Transitioning from the military to a new career doesn't have to be daunting. Learn how to overcome challenges and be more effective in your job search.
Are you a U.S. Veteran struggling to get a job? Or perhaps you are a former service member in a civilian role that just doesn’t seem to fit. If so, I can relate. I am a Veteran who “survived” my transition into a corporate position. I got a job but not one I loved. I was soon disenchanted and began looking for another role. A career coach gave me the knowledge and skills to be more effective in my job search, and in time I secured a position better fitted to my skills and passions. As I gained this hard-earned knowledge, I began to share it with fellow Veterans who were also struggling in their transition and job search. Over the last 25 years, I have assisted numerous warriors in the nuts and bolts of securing meaningful employment. Even after two decades and nearly 360,000 U.S. Veterans exiting the service each year, I still find significant barriers former service members typically experience in the hiring process. Let me “arm” you with some foreknowledge by describing each obstacle and offering a remedy to address that issue.
Often Veterans struggle to translate their military skill set into the skills an employer needs. Their resumes may include Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes, military acronyms, and terms employers may not understand. Some companies use software that scan resumes for keywords, which may eliminate a poorly composed Veteran resume.
Veterans would be wise to ensure their resume limits military jargon and includes keywords from the job description. In addition, former warriors should over-prepare for interviews by reviewing each job requirement and creating concise and specific examples of how they have demonstrated that skill during their military service. They should practice interviewing to avoid military jargon, substituting it with words that the interviewer would better understand.
Military Experience Misconceptions
More and more employers are understanding the value of hiring Veterans and members transitioning from the military. However, there are still misconceptions and challenges with deciphering military experience to civilian work experience.
As we learned in our years in the service, well-armed is well prepared. Take control of your narrative. Come prepared to discuss how you used motivation and leadership to inspire and lead. Also, because most employers use behavioral-based interviewing, practice giving concise and compelling answers to questions like: “Give me an example of when you had to use ingenuity to solve a problem or got flustered at work and successfully worked through that issue?” Taking preparation to another level, Veterans should video record their answers, review their responses with a trusted friend or mentor, and improve.
Neglecting Existing Resources
Many free resources are available to Veterans to assist them in transitioning into the civilian sector, from resume writing, upskilling, credentialing, and licensing. Some former warriors embrace a macho mindset believing they don’t need any help or additional schooling or certification. However, having never applied for or held a job before their military service, some Veterans underestimate the effort it takes to secure a new career. As a result, transitioning service members may take the first job offer and discover it is not a fit.
Veterans should accept they don’t know what they don’t know and investigate several resources while forming a transition plan. Veterans need to fully participate in the transition program offered through their military branch and choose one of four employment tracks: Department of Labor (DOL) employment, DOL vocational training, the Department of Defense (DoD) education, or focus on starting a small business. In addition, there are numerous additional Federal, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), and private sector employment resources. Here is a link to a great list of no-cost resources: Free Veteran Resources.
Finally, each state has a department devoted to the military and Veterans, and most offer ex-service members additional educational and employment services. For example, Virginia has the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program connecting job seekers with Veteran friendly employers. Its neighboring state has a similar program - the North Carolina for Military Employment NC4ME program. Washington State brought together partners across the state to collaborate on military transition support from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Exiting military members can choose from four tracks: employment, career and technical training, higher education, or entrepreneurship. In addition, the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs provides a wide array of services to Veterans and their spouses. Transitioning service members should acquaint themselves with these state services and use them to execute a successful transition.
Failing to Leverage Networking
Service members may not understand the power of building a network of business contacts before leaving the service. Nonetheless, current research suggests that most jobs are found through networking: 85% of open job positions are filled through networking, and 60% of individuals have gotten a job through their network.
Service members would benefit by developing a long list of contacts prior to transitioning. Connect with friends through LinkedIn, Facebook, phone calls, and Veterans who have successfully transitioned. In addition, they should choose to be friendly and continually add to their circle of contacts. Also, Veterans must learn how to network effectively in a job search. First, they should develop an elevator speech that highlights their skills and the kind of problems they like to solve. Before meeting with a contact, Veterans should research the industry and create a list of target companies they are most interested in joining. The goal of the face-to-face is not to have the contact “find a job” for the Veteran but for the ex-service member to showcase what they are interested in doing and ask if the individual knows anyone in the industry or target company. If so, ask the contact to connect the Veteran with that person. Through a series of these meetings, the Veteran will eventually meet with a hiring manager in a target company.
In some cases, the hiring manager may create a job using the Veteran’s unique skillset (this is known as finding the hidden job market). Networking meetings can also benefit the Veteran by getting feedback on the elevator speech, resume, and professional attire. Veterans must understand that networking should never stop once hired. Research again shows that learning to form deep connections within a company and industry is essential for career advancement; 88% of professionals consider networking crucial in furthering their careers.
If you are a Veteran struggling to obtain a position and becoming discouraged, remember you have what all employers need, exceptional leadership and technical skills. Put these remedies to work and see if you are not more successful in landing a job that fits your skills and propels you into a successful civilian career!
About the Author
Sara Potecha is an author, speaker, executive coach, and consultant. As one of the first women to graduate from West Point, she served with distinction as an Army Officer leading a logistical unit of over 300 soldiers in Europe. Upon entering the corporate world, she held various roles in Fortune 100 and 200 companies: Director of Change Management, Lean Six Sigma Program Manager, and an Organization Development consultant. As the President of her company, Sara Potecha, LLC, she has coached hundreds of leaders and written volumes on various topics: leadership, emotional intelligence, cultural transformation, diversity, and veteran issues. After publishing her book, West Point Woman, in 2018, Sara began speaking across the country. A gifted speaker, she captures her audiences through powerful and often hilarious personal stories while revealing essential leadership principles.
Sara holds a B.S. in General Engineering from the United States Military Academy and an M.A. in Organizational Management and Development from Fielding Graduate University. When she is not writing or speaking, you will find her outdoors – on a bike, hiking, or skiing with her husband and her adult children. Connect with Sara at www.sarapotecha.com, or send her an email at email@example.com.
Clark, D. (March 21, 2018). “How Military Veterans Can Turn Their Skills into a Corporate Career.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/03/how-military-veterans-can-turn-their-skills-into-a-corporate-career
Frost, A. (2019, June 25). As cited by Chang, J. (n.d.) “85 Crucial Networking Statistics You Need to Know in 2022.” Finance Online. https://financesonline.com/networking-statistics/
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