skills and requirements for those civilian occupations that are similar, and match the list with those skills you’ve acquired in the military. Now you can incorporate the appropriate civilian language into your resume.
3. Who in my network can help me attain my goal?
Who are the people in your network best positioned to help you connect to opportunities? For a military veteran, one of the greatest resources is another veteran. Make it a priority to connect through veteran networking websites, such as Veteran Career Network or VetFriends, and through LinkedIn veteran groups, military associations, and military colleagues. [Also check out the two sites profiled here: For Transitioning Vets: Go to RallyPoint and Unite Us.]
— Carl Savino, founder of Corporate Gray and co-author of The Military-to-Civilian Transition Guide.
1. Recognize and be able to convey the extraordinary knowledge, skills, and abilities/attitude (KSA) that you bring to the private-sector table. It’s very common for military veterans to underestimate or undervalue the extensive training and experience they’ve acquired in just four years. Imagine the KSAs one amasses after spending 10, 20, or even 30 years in the service. I remember soon after retiring from the Air Force, I worked with a consulting group conducting soft-skills training. The other members of the team had many credentials, including PhD’s. Thus, I was very intimidated and went into the project assuming that I was the weakest link. However, once involved in the project and actually doing the training, I realized many strengths that I had, some of which I hadn’t considered. For instance, in the military, diversity is not just a “concept” to be learned or adapted to. Rather, you are immersed; you live it 24/7, and it becomes your normal way of life. Thus, because this particular training workshop had to do with human relations, I could not only deliver this sometimes sensitive and volatile subject, but also interact with the very diverse group in an extraordinary way. In fact, some noticed my people skills and commented about them.
The how: Take time to sit in front of your computer — or better yet have someone interview you (and record it) — and visually walk through your military career. Start with your first assignment and identify every experience, training, project, job, additional duty, and the like to which you were involved. For instance, you may remember that during one of your assignments you had an additional duty as the Unit Safety NCO/Officer. As a result, you likely received training, implemented policies and procedures, oversaw compliance, and so forth. Or maybe you were a tank or aircraft mechanic who required exceptional attention to details. This skill of “attention to detail” and the ability to closely follow instructions may be as valuable as your mechanical skills. In any event, you will be surprised how much you’ve forgotten; some of which will be of great value to your resume… and ultimately an employer.
Be patient, yet deliberate and thoughtful, as you transition from your old world to your new world. Depending on how long you served, your transition can be very challenging. I spent 20 years in the Air Force and because it was my only professional experience, I found that many things are different about the civilian workforce. For instance, in the military the way we communicate and interact is often very straightforward and no-nonsense. However, in the civilian workforce you have to adjust the way you communicate. I’m not saying you can’t ever “talk straight,”but what you might consider a normal tone and word usage, civilians may consider rude and too blunt. Interestingly enough, your “straight talk” may eventually be an asset. However, first you have to learn how to adapt and finesse your communication style to fit into the civilian environment.
The how: Find a mentor or a “guide” — someone you can confide in, who will give you advice, show you the ropes, and give you feedback. This idea may seem awkward, however, it might be the most important thing you do for your professional transition. Your service to this country is appreciated, and you will be amazed ho