Making a career change isn’t easy, and it’s especially challenging when you’re transitioning from a military to a civilian environment. You need to showcase why you are qualified for the targeted job, even if your past experiences do not identically match the employer’s requirements. Adding to the complexity, most employers are not familiar with military service, positions, jargon or acronyms, so it can be even more challenging for veterans to make a strong case. However, job-seeking veterans can take steps to help make the transition into civilian positions as smooth as possible.
Identify your skills. Evaluate your military service. What did you do on a daily basis? Make a list. Once your list is complete, pair skills you used with each task. Pay special attention to your transferable skills—the ones you can easily use in different organizations.
For example, if you were an infantryman and your main responsibilities were 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 were successful. 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.
Note your accomplishments. Do not underestimate the value of awards and accolades you received, but do translate them into terms non-military personnel will understand. Note the award name with a brief description of why you received it. If you do not have specific honors, think about praise you may have received from a superior or member of your platoon. Did an officer comment about how you are always planning ahead or mention a specific detail you can share with your targeted employer? This information will be helpful in determining your next career steps.
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Focus on what you enjoy doing. Don’t ignore your “soft skills,” or emotional intelligence. For example, are you a good communicator? Do you have a knack for leading teams? Maybe you’re a great negotiator. Identify your best skills and include these on your list.
Research potential opportunities. Once you have your lists, plug your skills (your keywords) into job-board search engines to see what types of positions come up. For example, you may search for “supervise,” “oversee projects,” or “leadership.” Keep an open mind and see if there is any pattern or type of job that keeps coming up.
Make a list of job titles and company names. Was there a particular industry that appeared repeatedly in your results? Continue to search online for more information about those fields or organizations.
Inform your network. Once you know what you want to do, be specific when you describe your goals to your network. Don’t just say you are looking for “a job.” It’s tough for people to help you without detailed information and a focal point. Tell your friends and contacts the names of companies and positions that interest you. Be specific. For example, “I’m hoping to find a sales position in a high-tech field. Do you know anyone working in X, Y, or Z company who might be willing to meet me so I can learn more about their organizations—even if they aren’t currently hiring?” Follow up by asking for an informational meeting.
Translate your experience. A common problem for job-seeking veterans is helping civilian, non-military hiring managers understand their work history. Be sure to avoid military jargon in application materials and describe your past experience in layperson’s terms. Ask a non-veteran friend to read your resume and application. Can he or she describe what you used to do? If not, revise your materials and be sure to focus on the skills you used, not just the things you did. Consider using this template to write some of your resume’s bullet points:
Used _____, ________, and _______ skills by (doing what?), resulting in (list an accomplishment).
Always try to make the information you list as relevant as possible to the employers you identified.
Be sure to include specific, quantifiable points in your descriptions. For example, do not assume the reader will know how many troops you led based on your rank and title. Whenever possible, incorporate percentages, dollar amounts, and numbers in your resume. Paint a vivid, relevant picture to help the hiring manager envision you doing the job.
Tell your story. In an interview, be sure to describe your experiences in a way that a layperson will understand. Avoid military jargon and acronyms, and give examples relevant to the job you want. Have three or four stories in mind to illustrate your accomplishments and describe how you overcame challenges and solved problems.
Following these steps from the exploratory through the interview stages of job hunting will help you identify and compete for suitable opportunities. For many more insights and suggestions about job search, please review my other blog posts.